Baseball

We open the outfield previews with the young goofball set to hit all the dingers, Eloy Jimenez. Hi Mom!

Eloy kicked off a trend of signing in the Spring so as to avoid being a victim of service time manipulation ensure a place in the starting lineup and Left Field to open the 2019 campaign. Eloy started slow, had trouble with the curve/anything breaking and seemed to be trying to hit 10-run homers the whole first month+ before injuring himself in the field (which would become his unfortunate recurring theme). Then around June something clicked and in the second half he become the baseball mashing monster we all hoped, while improving his on-base skills in the process.

Jimenez is primed for a true breakout in 2020, ready to build on his incredible final month of 2019 (1.093 OPS/184 wRC+). The Big Baby spent the offseason determined to improve his very sub-par defense and emphatically squash talk of moving to DH any time soon (“No, fuck that”).

2019 Stats

.267/.315/.513

6.0 BB% 26.6 K%

31 HR 79 RBI 69 R

.343 wOBA 114 wRC+ 1.9 WAR

-11 DRS

Last Week On Nitro: 2019 saw Jimenez open his MLB account and it was most definitely not the greatest of debuts, much to the chagrin of Sox fans. Eloy piled up ugly strikeouts and ugly routes in the outfield, telegraphing the pressure he felt as the rebuilds golden boy. Jimenez took his sweet time adjusting to Big League breaking balls, which were the bane of his existence for a good two months. These are the type of things you expect from rookie hitters, even the best of them, but the expectations were unfair and it clearly weighed on the young slugger. The good news is he was able to make adjustments and improve and excel as the season went on. He settled in, going on a tear through June after returning from his first IL stint in May to the tune of 11 HR/25 RBI in 36 games. July saw another rough stretch (and second IL trip), which coincided with the club as a whole hitting the proverbial wall, before the Big Baby compiled a strong final 50+ games to see his 2nd half numbers reach 35/15/41/.292/.328 with a 128 wRC+/.870 OPS. The overall numbers above in just 122 games make for a very encouraging overall debut, especially factoring the abysmal start.

The real sore spot for Eloy’s rookie season, literally and figuratively, was his play in LF. Sox Machine’s Jim Margalus chronicled Jimenez’s season of OF gaffes in a twitter thread and it does not disappoint in all the worst ways. To his credit, Jimenez headed to Winter Ball in the Dominican with the sole purpose of working to improve his defense and stay in the field as long as he can. The Organization seems to think he’s making progress, given that they gave a three-year extension to the aging Jose Abreu, signed Yasmani Grandal and Edwin Encarnacion and still employ plenty of other DH-adjacent bats like Zack Collins. Eloy is clearly averse to the idea and he’ll get the opportunity to prove his worth for the foreseeable future. He really doesn’t have anywhere to go but up from that -11 DRS metric, one that likely cost him a top three AL ROY finish.

TOO SWEET! (WHOOP WHOOP):  Eloy flies out of the gates in March, continuing his Sept/Oct 2019 assault on American League pitching, producing something like a .365 OBP/900+ OPS and swatting over 50 HR. The work in the field shows enough improvement to keep his DRS around -3-ish or better, helping him into the conversation for AL MVP on a White Sox team that threatens to crash the October party. He starts to pull the ball in the air more to LF, he keeps the K% closer to 20-22 and improves the BB% to 8-10 and the rest of the lineup benefits because of it. I party nearly every night.

Say Eloy improves his stat line to .310/.345/.540 and that’s still a marked improvement and a force. Combine this with what would be the baseline for the likes of Abreu, Grandal, Encarnacion, Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson and you have a very, very dangerous lineup. Eloy could hit anywhere from the 3 hole to 7th, but ideally Ricky will spot him up somewhere and leave him so as not to mess with any improvements we’ve seen. This Spring he’s seen most of his time in the 5th spot, so we can assume that’s where he slots most of the year although you never really know with Ricky Renteria and his lineup blender.

There is some real speculation as to whether Jimenez will improve enough in the OF to get that DRS down so much, but he has put in the time and was much better later in the season (after he surely got a talking to for running himself into an elbow injury in July after karate kicking a wall earlier in they year). That and the addition of him making it a priority last Winter at least gives hope for a solid positive regression.

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: The big numbers seen over the final two months were a mirage. Eloy slowly starts his season, forgetting the pitch recognition he picked up as 2019 wore on and yet again finds himself on the IL early because of a misplay in the field. He languishes through a sophomore slump, hits a paltry .240/.285/.460 and turns in an empty 25-30 HR along the way. He continues playing LF like the ungraceful elk he is while attempting to call off his CF often, who is now Luis Robert – a guy that will definitely hurt more running into that Charlie Tilson. I cry every night.

