Mike Clevinger and Andrew Benintendi.
Two impact additions, no doubt. But will it represent the entirety of the adding that Rick Hahn and his front office do before the White Sox head to Houston for the season-opener in late March?
“We’re always going to look to get better,” Hahn said earlier this month after he gave Benintendi the richest free-agent contract in club history. “It’s a cliche – but I suppose a cliche for a reason – that you’re never satisfied with what your roster is, and we certainly know there’s ways we can improve, both from a position-player standpoint as well as from a pitching-depth standpoint. So we’re going to continue to look.
“What happens over the course of the next six weeks leading into camp and then the six, seven weeks we’re in camp is impossible to predict. But certainly the way we perceive ourselves is not as a finished product at this time.”
There you go. There’s more coming.
Will it, no pun intended, knock your socks off? Maybe not. But there’s more coming.
The White Sox don’t seem settled at second base, not heading into a season where they’re looking to compete for a World Series. A group of internal candidates featuring Romy Gonzalez and Lenyn Sosa could provide an answer, if everything works out for one or more of those guys, but it’s hard to bank on. Some dependability, some certainty of any kind would be nice.
The springtime acquisition of Josh Harrison accomplished that goal a year ago, adding someone who, no matter how impressive the results, could get the job done. His positive clubhouse presence was a significant plus. That sort of addition, be it before next month’s report date or after spring training has begun, would seem to make a lot of sense for the White Sox once again, considering the options for a more significant and eye-popping move at that position are – and were to begin with – few and far between.
Asked specifically about second base after the Benintendi announcement, Hahn acknowledged the potential of an addition there.
“It’s certainly a possibility,” Hahn said. “We think very highly of Romy and think Lenyn Sosa is a guy who has a very bright future, as well. Ultimately, that could be an area where we have future additions, whether it’s in the next few weeks or something that happens in camp.
“If in the end we are choosing from Romy and Lenyn, with Leury (García) as a potential backup, that’s something that we certainly feel gives us an opportunity to win. But at the same time, it doesn’t necessarily preclude us from looking at ways to get better.”
A relatively noncommittal stance from the GM, but considering past behavior – not just with Harrison at second base last year but with moves at other positions, such as bringing in a veteran like Jonathan Lucroy to battle for the backup-catcher job a couple springs ago – it wouldn’t be a shock to see some veteran qualities injected at second.
Harrison, many White Sox fans will point out, remains unsigned this winter. Statistically, he might be the best option – balancing offense and defense – on the free-agent market. It’s likely you can stop asking about Elvis Andrus, who would figure to have earned a starting shortstop job somewhere and has never played second base in a 14-year major league career.
Aside from dealing a minor league pitcher for a potential bullpen option, we haven’t seen Hahn’s forecast of a more fruitful trade market for the South Siders come to pass, so perhaps there’s still a swap to be made that will land a starting second baseman. MLB Trade Rumors recently speculated on possible partners, noting the Blue Jays (Cavan Biggio, Santiago Espinal) and Marlins (Joey Wendle, Joe Berti), among others, though who knows who Hahn might be calling – and who knows what he has to offer.
Elsewhere, Hahn might not be finished, either. Other positions on the field and the rotation don’t have as pressing a need for an everyday starter like second base does. But depth proved mighty important – and in some cases, lacking – in each of the last two seasons, when the White Sox were hit with a barrage of injuries.
There’s only so much that can be done in that department when talking about position players, considering guys who fans would deem acceptable replacements (i.e. everyday major leaguers) don’t often sign up for jobs waiting in the wings at Triple-A. There’s a cluster of guys who have been around the big league block who have reportedly joined the organization on minor league deals – Billy Hamilton, Victor Reyes, Jake Marisnick, Hanser Alberto – and while they provide that needed depth, it would obviously be a good thing, from an injury standpoint, if they never saw the South Side this year.
Pitching, of course, is often a different story, and the White Sox benefitted big time from inking Johnny Cueto to a minor league contract last spring. Even in a year when the rotation experienced relatively good health – save Lance Lynn’s two-month absence at season’s start and Michael Kopech’s repeated trouble with his knee – Cueto’s presence proved critical, what with Dallas Keuchel jettisoned from the team in May.
Though the White Sox have a full boat in the rotation – with Clevinger joining Lynn, Kopech, Dylan Cease and Lucas Giolito – adding veterans on Cueto-like deals would be wise. There’s not a ton of major league ready depth in the farm system, and past Davis Martin, it’s hard to see who would even be called upon in the event of a big league need.
These types of low-risk moves have come with varying degrees of success, with Cueto being a huge hit and the signing of Ervin Santana, for example, being a huge miss. But as Hahn is fond of saying, you can never have enough pitching, and if he can find guys who are willing to serve as Triple-A starters or long men in the big league bullpen while waiting for an opportunity in the rotation, it would be well worth it.
The bullpen could see similar additions, nothing that might have the fan base jumping for joy and rushing to their phones to sign up for season tickets, but moves that prove very necessary over the course of a season. Santos is already one of those, and while he hasn’t even logged six major league innings, he will at least count among the team’s minor league depth if he doesn’t land on the Opening Day roster.
Zipping back to the position-player side of things before we go, it might be wise for Hahn & Co. to look for some potential help at catcher, too. Yasmani Grandal is readying himself for a season of work behind the plate, and with Benintendi pushing Eloy Jiménez to practically full-time DH duty, there might be no room at the top of the catching depth chart. But Grandal’s injured legs had a noticeable effect on his defensive ability the last two seasons, and there could certainly be value to finding a defensive-minded backup, even with Seby Zavala coming off his most capable season as a major leaguer. Hahn just made that move last spring, when he traded for Reese McGuire, who he later dealt for bullpen help at the deadline.
As mentioned, the White Sox might be done making additions that get fans excited. But that doesn’t mean they’re just plain done. Bringing in an everyday second baseman – or at least somebody to prove during the spring that Gonzalez or Sosa is ready for primetime – would figure to be the biggest item left on the to-do list, but there could be plenty more from a depth perspective, as well.
Stay tuned. Spring training starts in a month.