Compared to much of Major League Baseball during what’s been, to this point, a relatively slow-moving offseason, the White Sox have been somewhat busy.
They spent $15 million on a starting pitcher, Erick Fedde, infusing their rotation with the reigning Korean baseball MVP.
They found a replacement for Tim Anderson — or at least a placeholder for Colson Montgomery — in Paul DeJong, a defensive improvement on the infield with a 30-homer season on his resume.
They made a couple trades with the Braves, landing a couple potential rotation pieces in Michael Soroka and Jared Shuster, a defensive whiz on the infield in Nicky Lopez and a defensive-minded veteran catcher in Max Stassi, all while giving up only Aaron Bummer.
It might not have been the Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle many White Sox fans were hoping for. But considering the volume of players first-year general manager Chris Getz needed to bring in to start transforming a roster that lost 101 games last season, it’s a nice start to the winter.
But here we are at Christmastime, and the White Sox still have plenty to do. Who knows if asking Santa Claus for some help will get the job done, as baseball business typically slows down around the holidays. But heck, there’s recent precedent: News of Rick Hahn giving Edwin Encarnacion a free-agent deal broke on Christmas night four years ago.
So if Getz & Co. are hoping to wake up Monday morning and cross items off their wish list with what’s under the tree, what should they be asking for this Christmas? Here’s what they still need to get done before spring training.
More starting pitching
Fedde has been the team’s biggest acquisition this offseason, and Soroka and Shuster provide two potential rotation pieces, as well. But there are question marks everywhere, with depth still being a concern.
Heck, with Fedde pitching in Korea and Soroka and Shuster only seeing limited big league action in 2023, three-fifths of the White Sox’ current rotation made a combined 17 major league starts last season.
Then there’s whether Dylan Cease gets traded, whether Michael Kopech will figure out what ailed him this year, whether Nick Nastrini is ready for prime time, whether Davis Martin will return from Tommy John surgery the same guy he was in 2022 and whether Touki Toussaint or Jesse Scholtens are good enough to provide meaningful depth.
Like I said, question marks abound.
So Getz and new pitching czar Brian Bannister would be wise to throw as much as the wall as they can to see if anything will stick. More starting pitching seems to remain at the top of the team’s wish list.
On the position-player front, the White Sox, as ever, need a right fielder.
Getz has made clear that Oscar Colás, who won the job in spring before being demoted not once but twice during the season, is ticketed to at least begin 2023 in the minor leagues. Meanwhile, Gavin Sheets remains a natural first baseman tasked with playing the outfield, antithetical to Getz’s mission to improve the team defensively.
Look for the same type of acquisition the White Sox made in bringing in DeJong, Lopez and Stassi, someone who will be an obvious upgrade defensively if not with the bat. The team has yet to spend much at all this winter, behavior that was perhaps assumed by many expecting a significant payroll decrease following the massive disappointment of 2023 and the big attendance decrease that followed the disappointment of 2022.
That’s not to say the White Sox couldn’t find a right fielder that fits into both their short- and long-term planning, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the pattern continue, either.
The team has basically completely dismantled what looked like a loaded relief unit at the start of last season, trading Kendall Graveman, Joe Kelly, Reynaldo López and Kenynan Middleton at the deadline, declining the option on Liam Hendriks in November and trading Bummer earlier this offseason.
All that’s left at this point is possible closer Gregory Santos, who’s coming off a season-ending injury, though he’s expected to be healthy enough to be part of the Opening Day roster.
Whether Getz is fine with Santos as his ninth-inning man or not, the White Sox are going to need a lot more on the relief-pitching front.
Garrett Crochet’s return should be a boost. Some of the aforementioned rotation candidates could wind up as long men. And names like Tanner Banks, Jimmy Lambert and Alex Speas figure to be in the mix. Heck, there’s a world where Kopech ends up in the ‘pen if things go south for him as a starter.
But regardless of what’s here now, Getz needs to add to that group, particularly with some proven arms — the team is open to a reunion with Bryan Shaw after his impressive work at the end of last season — if he’s going to give Pedro Grifol a fighting chance late in games.
Getz has yet to commit to whether Lopez will be his team’s everyday second baseman after getting him in the 5-for-1 swap with the Braves, and it’s a wonder if another infielder might wind up coming to the South Side.
Like several of this offseason’s additions, Lopez plays great defense but leaves plenty to be desired with the bat. Getz and Grifol, both familiar with Lopez from their time in Kansas City, have raved about what he can bring to a team looking to establish a new identity. But is he best suited as an everyday starter or a dependable reserve infielder?
That remains to be seen and entirely depends on what the roster looks like come spring. There’s at least an opportunity, then, to add another bat to the lineup at second base, though that position rarely boasts a bunch of attractive offensive options.
Whit Merrifield, another former Royal, has been mentioned plenty this winter as a possible fit, given the preexisting relationships. But his bat, too, was far from elite in 2023.
A similar question exists at catcher, with it a wonder whether Stassi is aboard to top the team’s catching depth chart, help develop Korey Lee as a backup or just be one of multiple options come spring training.
There’s reason to believe any outcome is possible. Stassi has played in parts of 10 major league seasons with strong defensive numbers that would seem to fit exactly what the White Sox were looking for in a catcher this offseason.
But his offensive numbers have not been stellar, his career .212 batting average and career on-base percentage below .300 signaling he could be ticketed for backup status after not playing at all in 2023.
Then there’s the Braves paying almost all of Stassi’s $7 million salary for 2024, making him potentially a low-cost flier for the White Sox, who might have no problem cheaply jettisoning him.
So is Getz on the hunt for another veteran catcher to join a springtime competition? The general manager hasn’t spoken to the media since the White Sox landed Stassi two weekends ago, so we don’t know for sure. Stassi would seem to check the boxes for the White Sox, but he’s a really low-cost and low-risk addition.
White Sox brass was adamant during the Winter Meetings that there was no rush to deal away Cease, who with two seasons of club control left is simultaneously the team’s top trade chip and a guy they would love to have at the top of their rotation.
But Cease’s name remains front and center on the Hot Stove, with reports of interested parties rolling in, even while the sport moves at a glacial pace this winter. The control, the durability, the strikeouts and his 2022 second-place Cy Young finish all make Cease an obviously attractive target for contenders like the Orioles, Dodgers and Braves, with even the Reds mentioned, too. Once suitors miss out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Blake Snell, desperation could heighten, for the listed teams and others.
That’s perhaps what Getz is banking on, his high asking price being met by pitching-hungry teams left without a free-agent dance partner. But if no team gives him what he wants, maybe Cease stays a White Sock until July — or longer.
Elsewhere, might a team or two come calling about increasingly expensive youngsters Yoán Moncada and Eloy Jiménez? Their salaries create some big hurdles to a deal, especially considering they’ve yet to show they can produce consistently or stay healthy. But the talent and potential is still there. Getz said the White Sox would be willing to pay some salary in a trade that made sense for their short- and long-term future.
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