The White Sox Still Aren’t a Very Good Team

The White Sox won’t stop. I mean, at some point they will, because they’ll have to, and maybe they’ve reached that point now that they’ve signed Melky Cabrera, but Rick Hahn and the rest of his front office have had an incredibly busy month, adding to a roster that featured a handful of big-leaguers and not too much else. I had a thought, in early November, to write about the few teams who I figured wouldn’t be contenders in 2015. The White Sox were among them. I didn’t write the article, because I didn’t like it, and now I’m glad I didn’t because the front office has had maybe the most active few weeks in the league. It’s pretty clear that the team intends to win.

I still don’t think the White Sox are ready to win. This is where there’s a bit of important nuance: I don’t think the White Sox are ready to win, but I don’t have a great disagreement with the direction of all the activity. Generally speaking, I like what Rick Hahn has done, and he’s certainly managed to build fan enthusiasm around a team many were prepared to ignore not even that long ago. Why not spend, if you can spend? Why not improve, if you can improve? The White Sox haven’t lost too much of long-term value in making all these additions. I just think, despite everything, there’s not enough in place. It’s not an easy thing to do, to turn a pretty bad team into a pretty good team in a couple of months.

I don’t know how much more there is that Rick Hahn can do. Consider:

[…]general manager Rick Hahn and executive vice president Ken Williams stating they had spent pretty much all they could after the Robertson move was announced at the Winter Meetings in San Diego.

So, not long ago, the White Sox said they were basically out of spending money. Then they gave more than $40 million to free-agent Melky Cabrera. So either they’re extra out of money, or they still have the resources to tweak. In any case, the White Sox are probably finished making major decisions. Maybe it feels early to you, but they’ve essentially compressed an entire offseason into a very short window of time.

It feels like Hahn has accomplished everything he would’ve wanted to. The White Sox had nothing to pair with Jose Abreu at 1B/DH. Enter Adam LaRoche. The White Sox had nothing happening in the bullpen. Enter David Robertson and Zach Duke. The White Sox had nothing happening in left field that wasn’t Dayan Viciedo. Enter Melky Cabrera. And the White Sox had nothing happening behind Chris Sale and Jose Quintana in the starting rotation. Enter Jeff Samardzija. All these areas, where the White Sox were more or less projected to receive replacement-level contributions. They’ve upgraded, with talented players. Those guys combine to project for about 9 WAR in 2015. Last year, combined, they were worth about 11. That’s a massive step forward.

But then, remember how much the White Sox had to do. Turning this team into a good one would’ve been a major undertaking. At least, if you also weren’t looking to sacrifice a bunch of the future. The following table ought to be instructive. I included the same sort of table when I wrote about LaRoche, far earlier in the offseason. This is based on Steamer and the depth charts, and I understand many of you have quibbles with both of those, but for the sake of completing this post, let’s just continue the post. Projected positional WAR:

AL Avg. 3.3 2.6 2.5 2.5 3.3 2.5 2.8 2.4 1.6 9.0 2.3 34.8
White Sox 1.4 3.3 0.5 2.4 1.2 1.8 2.2 1.3 2.3 10.5 2.0 28.8
AL Rank 15 2 14 8 13 13 9 13 4 4 8 14

The White Sox have turned plenty of zeros into not-zeros. Yet, weaknesses remain. LaRoche is a fine player, but seemingly not a good player. Cabrera is an average player, but seemingly not a great player. The situation isn’t good behind the plate, nor is it good at second base now that Marcus Semien has gone elsewhere. Third base is manned by half a platoon, and as much as I like Adam Eaton, his ceiling is modest. Avisail Garcia is mostly potential. The rotation is obviously strong but lacking in back-end depth, and the bullpen has simply been upgraded to not-dreadful.

There’s no question in my mind that the White Sox could contend in the season ahead. The stars on the team are legitimate stars, and now the roster’s got a hell of a lot more depth. The example we keep going back to is that the Royals almost won the World Series, so why not try to be at least as good as the Royals? The White Sox project almost as well as last year’s Royals, but then when you examine the greater context, most American League teams could say at least the same. The White Sox aren’t the only team trying to give it a go. Everyone in the AL East looks better. Most of the AL West looks better, and most of the AL Central looks better. The White Sox have definitely improved their odds, but with just about everyone trying to be better right away, I think the level of activity conveys an improvement that’s greater than it really is. The White Sox have gotten several wins better, but they entered the offseason several wins behind.

Eventually we’ll see what ZiPS has to say. That’ll be important, to blend with Steamer, like we did a year ago. Maybe ZiPS likes the White Sox a little bit more. Also, we’ll see how much more Rick Hahn manages to do to round out his 25 men. He could use an infielder, an infielder not too terribly unlike Marcus Semien. He could use a little more pitching depth. What the White Sox could stand to add are some players around the 1-WAR ability level. There’s a perception those players are easy to find, but the White Sox don’t have enough of them. The danger of evaluating in the middle of December is a roster in the middle of December isn’t a roster in the middle of April.

One potential bright side is the White Sox could have a heck of a playoff pitching staff. If they were to advance, they could conceivably have Sale/Samardzija/Quintana 1-2-3, and then Robertson-Duke in relief. And then they’d have the Carlos Rodon wild card, either as a fourth starter or as a shutdown reliever. If the White Sox were to get to October, they could stop worrying about their relatively thin pitching staff, so that’s one point in favor of this sort of roster construction. It’s good for the World Series odds.

And I guess the ultimate point is the White Sox have real World Series odds now, where a month or so ago they stood at basically 0%. I don’t see them as a very good team, despite everything, but they’re obviously better and they didn’t lose too much, given the protected first-round draft pick. The 2016 roster could look very similar to the 2015 roster, maybe replacing Samardzija with Rodon. So Rick Hahn has successfully turned an also-ran into a team that’ll be competitive in the overwhelming majority of its ballgames. The longer-term outlook is still mostly intact.

Yet it’s easy to make a bad team decent. It’s a lot harder to make a decent team good. The Royals demonstrated that sometimes decent is enough, but then the Royals haven’t happened very often.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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9 years ago

I can’t help thinking that some of this is driven by having two stars right in their prime (Sale and Abreu). You don’t want to wait TOO long and have the rest of the roster in prime shape right as the stars slip to being just average.

Might be part of why Seattle went after Cano last year, with Felix at his apex.

Bridgeport Joe
9 years ago
Reply to  tz

I think this is right. Hahn figured that rather than waste 5+ WAR seasons from Sale and Abreu (and, to a lesser extent, Quintana), he either needed to trade them or build around them. The Sox picked the latter.

9 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

right, for the most part his bad moves consist of scrap heap pitchers and Jeff Keppinger.

His positive moves are a litany in comparison.

The Sox were a bottom 1/3 (probably bottom 5) team in both MLB talent and Milb when he took over.

You could make a legit argument they are now at around 14-18 for both.

Hahn has done great work; I think that got lost in the article a bit. It’s more a diss on KW.

9 years ago
Reply to  tz

I’m almost certain that the same thinking drove the Blue Jays spending spree in the winter of 2012. They had Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion bloom into superstars kind of out of nowhere. Bautista was over 30 already and Edwin was turning 30, so the window they provided was likely to be short. The Jays pulled out of a longterm rebuilding plan to try to win while their stars were at their peak. The White Sox haven’t depleted their farm and cost controlled player base nearly as badly as the Jays did, but the moves look similar.