Chris Sale is part of the solution. Unfortunately, he is one of the few.
Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn must prioritize how he allocates his resources this offseason. It really is that simple.
The White Sox can be competitive in 2014 with a couple of targeted offseason acquisitions given the state of their starting rotation. More realistically, however, they will need two years to bring in free agents and develop minor league talent before a legitimate run at an AL Central title can be made.
Hahn’s first step should be to improve the club by position group, and the best way to identify which ones should be addressed first is to rank them by their collective wins above replacement (WAR).
This list cannot focus on individual players, per say. That would be a subjective exercise. After all, Alexei Ramirez (2.4) and Alejandro De Aza (1.7) had the highest oWAR numbers on the team, but there is a distinct possibility that neither of them will be on the 25-man roster next season.
It is also impossible to power rank individual players because there are so many holes on the team. Do the White Sox need a third baseman more than a catcher, or should a center fielder be at the top of Hahn’s list? Unfortunately, the answer is all of the above.
Now, starting pitching will be excluded from the list. Led by Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, the rotation had a collective 16.4 WAR and is so deep that Hahn may be able to trade one of them this offseason for a position player. Either way, starting pitching is not a need this offseason.
Here is B/R’s power ranking of the White Sox’s biggest needs heading into free agency.
Unless specifically noted, all general and advanced statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Could Jesse Crain be returning to the South Side?
While not the greatest area of need, the White Sox will have to add at least two arms in the bullpen.
As it stands, the Sox have a core of right-handers—Addison Reed, Nate Jones, Matt Lindstrom and Jake Petricka—along with left-hander David Purcey (assuming he is offered arbitration) in line for next year. That means they will need to add one righty and one lefty if they plan on opening the 2014 season with seven relievers.
Right-handed options include Kevin Vance and free agent Jesse Crain. Vance is currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League for the Glendale Desert Dogs and looks good. He has given up one hit and struck out three in 3.0 innings of work.
Crain, who is rumored by the Denver Post’s Troy Renck to be a target of the Colorado Rockies, would be welcomed back on the South Side. He is familiar with the staff—pitching and coaching—and would be a tremendous veteran presence in the bullpen. If general manager Rick Hahn elects not to pursue Crain, there are other free agent options like Manny Parra and Matt Albers.
Now, manager Robin Ventura went long stretches with one lefty in the bullpen this past season, so it would not be a surprise if Purcey were the only left-hander reliever when next season opens, but Hahn would be wise to bring in a veteran arm on a one-year deal.
Final Cumulative WAR Total: 2.6
This picture just about sums up Alejandro De Aza's season.
Don’t let the fact that outfield is not in possession of the team’s worst cumulative WAR mislead you. Consider that Jordan Danks is second to Avisail Garcia among White Sox outfielders with a 0.2 WAR.
That’s right. Danks is the second-most productive outfielder according to the most reliable indicator of player value. It’s laughable, really.
Also, do not let Alejandro De Aza’s 1.7 oWAR belie the fact that he cost the White Sox more games than he won with horrendous baserunning (18 outs on bases) and poor defense (-2.0 dWAR). And it seemed as though Dayan Viciedo regressed in every statistical category. That would be disingenuous, of course, as he did improve in several metrics like batting average and on-base percentage, but the fact remains that he was expected to be more productive than he was.
Assuming Garcia is not moved to center, right field is in capable hands. The other two positions in the outfield are in need of serious attention. Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson are among the names of available free agents, so Hahn does have options.
I would argue that outfield is No. 1 in the power rankings by a wide margin. Numbers don’t lie, however. There is one group that is worse off.
Final Cumulative WAR Total: 0.3
Jeff Keppinger did not have a good year.
After doing a cursory review of infield and backstop combinations in both leagues, the White Sox are among the worst in MLB. They are that bad.
Both Tyler Flowers (-0.1) and Josh Phegley (-0.5) behind the plate, and Paul Konerko (-1.3), Jeff Keppinger (-2.0) and Adam Dunn (-0.2) on the infield, were worse than replacement level. Putting the collective into context, the Houston Astros’ WAR at these two positions was a combined 9.1.
While the offensive production from the pitchers and catchers was below average, it was their defense that really dragged them down. Led by Ramirez’s 22 errors, they committed a combined 67 fielding miscues and looked lost at times. Who can forget the collision between Conor Gillaspie and Gordon Beckham in the ninth inning against the New York Mets so wonderfully captured by Amazin Avenue’s Eric Simon?
It will be incumbent on Hahn to find a way to get more production out of this group. At bare minimum, a defensive upgrade is in order. At best, Hahn finds a way to bring a new third baseman and a new catcher into the fold.
Final Cumulative WAR Total: -0.3
At least the White Sox have Avisail Garcia.
If there is a conclusion to draw, it is that the White Sox are more than one player away from being a truly competitive team.
General manager Rick Hahn needs to sign a center fielder who can leadoff like Shin-Soo Choo. He must also find a way to improve the situation at first base, catcher and at third base. That may mean moving personnel around, signing a free agent or dealing from a position of strength and trading one of the young pitchers.
There are some youngsters—Marcus Semien, Leury Garcia and Micah Johnson, for example—who may be ready to contribute next season. There is no guarantee, though, that any of them will be an improvement over what the White Sox currently have on the roster.
On the bright side...they can’t be worse. Or can they?