This scenario sees the fanbase and media start to question the long extension Jimenez inked in March 2019 and ponders if it’s really that great of business to dole out that kind of coin to players with no MLB ABs to their name (it still is). I do think that anything less than a slight improvement over Eloy’s final line from last season will be packaged as a disappointment from the media/fans and could hurt his mental development. This is a very tight knit core, though, one that has signed basically the entire lineup save RF for at least the next three seasons and has reinforcements in Andrew Vaughn (1B) and Nick Madrigal (2B) very close to being here for at least another six with everyone but Abreu and Grandal. Any adversity Jimenez or his teammates find will see the rest rally around them and that has to count for something.

BAH GAWD THAT’S JIMENEZ’S MUSIC!: I’m going to predict Eloy at .302/.341/.560 with 44 HR and a league leading 118 RBI. The lineup around him is vastly improved and so is his plate discipline, which leads to the breakout he’s capable of. He plays a slightly improved LF, enough so to stay out of Robert’s way and keep himself off the IL multiple times.

He could see time in a few different lineup spots, but it won’t be to his detriment as he finds cover no matter where he hits. Encarnacion dubs him his large adult son as Eloy edges him for the team lead in HRs. We all party.

 

 

Baseball

Here we arrive at the player who represents something the Sox desperately needed and haven’t had since Jim (HI ITS JI-) Thome took his whoopin stick up I-94 up to the Land Of Ice And First Round Flameouts: above average production out of the DH position. Having pretty much created slugging percentage at every stop he’s had on his career, Edwin Encarnacion is the balm that could sooth the pain created by the hemorrhoid that was watching AJ Reed flail wildly about in the batter’s box last season.

With a fairly team friendly contract (1 year, 13 Million with a club option for a 2nd year) partially resulting from a cool market for DH style players and the fact that he spent the 2nd half of the season hurt, this was a sneaky good signing for Rick Hahn. Let’s dive into it a little more, shall we?

 

2019 Stats

.244/.344/.531

34 HR 86 RBI

11.9 BB% 21.2 K%

.362 wOBA 129 wRC+ .875 OBPS

Outs Above Average: 0

 

Last Week On Nitro: 2019 saw pretty much the same thing from Edwin Encarnacion that the previous 8 years had, namely him blasting 30+ HR and racking up RBIs by the barrel full. He started the season with the Mariners, ostensibly to anchor a young hopefully contending offense at the DH position. What ended up happening was the M’s crashing out of contention pretty rapidly, which resulted in him being flipped to the Yankees for Juan Then (the Yanks 27th ranked prospect) and cash considerations. At the time of the trade, the then 36-year old Encarnacion was leading the AL in dingers with 21 through 68 games.

It was in New York that he ran into a streak of shitty luck, getting drilled by a pitch on the wrist that resulted in a hairline fracture that cost him a month and sapped a goodly amount of power from him. He also missed time with an oblique strain that he suffered while hitting a home run. Despite all that, he still managed a .249/.325/.531 line with 13 home runs and a 121 wRC+ rating with the Bronx Bombers.

While Encarnacion’s power numbers have remained remarkably steady, 2019 became the 3rd consecutive year posting a drop in his batting average. The .244 mark is now down .026 from his career average of .270, and despite posting a record low (for him) BABIP of .239 last year, there really isn’t much hope of a rebound in that category. His walk rate remains in line with the rest of his career, but his K rate has gone up a few years in a row, most likely tied to the dip in his batting average. 34 HR is still 34 HR however, and at this point in his career nobody is signing Encarnacion to work the count.

Despite those solid numbers (which other than the BA are right in line with what you’d expect), there were not too many teams beating down his door to sign him to a multi-year deal. This left him sitting around until Christmas Day, when Hahnta Claus shuffled down his chimney with a 1 year deal worth 13 million dollars and an option for a 2nd with the same numbers. Merry Christmas indeed.

TOO SWEET! (Whoop Whoop!): Best case scenario is Encarnacion returns to the offensive output he was providing in 2019 before getting popped on the wrist by a pitch. His .246/.360/.542 slash line and 139 wRC+ he posted through June would  absolutely annihilate whatever meager power the Sox have gotten out of the DH position during the last 5 years.

Production like that in a lineup like this would make it pretty simple for him to break 100 RBIs again, and 35 home runs would not be out of the question. Placing him in the cleanup spot in the batting order would allow him to reap the benefits of having Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal and (eventually) Nick Madrigal or Luis Robert hitting in front of him. Or if Eloy Jimenez breaks out completely you could have any combination of Encarnacion, Jose Abreu and Nomar Mazara hitting in the 5, 6 and 7 spots. While this is not a true Murderer’s Row (yet), it’s easily the most exciting batting order the Sox have assembled in years.

Defensively (if it comes to that), Encarnacion isn’t a disaster at first base either. His 0 OAA stat from last year marks him as exactly league average at the position, and his -1 DRS is a stat you could easily live with if he was pressed into service for an extended length of time if someone (Jeebus forbid) got hurt. Otherwise you wouldn’t expect to see him out there more than a game per week max.

