Well that was a fun few months, wasn’t it?
Honestly if you had asked me back at the end of October what my hopes were for a good White Sox off season I would have told you I would’ve been satisfied with the team adding somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-8 WAR by plugging up the Black Hole of Sadness that was RF, DH and the 5th starter positions.
After the past few winters and the lack of anything that could be described as “remotely exciting,” my expectations were not enormous, despite this off season looming as the type that could be critical to make the last step from “rebuilding” to “competing” a reality. Which is understandable, as you can only watch guys like AJ Reed and Dylan Covey so long before your soul becomes jaded and calloused.
So when the Sox blew the market open just before Thanksgiving by signing the best (switch hitting) catcher on the market in Yasmani Grandal to a 4-year, $73 million dollar deal I nearly drove off the road and through the razor wire-covered fence separating me from the Air National Guard base in Atlantic City. Thankfully that didn’t happen, because then I would’ve missed out on the Sox hot pursuit of Zack Wheeler. While not ultimately successful, the rumors of the contract offered to Wheeler showed that Rick Hahn truly was not going to be fucking around this winter.
The Sox also traded for Nomar Mazara to play in a potential platoon in RF this season, which hopefully assures positive production out of the right field position for the first time in what feels like decades. The trade itself initially didn’t move the needle very much for me, but after reading between the lines of what Rick Hahn has said about Mazara’s potential and how little the Sox committed to the position financially makes me think there might be bigger things down the road for that spot in the OF (man George Springer would look good out there).
Lest anyone think Hahn was done, he then went and solved the 5th starter spot by welcoming back Gio Gonzalez to the South Side for a 3rd time on a 1 year deal. It doesn’t really need to be said, but Gio compared to the dreck that had been oozing out there every 5th day is a drastic upgrade to the staff. A few days later, Hahn put an end to the narrative that the Sox would never deal with a Scott Boras client by inking Dallas Keuchel to what is essentially a 4-year deal with club options. Keuchel isn’t Zack Wheeler, but he’s not exactly Jamie Navarro either.
At this point most of us figured that Hahn was about finished with signing people, and the majority of fans out there would have considered this winter to be a success. Yet Hahnta Claus had a few more gifts to deliver, the first showing up on Christmas day with the signing of Edwin Encarnacion to a 1 year deal worth $13 million with a club option for 2021.
Encarnacion is not the same player he was when he was batting .280 for the Blue Jays with 80 HR and 200 RBI. That being said he’s far from a league average player. While missing some games last season split in-between the Indians and Yankees due to a wrist fracture, Encarnacion was still able to mash 34 taters and knock in 89 RBI, all while maintaining a .344 OBP and ending the year with a 129 wRC+ rating. While his K rate has risen by about 4% in the last 2 seasons, his walk rate has stayed the same, which is what you’d expect from a player entering his age 37 season. If he can keep both at about 20 and 10% respectively there’s no reason to expect anything less than a 2.5 WAR season from him.
This is a sneaky-solid signing for the Sox, as Encarnacion has essentially been the same player for the last 8 years. Never less than 30 home runs in a season, and always right around an .875 OPS. His splits work pretty much the same against pitchers of either handedness, which solves some issues the Sox had against right handed pitching last season.
This also creates a hydra option at DH for Ricky Renteria, as you now have Encarnacion, Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal and James McCann available for the position. Managing Abreu and Encarnacion’s workload this season should be fairly simple work and keep both of them fresh throughout the year. It’s also an enormous upgrade at DH, and Encarnacion has the distinct chance to become the best hitter the Sox have played there since Jim Thome got run off because Ozzie and Kenny Williams fucking hated each other.
So at this point Hahn had solved the issues in RF, DH, 4SP and 5SP. Fuck it, may as well avoid the service time questions about Luis Robert by signing him to what amounts to an 8 year deal and buying him out of all his arbitration years. This deal at it’s core is very similar to the ones Hahn signed Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Timmy Anderson and Eloy Jiminez to. By betting heavily on what is essentially your future, the Sox get cost certainty for their payroll and potentially room to expand it the next two seasons.
This also all but guarantees that Robert will be the starting CF for the Sox on opening day, which makes the potential starting outfield look like Eloy/Robert/Mazara which is infinitely more palatable than what last year’s Eloy/Engel/A Department Store Mannequin.
With the starting outfield now pretty much set, Hahn added a solid bullpen arm in Steve Cishek on a one year deal for $5.25 million with a team option $6.75 million. Cishek had two good years with the Cubs, taking on a pretty hefty workload with the dumpster fire state of their bullpen. He racked up 134 innings in two seasons with a 2.55 ERA. He held righties to a minuscule .183/.260/.293, and his numbers against lefties weren’t to the point where he’s a specialist (.217/.367/.361).
While his peripherals sound a few alarm bells with a 4.54 FIP, some of that can be attributed to the sheer amount of work he was forced into with the Cubs. His strand rate was in line with his career averages, as were his BB and K rates, so the hope is with more workload management he can stave off any regression in the Sox bullpen.
So as it stands right now, the Sox opening day roster looks something like this:
Now that’s a lineup that will not only put some butts in seats (glares at Kenny Williams), but will give the Twins and Indians notice that the Central division is no longer a two horse race. For the first time in what feels like forever, hope blooms on the corner of 35th and Shields. How long that will last will depend on whether the Sox horrible injury luck persists into the 2020 season, and whether or not Hahn has the flexibility to trade or sign for the last few pieces needed for that final leap. It’s time to have fun watching Sox baseball again, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time considering the state of the other sports teams in Chicago. Game on!