After a pair of losing seasons, the Chicago White Sox have been very busy this offseason, and they look like the team that has done the most to get better in 2015. At least so far.
Early Sunday morning, Melky Cabrera became the club's latest addition, having agreed to a three-year deal, according to Bruce Levine of 670TheScore.com. The contract is reportedly worth $42 million, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
Cabrera, a switch-hitting outfielder who batted .301/.351/.458 in 2014, joins a wealth of talent that general manager Rick Hahn has brought to the South Side already, helping out slugging first baseman Jose Abreu, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year, and southpaw ace Chris Sale, who finished third in the Cy Young voting.
The other key names joining that core are right-hander Jeff Samardzija, acquired via trade with the Oakland Athletics last Tuesday, as well as closer David Robertson, first baseman/designated hitter Adam LaRoche and lefty reliever Zach Duke. The latter three were free-agent signings.
At the outset of the offseason, Hahn had made it clear his top targets were a right-handed starter to pitch at the top of the rotation with lefties Sale and Jose Quintana, a lefty middle-of-the-order hitter to supplement Abreu and bullpen help.
Check. Check. And check.
Given that Hahn already had achieved those objectives by the end of the winter meetings Thursday, landing Cabrera now looks like a bonus.
"The White Sox not only did a tremendous job of speeding up their reshaping process, becoming a legitimate contending team in '15," writes Scott Merkin of MLB.com, "but they did so by hitting on their top target at each spot, while also filling the veteran leadership void."
As Hahn told Merkin in late October:
It's certainly our goal to address ideally all of what we feel are our needs, before they shift, as quickly as possible.
It's very important to continue to be aggressive this offseason and knock as many things as we can off that list and put ourselves in a position to contend as quickly as possible.
To that end, even in what has been a wild-and-crazy offseason filled with activity, the White Sox have become the surprise aggressor of the winter even before winter officially has started.
They may not be done either.
As much talent as the White Sox have added, they still could consider addressing second base, third base and/or catcher, where Carlos Sanchez, Conor Gillaspie and Tyler Flowers, respectively, are far from sure things.
And the rotation could use more depth and stability, with John Danks and Hector Noesi currently plugged in as the fourth and fifth starters.
But don't forget: Lefty Carlos Rodon, the No. 3 overall pick last June out of North Carolina State, made it all the way to Triple-A in his first taste of pro ball and could be ready to join the staff by midseason.
And Hahn still has some pieces that he could trade to make improvements or shift the roster around, including outfielder Dayan Viciedo, who now appears to be the odd-man out with Cabrera as the starting left fielder. Viciedo isn't a huge trade chip, but he still is only 25 and has hit 20-plus homers two of the past three years.
Other clubs that have done quite a bit to this point include: the Boston Red Sox, who have added Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson; the Chicago Cubs, who brought in Jason Hammel, traded for Miguel Montero and splurged to sign ace lefty Jon Lester; and the Toronto Blue Jays, who signed catcher Russell Martin and traded for third baseman Josh Donaldson.
But the White Sox may be the team that has gotten the "most better" so far.
Certainly, they have gotten the most value, considering the contracts for Robertson, Cabrera and LaRoche total just $114 million—or a little more than Boston paid each of Ramirez and Sandoval and about $40 million less than the Cubs gave Lester.
That could change, though, because there's plenty of offseason left, and because Max Scherzer, James Shields and Chase Headley, the top three players in a rapidly dwindling free-agent class, have yet to sign.
Plus, the AL Central has been the most active in the sport since the end of the 2014 campaign, meaning a division that the Detroit Tigers have dominated the past four years and just sent the Kansas City Royals to the World Series as the pennant winner is only getting more competitive overall.
The White Sox look like potential contenders, and unquestionably, they are going to be better than they were last year when they won just 73 games and finished in fourth place. But that also means they have a long way to go.
For now, the White Sox will have to settle for being the most improved team in perhaps the most improved division in baseball.
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