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: The White Sox history at signing DH players through free agency (with the obvious exception of Jim Thome) has been a minefield of epic sadness. If things truly went nipples up with Encarnacion this season, the spectre of Adam Dunn and his .219 average would hover over first base like Casper the Soft Contact Ghost. If his batting average continued its slow progression downward, and his health limited him to less than 100 games, I could see this being a wasted 13 million by the Sox.

That awful picture aside, even if Encarnacion turns out to be a disaster at the plate this season it’s only a one year deal. The Sox would merely have to decline his option in the off-season and replace him with someone from the copious free agent pool next year. On top of that, the Sox have gotten such hilariously shitty production from the DH spot that it would take a Palka-esque level of regression for Encarnacion to be any worse than what we’ve had from there the past few years. Odds are, Edwin is going to be the best DH the Sox have had for a few years, merely by not dying in the batters box.

 

 

BAH GAWD THAT’S ENCARNACION’S MUSIC!: I fully expect Edwin Encarnacion to hit 35 home runs this season, and knock in 110 RBIs. Honestly, why would I expect anything else? The man has been an absolute model of consistency in his power numbers throughout his career. It hasn’t mattered what coast of the country he’s on, 30+ dingers has been a lock for him and this season is going to be no different. Shit, even if he replicates his numbers from 2019 it would still be a win not only for the Sox, but all of us who have had to watch the endless parade of dopes taking at bats from the DH spot. Anything more than what he put up last year is gravy.

That being said, I also feel like the .245 average for him is the new norm. I don’t doubt that his OBP will be pretty static, but the reality of his age keeps the idea of him hitting .265 pretty unlikely. He’s also not going to be playing 1st base very much, which is also fine. Jose Abreu and Grandal are both more than capable of nailing down that position for the season. NL parks could be an issue down the road, but that’s a bridge you cross when you get to it.

If Encarnacion plays more than 100 games this season at the level of consistency that he’s shown over the past decade, this signing will be a complete win for the Sox. The man is a professional hitter, and that is something that’s been in short supply on the South Side for quite some time. If he happens to drag his average back above .250 and stays healthy? That 13 million dollars is going to look like quite the steal for the team, and whoever owns stock in the company that sells fireworks to the White Sox is going to have quite the windfall.

Baseball

Moving along the diamond we come to the deepest position for the Sox infield, 1st base. It also contains the most tenured and respected player on the team, Jose Abreu. Nestled into the middle of the Sox “Sold B+” off-season was a 3 year extension for Jose. While the contract itself was a source of consternation for the Sox Faithful during the winter months, ultimately it’s now up to Jose to prove he deserved that paper and try to build off a season which was both successful (Led the AL in RBIs!) and not (highest K rate and lowest BB of his career). Let’s see what we can see, shall we?

 

2019 Stats

.284/.330/.503

33 HR 123 RBI

5.2 BB% 21.9 K%

.344 wOBA 117 wRC+ .833 OPS

Outs Above Average: -3

2019 Player Review

 

Last Week on Nitro: 2019 was somewhat of a mixed bag for Jose Abreu, as mentioned above. His power numbers were some of the best that he’s had since he broke into the league in 2014. The 33 home runs is his second highest mark, and the 123 RBIs blew away his previous high of 107. These are all (obviously) very good things, and what you’d expect out of someone of Jose’s size and position on the diamond. What wasn’t so great was the leap in his K rate and the precipitous dip in his BB rate. Jose was always known for his above average eye at the plate, and yet last season showed him chasing more down and away off-speed stuff. His OBP, while higher than 2018, was still a good .020 lower than his usual sterling .350 mark. The rest of his stats, including his hard hit and line drive rates were in line with his career norms. His BABIP was where you’d expect it to be as well.

Jose was also his usual stalwart self, hardly missing any time due to injury which has been a hallmark of his every season except 2018 (which we shall forget ever happened). So what to make of it all? Is this the new Abreu, primed for power and not worried that right field even exists? Or is it an outlier of sorts, and he will return to his “spray to all fields with pop” ways in 2020?

 

TOO SWEET (WHOOP WHOOP): While Jose is progressing in age, it’s by no means a death knell for his production. One only needs to look North to Nelson Cruz or even right here on the Sox with Edwin Encarnacion (who I’ll talk about tomorrow) to show that given the right scenario, those guys can not only be productive but key pieces of a baseball team that has deigns on more than just a winning record. Shit, by the time the season gets under way Abreu will be 6 years younger than Cruz, which seems to punch holes in the theory that the regression monster is destined to consume him.

The best case scenario for Jose this summer is the continued development of Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez. If the three of them are able to provide Jose some cover in the lineup, I could see him coming close to the power numbers he put up last year. Having Edwin Encarnacion  and Yasmani Grandal in the lineup could allow Abreu to hit comfortably in the #5 or 6 spot in the lineup, keeping his RBI opportunities plentiful but no longer forcing him to be THE MAN. If everything swings his way this year, I could see Jose having the kind of season that makes folks forget about the Sox overpaying him back in December. