3 roadblocks on the White Sox’s road to contention this season
Each weekday between now and the end of spring training, we’ll analyze one team’s keys for success (or keys to avoid complete irrelevance) in the 2016 season. We wrap up the AL Central today with the White Sox, and we’ll turn our attention to the NL Central and the Cardinals on Monday.
1. Decide if it’s time to that ship Avisail. Known as "Little Miggy" as a rookie, Avisail Garcia hasn’t resembled his former Tigers teammate Miguel Cabrera at the plate thus far. In fact, his 13 homers and 59 RBI last season were career highs but came with an unimpressive .675 OPS. But, hey, at least he stayed healthy enough to play in 148 games.
Garcia still is just 24, but the White Sox’s patience is running thin, especially when it comes to his defense in right field. During the offseason, the team was linked to free-agent outfielders Justin Upton, Alex Gordon and Yoenis Cespedes. It’s make-or-break time for Garcia.
2. Shore up shortstop. Or at least make sure Tyler Saladino can handle the starting job. During the offseason, the White Sox declined their 2016 option on Alexei Ramirez, who had been their starter the past eight seasons. Saladino, 26, hit just .225 with four homers, 20 RBI and a .602 OPS in 68 games as a rookie last season. But because Saladino is more valuable for his glove than his bat, Chicago likely will live with his offense (or lack thereof). Still, the Sox were linked for a time to free-agent shortstop Ian Desmond, who remains unsigned.
And Saladino isn’t the only new face in the infield. Chicago acquired All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier from the Reds and second baseman Brett Lawrie from the A’s, making first baseman Jose Abreu the veteran of the bunch in just his third season. Even catchers Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro are new.
3. Take advantage of David Robertson. What’s more incredible: that the White Sox produced just 52 save opportunities in 2015 (only the Indians and Phillies had fewer), or that they did so despite playing an MLB-high 59 one-run games (going 29-30)? Chicago’s relievers ranked in the middle of the pack with a 3.67 ERA, but they struggled with a 1.36 WHIP. In fact, no White Sox reliever with at least 45 appearances (other than Robertson) had a WHIP under 1.30.
Chicago must get more in Year 2 of its four-year, $46 million investment in Robertson. And that means the middle relievers and setup men — largely the same crew from last season – must improve. Or the team will waste another year of ace Chris Sale.