White Sox will be better, but not enough to scare anyone
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The White Sox took a 22-game slide from 2012 to 2013 and finished dead last in the AL Central. They were an odd bunch, with no real strengths. They pitched OK, finishing ninth in the league (3.98 ERA), but were absolutely dreadful offensively, scoring a league-low 598 runs.
And even though the White Sox fared well against the Royals, winning nine of 19 — including a huge three-game sweep in late August at Kauffman Stadium — general manager Rick Hahn rightfully determined the White Sox just weren’t competitive enough against anyone else.
So, Hahn has been busy doing a makeover that started in midseason last year. From that point on, the White Sox got rid of Alexis Rios, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd, Hector Santiago, Jesse Crain, Addison Reed and Matt Thornton.
2013 FINISH: 63-99, 5th place
PROJECTED 2014 FINISH: 72-90, 4th place
In addition to shedding a major part of the nucleus from last season, Hahn brought in leadoff man Adam Eaton and high-ceiling third baseman Matt Davidson from Arizona to boost the offense. The White Sox also added first baseman Jose Abreu from Cuba, and former Royals right-hander Felipe Paulino.
HOW THEY GOT BETTER
Davidson could be a huge plus at third base. He had 20 homers and 106 RBIs at Class A three years ago, and had 17 homers and 74 RBIs at Triple A before being called up by the Diamondbacks late last season. Eaton’s minor league numbers were off the charts — .348 average and a .450 on-base percentage. The outfielder is still learning the big leagues but this year, his third, could be the year he breaks out.
Abreu could be the story of the AL Central. He hit 33 homers for Cuba in 2010-11 and then hit 35 in 2011-12. He’s Frank Thomas-big at 6 feet 2, 258 pounds, and he could be a younger-hitting version of Paul Konerko, who was re-signed as a part-time player. Abreu shined in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, going 9 for 25 with three home runs, six runs scored and nine RBIs in six games.
CROSSING THEIR FINGERS
Yes, they have Chris Sale coming back, but the White Sox have some holes to fill with the departures of Floyd and Peavy. Royals fans are probably holding their breath about Chicago’s signing of Paulino, who, when healthy, can be a tough cookie on the hill. Paulino is over a year removed from Tommy John surgery and might be ready to return to form. The Royals gave him every chance last summer, but Paulino kept getting hurt by non-throwing injuries. Club officials became concerned that Paulino would not commit to getting in good-enough shape to make a comeback. The White Sox are taking a chance he will.
The White Sox also have yet to replace catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who left after 2012 after hitting 27 homers. Tyler Flowers hit just .195 overall with 10 homers last season, but Royals fans will remember him clocking two homers against them. Josh Phegley hit just .206 with four homers. They will be in competition with Rule 5 pick Adrian Nieto and Hector Gimenez for two jobs.
The White Sox also will be in the hunt for a new closer after Addison Reed’s departure. Reed was shaky, blowing seven saves and losing four games. The White Sox signed right-hander Ronald Belisario, a sinker-baller from the Dodgers who will compete with leftovers Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom for the closer’s role. Good luck.
The White Sox had to have a makeover, and Hahn provided that. The additions of Eaton and Davidson could be huge boosts for a horrible offensive team. But the biggest "if" is Abreu — he may not be Yasiel Puig or Yoenis Cespedes, but he could give the South Side of Chicago a big thrill if he hits anywhere as well as he did in Cuba. But any upticks in the offense could be neutralized by a rotation that likely won’t be as good, and it’s hard to envision the White Sox doing any better than rising above the Twins and out of the AL Central cellar.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.