I can't say enough bad things about the 2013 Chicago White Sox. They lost 99 games, fielded a $118 million payroll, and also had one of the worst farm systems in the game. But this winter, something happened – general manager Rick Hahn overhauled the club in his second offseason in charge, and hope is on the horizon for Chicago.
Depth Chart (as of 3/3/14)
C: Tyler Flowers
1B: Jose Abreu
2B: Gordon Beckham
SS: Alexei Ramirez
3B: Matt Davidson
LF: Alejandro de Aza
CF: Adam Eaton
RF: Avisail Garcia
DH: Adam Dunn
SP: Chris Sale
SP: Jose Quintana
SP: John Danks
SP: Erik Johnson
SP: Felipe Paulino
CL: Nate Jones
Where should I begin…well, I guess the best place would be at first base, where Cuban signee Jose Abreu will be replacing long-time White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko. Across the infield, newly-acquired Matt Davidson seems poised to take over as Chicago's every day third baseman. Another former Diamondback, Adam Eaton, seems to be the choice to be the new White Sox center fielder in 2014. On the hill, Felipe Paulino was a solid buy-low signing to fill a hole in the rotation, while Hahn revamped Chicago's bullpen by signing Scott Downs, Ronald Belisario, and Mitchell Boggs. It's almost like they're a real team again!
The lone major White Sox free agent was starting pitcher Gavin Floyd, who missed nearly all of 2013 following Tommy John surgery and signed with the Braves. Chicago also dealt a pair of pitchers to acquire Eaton and Davidson – starter Hector Santiago and closer Addison Reed. And really…that's all. Three pitchers out.
Abreu is technically a rookie, though because he's 27, he's not really a prospect in the most common use of the word. Meanwhile, Eaton isn't technically a rookie because of his 380 major league plate appearances, but he's just 25 and had a lost 2013. Davidson is both a rookie *and* a prospect, and should be a key contributor in 2014. Starting pitcher Erik Johnson also seems primed for a role in the majors this years after tearing through three levels in 2013. Finally, infielder Marcus Semien has done nothing but hit in his pro career so far, but a numbers crunch in the infield could force him to AAA to start the season.
The aforementioned Paul Konerko is going to hit his way into the lineup this year due to the presence of Abreu at first base, but if Adam Dunn struggles like he has during most of his tenure with the White Sox, it should be pretty easy for Konerko to see some at at bats. There's also the question of what to do with Dayan Viciedo, who has continually failed to live up to expectations and might be tabbed for a platoon role in 2014. Who knows what will end up happening with Alejandro de Aza, whose season was disappointing outside of a strong June and July.
The White Sox also have some battles that aren't too compelling for bench roles. Will Rule 5 pick Adrian Nieto stick, or will the White Sox continue to roll with their duo of Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley? Are the White Sox going to bite the bullet and try to dump Jeff Keppinger's contract to get a little younger with Leury Garcia, Conor Gillaspie, or Marcus Semien? Is Felipe Paulino going to be the fifth starter, or would Eric Surkamp or Andre Rienzo be a better option? Seriously, the major conflicts in Chicago aren't exactly ones that will determine whether or not the team succeeds or fails in 2014, they're just about future positioning.
Here's your obligatory "Chris Sale's motion is so funky that I'm afraid his arm will snap in half" mention of the preview. With that out of the way, Eaton missed nearly all of the first half last year with the Diamondbacks, but stayed healthy in the second half. Gordon Beckham missed two months last year with a broken hamate bone, and had one of his typical up and down years after returning from the injury. Shoulder surgery knocked John Danks out for all of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, and he wasn't right all year. As Chicago transitions to younger players, their injury situation becomes much less of a concern.
I don't think anyone is calling the White Sox a playoff team, but couldn't you see everything falling into place for them and the team competing for a Wild Card in 2014? That's what happened in 2012, and it took a late season collapse by Chicago and a charge by the Tigers to knock the Pale Hose out of the AL Central lead. This division is one that seems to have ebbs and flows each year, and if the White Sox offense even performs at a league average level, Robin Ventura's squad can sniff .500 thanks to the always solid pitching staff of Don Cooper.
Three things would qualify 2014 as a disaster for the White Sox – Abreu is a bust, Sale gets hurt, and/or Eaton doesn't play like the former top 100 prospect that he was. Abreu and Eaton were the two major splashes that Chicago made this winter, and if one or both of them was a disappointment, Hahn would have egg on his face. As for Sale…well, he was pretty much the only bright spot for the White Sox last year, and something happens to his arm, it'll be a lose for the club and baseball as a hole.
So what do we think, somewhere between 80 and 90 losses? I think that's a reasonable prediction for the team this season. PECOTA has the Sox at 86 losses, and various Las Vegas casinos have them set in the same general area. Basic luck can shift their totals in either direction, and finishing somewhere around .500 and anywhere between second and fourth in the AL Central seems like a solid projection.