The Chicago White Sox Are Poised for a Move Up the AL Ranks in 2020

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterNovember 25, 2019

Chicago White Sox's Tim Anderson, left, congratulates Jose Abreu on Abreu's two-run home run off Minnesota Twins pitcher Michael Pineda in the third inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Jim Mone/Associated Press

The Chicago White Sox have evidently had enough of rebuilding.

Though their 72-89 record in 2019 marked their seventh consecutive losing campaign, it wasn't entirely devoid of bright spots. Specifically, 20-somethings Lucas Giolito (25), Yoan Moncada (24), Tim Anderson (26) and Eloy Jimenez (22) established themselves as cornerstone stars.

The White Sox might have opted to make 2020 yet another year dedicated to digging up in-house stars. Instead, they're quite literally buying in on contending.

To wit, they made the first big splash of the 2019-20 offseason when they signed two-time All-Star catcher Yasmani Grandal to a franchise-record four-year, $73 million deal:

The White Sox made another big splash Friday when they signed three-time All-Star first baseman Jose Abreu, who'd already accepted a $17.8 million qualifying offer, to a three-year, $50 million extension:

There was never any doubt that the White Sox would retain Abreu, 32, for the long haul. He carried on as an above-average hitter with an .834 OPS and 33 home runs in 2019, and the White Sox have never made any secret of how much they value his leadership.

"Certainly, [we] envision Jose as an important part, again, not just offensively, but in terms of what he brings to the table in the clubhouse and what it means to your organization and how he represents us," general manager Rick Hahn said Friday, per MLB.com's Scott Merkin.

Grandal, 31, is a heck of a hitter in his own right. His 101 homers since 2016 are more than every catcher except Gary Sanchez, and he's coming off a career year marked by an .848 OPS and 28 long balls.

The White Sox may be just as thrilled about what Grandal can do for them behind the plate. His reputation as an elite pitch-framer is certainly well-deserved, after all. Only Austin Hedges edged him out in that category in 2019, according to Baseball Prospectus.

Given how much trouble they had getting favorable calls, this talent would have been of great use to White Sox hurlers in 2019:

Simply by signing Grandal, the White Sox have therefore already nudged their pitching staff toward an improvement on the 4.90 ERA it posted in 2019. And the man himself likes what he sees.

"I don't care where I'm going as long as I see a future in the pitching staff," Grandal said Thursday, per Merkin. "If I see that I can help that pitching staff, for me that's pretty much No. 1. So, their sales pitch was: Look at the young arms we have, look at the guys we have coming up. We have an opportunity here to win, and we think you can help them out."

Matt Marton/Associated Press

In the wake of his 3.41 ERA and 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings, Giolito's credentials as a frontline starter are beyond dispute. And while Reynaldo Lopez, 25, and Dylan Cease, 23, each posted an ERA north of 5.00 this past season, they offer electric upside by way of their live arms. Both young righties sat in the mid-90s with their fastballs in 2019.

The White Sox have still another live-armed righty in their midst in Michael Kopech. The 23-year-old prospect will be on an innings restriction after undergoing Tommy John surgery in September 2018. But with a fastball that's climbed as high as 105 mph at his disposal, he figures to make it difficult for the White Sox to limit his exposure in 2020.

Meanwhile, 22-year-old center fielder Luis Robert and 22-year-old second baseman Nick Madrigal are two more prospects who'll make a bid for the White Sox's Opening Day roster. Madrigal projects as a perennial .300 hitter. For his part, Robert looks like a perennial All-Star after busting out with a 1.001 OPS, 32 homers and 36 stolen bases across three levels of the minors in 2019.

Between Abreu, Grandal, Anderson, Moncada and Jimenez—the latter three of whom combined for an .871 OPS and 74 homers in 2019—the White Sox's 2020 offense will feature at least five impact hitters. Robert and Madrigal could make it seven when they catch on.

Factor in what Grandal's framing could mean to their pitchers, and next year already has the potential to be the White Sox's first winning season since 2012.

To their credit, however, the White Sox aren't yet content with what they have. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today and Andy Martino of SNY, they have their eye on former New York Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler. He comes with a good deal of bust potential, but unlocking his considerable upside might be as easy as simplifying his pitch mix.

The White Sox's apparent willingness to keep spending must be at least partially motivated by the troubles facing the two clubs that finished ahead of them in the 2019 AL Central race. 

The Minnesota Twins are coming off 101 wins but are now tasked with adding as many as three starting pitchers. The Cleveland Indians won 93 games of their own, yet they may soon part ways with superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor, whose salary is due to rise to $16.7 million.

According to MLB Network's Jon Heyman, Lindor has emerged as a hot commodity on the trade market:

With this much blood in the AL Central waters, the White Sox might even be willing to push their payroll to new heights. As it is, their $90.3 million projection for 2020 is nearly $40 million short of the $127.8 million payroll with which they opened the 2011 season. That gives them plenty of room to add not only Wheeler, but perhaps an additional bat and depth for their bullpen.

The more needs the White Sox fill, the more likely it is that they'll be more than just a winning team in 2020. They might at least contend for a wild-card spot. Depending on what happens in Minnesota and Cleveland, they could even have a shot at winning the AL Central.

Whatever the case, their rebuild will be well and truly over.

               

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant and Baseball Prospectus. Payroll data courtesy of Roster Resource and Cot's Baseball Contracts. Salary arbitration projections courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors.

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