By Scott Bordow
The Chicago White Sox thought they could contend for the American League Central title in 2016 and, after getting off to a fast start by going 17-8 in April, that belief seemed sound. But then it all collapsed. The White Sox didn’t have another winning month until September and by that time they were well out of the playoff race.
Chicago was 11th in the AL in runs scored and fielding percentage, numbers that compromised a starting staff that included Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Knowing the status quo wasn’t working, General Manager Rick Hahn started over, firing manager Robin Ventura in October and then trading Sale and center fielder Adam Eaton in the offseason for six prospects.
CACTUS LEAGUE: Coverage from azcentral sports and ASU’s Cronkite School
The White Sox still have one of the game’s top offensive players, first baseman Jose Abreu, and a big-time power hitter, third baseman Todd Frazier (he had 40 homers last year), but the focus this spring will be on the progress of the players they acquired in the Sale and Eaton deals. Beyond that, it will be interesting to see how veteran starting pitcher James Shields performs after a disastrous 2016 season in which went 4-12 with a 6.77 ERA for the White Sox after they acquired him from San Diego in early June. Chicago is counting on him to be its No. 3 starter.
With Eaton traded to the Washington Nationals, the center field job is open and there’s no ready replacement. Prospect Charlie Tilson probably has the inside track after hitting .282 with 15 stolen bases for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Triple-A minor league affiliate last year but he’s no sure thing. Chicago could go with a platoon or simply play anyone who might be swinging a hot bat.
The White Sox acquired the game’s No. 1 overall prospect, infielder Yoan Moncada, in the deal that sent Sale to the Boston Red Sox. Moncada, 21, should be the Opening Day starter at second base and a fixture in the lineup for years. In 405 minor league at-bats last year Moncada hit .294 with 15 homers, 62 RBIs, 45 stolen bases and an on-base percentage of .407. The other top prospect who could make an immediate impact is starting pitcher Lucas Giolito, acquired in the Eaton trade. Giolito, 22, struck out 116 batters in 115 1/3 innings across three minor-league levels last year while posting a 2.97 ERA. He could slide into the rotation as the No. 5 starter but he’s considered to be among the top pitching prospects in the game and projects to be a future ace.
Manager: Rick Renteria
Last season’s record: 78-84
Big changes: Where to start. The White Sox fired manager Robin Ventura after the season and hired Renteria. Then, one year after making deals that signaled they were going for it in the American League Central, the White Sox reversed course. They traded Sale and Eaton for six prospects. The moves made their minor league system one of the better in the major leagues but it also means Chicago is in for a rebuild. Given the White Sox haven’t had a winning record since 2012 that’s probably not a bad thing.