The offseason Rick Hahn had with the White Sox was a step in the right direction. After all, this was a 99 loss team in 2013 that had one of the oldest and worst offenses in baseball. Hahn started the rebuild process this winter, and while the White Sox certainly seem to have a better offense in 2014, nothing is set in stone. Hahn also did a nice job in taking down the average age of Chicago's starting rotation, and they might end up being a bit of a surprise this year. But of course, nothing is guaranteed.
What can we expect from Jose Abreu?
Calling Jose Abreu Chicago's biggest acquisition this winter is like calling Robinson Cano Seattle's biggest acquisition – it's completely obvious and no one would argue with you about it. When the White Sox handed out the six-year, $68 million contract to Abreu, there was a lot of talk in the industry about what Abreu's true talent level was. Now that Spring Training has started, what do we know?
Unfortunately, not much. He's just 0/5 in Spring Training thus far, though has been impressive in batting practices and scrimmages. ZiPS has a slightly pessimistic projection for Abreu to hit .273/.364/.494 with 26 homers, and his best comp is (ironically) teammate Paul Konerko. Replacing Konerko in their lineup with a younger version of him is something that I'm sure the White Sox would be fine with, but expectations for Abreu are higher than that. After all, this is the guy who hit .382/.535/.735 with a league-leading 13 home runs in 42 games during the 2012-13 Cuban National League season, his final full season of play. Abreu obviously won't hit that well in America, but Konerko-level production would seem to be a little disappointing.
Can Chris Sale be even better?
Sale doesn't *need* to be a better pitcher. After all, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2013 and improved nearly every major statistical category from 2012 to 2013 (except win-loss record, but that was because Chicago was terrible).
By any measure you can imagine, Sale is a top ten pitcher in baseball. He threw as many innings as Max Scherzer, had a lower ERA than James Shields, struck out more hitters than Cliff Lee, and had a better strikeout to walk ratio than Clayton Kershaw. What can Sale, who turns 25 on the even of Opening Day for the White Sox, possibly do as a follow-up? If he somehow continues to improve, Sale would end up as a top three pitcher in baseball and a perennial Cy Young contender. Think of it as the jump that Scherzer made from 2012 to 2013, but from a better position.
Does this team still need a catcher?
In 2012, led by A.J. Pierzynski, , White Sox catchers hit a combined .270./324/.492 with 33 homers. That's quite good.
In 2013, with Pierzynski signing with the Rangers the offseason prior, White Sox catchers hit a combined .196/.238/.325 with 16 homers. That's quite bad.
In worse news, the two main culprits of that 2013 stat line, Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley, will return in 2014. That's *really* bad.
But there's also a new face in the catching competition – Adrian Nieto, a Rule 5 pick from the Nationals who hit .285/.373/.449 with 11 home runs with high-A Potomac in 2013. Nieto's ZiPS projection isn't friendly (.211/.285/.342 with ten homers), but Phegley's is downright good, and both are more favorable than Flowers' projection. Chicago doesn't have much talent behind the plate throughout their organization, and getting at least adequate production from the Phegley/Flowers/Nieto trio is probably Chicago's best hope for the future.
If those three struggle once again this year, the White Sox are faced with a possible offseason expenditure on a player on the wrong side of 30 like Geovany Soto, Russell Martin, or dare I say, A.J. Pierzynski.