Updated December 7, 2019
White Sox rumors are flying hot-and-heavy as Chicago fans and analysts look for the team who will surprise in the coming year as a playoff contender. After watching the Atlanta Braves accomplish it in 2018, followed by the Minnesota Twins breakout year this past season, everyone’s attention now turns to 2020.
There are plenty of teams that could emerge with an active offseason and improved health. However, one team fits the formula to take a big leap next season.
The Chicago White Sox enter the offseason feeling confident about the future. Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito are coming off breakthrough campaigns. Meanwhile, more talent is on the way with Nick Madrigal, Luis Robert and Michael Kopech ready to make an impact.
Before anyone takes the field, Chicago must use this offseason to address a few areas of need and put this team in position for a breakout season.
Let’s take a look at the latest rumors coming out of Chicago and what they could mean this winter. We’ll also explore a few moves that the White Sox should make to become a contender in 2020.
White Sox Rumors
According to Frank Castillo, a sports reporter in the Dominican Republic, Ozuna is flying to the U.S. to sign with the White Sox and the deal will be announced on Monday.
If a deal is reached, Ozuna would immediately give the White Sox another All-Star bat in the lineup. He hit 29 home runs with 23 doubles and a .474 SLG during the 2019 season. Ozuna also walked in a career-high 11.3 percent of his plate appearances and stole 12 bases. While he would be below-average defensively in right field, Ozuna’s bat could more than makeup for it at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Despite an extensive pursuit by the White Sox, the 29-year-old landed in Philadelphia on a five-year deal worth more than $23 million annually. Now with Wheeler off the market, the White Sox must turn their focus to other alternatives.
The front office will almost certainly look into the market for Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole. However, both options could be deemed outside a comfortable price range given the money already spent. If that’s the case, Madison Bumgarner, Michael Pineda, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel exist as potential options.
White Sox have “checked in” on Dodgers’ OF Joc Pederson
According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Chicago contacted the Dodgers to check on the availability of the 27-year-old outfielder. Both sides reportedly discussed a deal during the previous winter until the talks ended in January.
Pederson, who is projected to make $8.5 million in his final year of arbitration, would provide the White Sox with the left-handed corner outfielder they have sought. He posted a .538 SLG with 36 home runs last season, including an eye-popping blast in September. Chicago would likely start him in right field, with Eloy Jiménez in left. Given Pederson is under contract for only one more season, he also likely wouldn’t cost Chicago a top prospect.
White Sox have expressed interest in outfielder Marcell Ozuna
According to The St. Louis Post Dispatch’s Derrick Goold, the White Sox are among the teams with interest in signing Ozuna. After posting a .804 OPS with 29 home runs and 12 stolen bases last season, he rejected a qualifying offer and is tied to a draft-pick forfeiture.
Ozuna spent the past two seasons playing in left field, but he’d shift to right field in Chicago. It’s a position he’s familiar with. Ozuna played 65 games there in his career, but his days as a Gold Glove-caliber defender are gone. He’s capable of hitting 30-plus home runs with a .850-plus OPS. Still, concerns over durability and forfeiture of Chicago’s second-highest draft pick, along with the contract, could push the front office to cost-efficient alternatives.
White Sox could make a run at Anthony Rendon
According to The Athletic’s Jim Bowden, the White Sox are a potential surprise destination for the most-coveted hitter in free agency. If Chicago landed Rendon, it could then move Yoán Moncada back to second base or try him in the outfield.
While Rendon’s incredible postseason run demonstrated his brilliance with the bat and glove, this isn’t a move that particularly fits. Nick Madrigal, ranked as a top-40 prospect in MLB by MLB.com, is ready to start at second base for the White Sox. Furthermore, Moncada enjoyed a breakout season in ’19 after moving to third base and another move could risk his growth. Rendon could be a great addition, but pitching is a far greater need than third base.
The White Sox surprised everyone by becoming the first team to sign an All-Star slugger. Grandal received the largest free-agent contract in team history and it’s a deal he should certainly live up to.
