Grading the Chicago White Sox's Moves so Far This Offseason
Heading into this offseason, there were a number of directions that Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn could have taken the roster.
Acquiring long-term answers at third base, behind the plate and in the outfield were in order for the White Sox, but so was getting a veteran starter at the back of the rotation and adding a left-handed reliever.
With a list that long, the chances Hahn would be able to accomplish all that he hoped to was slim. However, he was able to check—in theory, at least—three things off the list. He has also made a couple of decisions that have left some (OK, so maybe just me) scratching their heads along the way.
Let’s break down and grade some of the more notable moves that Hahn has made to this point in the offseason.
Re-Signing Tyler Flowers
It’s easy to come down on Hahn for re-signing Tyler Flowers to a one-year, $950,000 contract.
After all, Flowers is coming off a season during which he compiled a .195/.247/.355 slash line with 94 strikeouts in only 256 at-bats. He also allowed eight passed balls, 24 wild pitches and only threw out 24 percent of would-be base stealers. It was bad.
To be fair, he can hit the ball a long way. The problem with that, though, is that he has to make contact with it first, and that seems to be his single-greatest weakness. The only reason Hahn doesn’t get an "F" for bringing Flowers back is that Josh Phegley really isn’t any better.
Re-Signing Paul Konerko
Bringing Paul Konerko back for one final season was a questionable move. Offering up a roster spot in November to a player who will, at best, get 250 at-bats and has seen his production plummet since a fantastic start to the 2012 season simply doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Hahn has tried to sell White Sox fans on the idea that Konerko’s return provides a level of leadership that will, in some abstract way, help the team on the field. Jim Margalus of SouthSideSox.com summed up the problems with that:
Konerko's return is basically trickle-down economics applied to a 25-man roster, prioritizing the comfort of the higher-ranking club members and pretending that it has a positive effect on everybody else down the chain by proxy. At some point, there needs to be some tangible evidence that the benefits actually get to people at the bottom, and it's scant at best.
Yes, Konerko is the team captain and the second-best hitter in franchise history, but the roster needs to get younger, more athletic and better defensively. Konerko will not help in any of those areas.
It will be a shame to see a deserving young player get sent down to the minor leagues this spring because the roster spot that should have been his is already occupied.
Signing Ronald Belisario
Signing Ronald Belisario to a one-year, $3 million deal is a move that could pay huge dividends for the White Sox.
Belisario is a hard-throwing right-hander who has found legitimate success at the major league level. In 2012, for example, he went 8-1 with a 2.54 ERA, 69 strikeouts and a 1.070 WHIP in 71.0 innings pitched. When he is at his best, he pounds the zone.
This past season, however, he had a hard time throwing strikes. Dylan Hernandez of The Los Angeles Times called Belisario “maddeningly inconsistent” and noted that he regressed in several key pitching metrics. Hernandez also pointed out that he brings certain challenges to the clubhouse, which is something that manager Robin Ventura will now have to deal with.
All told, though, Hahn paid market value for a reliever that will not be the primary setup man in the bullpen. Perhaps this is the type of situation where Belisario can focus on throwing a baseball.
Signing Felipe Paulino
Signing Felipe Paulino to a one-year, $1.75 million contract with an option for 2015 on the first day of the Winter Meetings was a calculated gamble.
And by calculated, I mean that his right arm exploded in the past—Tommy John surgery in 2012 and a shoulder procedure this past September—and the White Sox have no real way of knowing whether or not he will be ready to contribute by the time the 2014 season opens.
When healthy, though, Hahn believes that Paulino is “a power arm with four pitches and a guy who can be a quality starter in a big league rotation,” via MLB.com’s Scott Merkin. Indeed, his four-seam fastball clocks in a 96.01 mph with quite a bit of movement, and both his slider and change appear to be effective complementary pitches, according to BrooksBaseball.net.
If Paulino is not ready to start the season, the option year becomes crucial. If healthy and unable to perform, the White Sox only have a one-year obligation to him and a couple of young pitchers who can take his spot in the rotation.
Taking Adrian Nieto in the Rule 5 Draft
Selecting Adrian Nieto in the Rule 5 Draft is the most curious move Hahn made at the Winter Meetings, although the risk is relatively low.
Here is what Hahn said about Nieto, per Merkin:
Any time you take a guy in Rule 5, you are rushing his development a little bit, so it's a longer shot of it working out. But this kid made some real nice strides in 2013 in terms of development. We figure bring him in and give him the shot and have some competition. It doesn't mean by any means we are done in terms of our search for potential upgrades. This is another avenue to try to bring in some talent.
Now, as a Rule 5 selection in the major league phase, Nieto would have to stay on the 25-man roster the entire season or be offered back to the Washington Nationals for $25,000. Since he has never played above High-A, the odds of him making the team out of spring training are quite slim. The White Sox are incredibly thin at the catcher position, though, so the move makes sense given the cost.
Trading for Adam Eaton
He is young, hits left-handed and has tremendous speed. Yes, his range is suspect, and he does not have the strongest arm, but his potential at the plate and on the basepaths is very intriguing.
In the minor leagues, Eaton has a career .450 on-base percentage, 106 stolen bases and 281 runs scored in 345 games. At the major league level, he has only hit .254 but has scored 59 runs in only 88 games.
Getting another center fielder had to be on Hahn’s list of things that needed to be accomplished. First off, Alejandro De Aza is running out of arbitration years and is clearly not part of the team’s future. If he was, Hahn would have already signed him to a multi-year contract.
Furthermore, De Aza cost the White Sox more games than he won. Not only did he finish the season with a -0.3 WAR, but he also made a maddening amount of mental mistakes in the field. Missing cutoff men and throwing to the wrong base are not plays that end up on a stat sheet, but they are plays that prevent your team from winning.
Sure, Eaton could end up failing in every way. That is, after all, the recent track record for White Sox free-agent signings (think Jeff Keppinger and Adam Dunn), but it’s highly unlikely. He was brought in to get on base and be smart about it, which is not an unrealistic expectation.
Signing Jose Abreu
Giving international free agent Jose Abreu a six-year, $68 million contract was the best move Hahn has made thus far. I write that knowing full well that the man has never swung a baseball bat in a MLB game.
There are numerous reasons to be optimistic.
Fan Graphs' Dan Farnsworth did a detailed breakdown of Abreu’s swing and came away impressed. He stated that his swing is “in the same class as (Miguel) Cabrera and (Buster) Posey“ and is “superior to (Yoenis) Cespedes.”
Those are some strong words. That's not all, though.
Eno Sarris of Fan Graphs tweeted after Abreu’s signing that the translation model which Baseball Prospectus co-founder Clay Davenport put together has Abreu finishing the 2014 season with a .321 batting average and an astonishing 1.106 OPS.
Will that happen? Nobody can know for sure, but outbidding multiple teams for the slugger’s services could be Hahn’s masterstroke.
Grade: What’s higher than an A?