The 31-year-old will be an excellent mentor behind the plate for Chicago’s young pitchers. He’s also elite at frame pitching, which will allow him to turn balls outside the zone into critical strikes, a gift that the White Sox will love. Grandal offers the versatility to play at first base and his .926 OPS against right-handed pitchers will be appreciated on days when he needs rest and can still serve as the designated hitter.
While Abreu accepted the team’s qualifying offer earlier, both sides wanted to reach a long-term deal and they accomplished it. Chicago signed Abreu to a six-year, $68 million deal out of Cuba in 2013 and the fit only made more sense now given his success and the team’s expected growth in 2020.
Abreu provides this team with another All-Star bat to pair with Grandal. He’ll also be surrounded by All-Star caliber talent in Moncada and Anderson. This is move strengthens Chicago’s lineup for the future and keeps a leader in the clubhouse for a young team that will need it with its eyes set on playoff contention next season.
Gold Glove winner Yolmer Sanchez cleared waivers, becomes free agent
According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Sanchez cleared waivers after Chicago designated him for assignment on Nov. 25. While the 27-year-old provided outstanding defense at second base, he was projected to make $6 million in arbitration and was a liability with the bat.
Sanchez’s departure opens the door for Madrigal to become Chicago’s regular second baseman. While the White Sox could keep him in the minors to play the arbitration game, Madrigal proved he’s ready for a shot in the majors. A top-40 overall prospect, Madrigal slashed .331/.398/..424 at the Triple-A level last year. While he’s not a Gold Glove-caliber defender, Madrigal’s bat would be a welcome addition to the lineup.
Hot Stove Predictions
Sign Hyun-Jin Ryu to three-year, $60 million deal
Losing out on Wheeler isn’t ideal, but the White Sox clearly showed the willingness to spend heavily on pitching. While Ryu carries more durability concerns and is older, he can be an extremely effective starter on a shorter deal.
The 32-year-old recorded a stellar 2.32 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP in 182.2 innings last season. While he didn’t light up the radar gun, he walked just 3.3 percent of the batters he faced and still struck out more than 22 percent of opposing hitters. He can form a nice pairing with Giolito and perhaps help Lopez refine his command.
Sign Kole Calhoun to a one-year, $5.5 million contract
Addressing needs in the offseason isn’t always about the big move. The White Sox finished 2019 ranked 27th in slugging percentage (.404) against right-handed pitching. Calhoun provides a stop-gap solution in right field and a left-handed bat that 23 home runs with a .486 slugging percentage off righties in ’19. It’s not the marquee name everyone loves, but a one-year deal mitigates risk and Calhoun improves this team’s depth at the very least.
At a time when home runs are rising, pitching still determines who plays in October. Among the lowest team ERAs in MLB last season, seven of the top-10 teams made it to the playoffs.
Giolito proved he could be an ace and Ryu would be a reliable No. 2 starter when healthy. There should also be growth from Reynaldo Lopez, who held opponents to a .257/.319/.427 slash line after the All-Star Break, along with Cease. It would give the White Sox a rotation capable of lowering its rotation ERA (5.30) into the 4.7-4.3 range next year. It’s the kind of jump that would also take pressure off the lineup.
|4||Marcell Ozuna (Projected)||RF|
It’s important to remember that Moncada, Anderson and Eloy Jiménez each missed 30-plus games in 2019. They can take further steps forward as hitters and play in 145-plus games next season. The addition of Grandal will also have a dramatic impact for the lineup and rotation. Once Robert and Madrigal are promoted, this lineup can be a top-12 run producer in MLB.
Chicago’s front office must take the right approach this offseason. This roster is only a few pieces away from contending in the division, especially with the Cleveland Indians in a transition period and the Twins’ rotation nearly vacant. At a time when the Chicago Cubs want to cut payroll and trade assets, the White Sox have an opportunity to become Chicago’s playoff team.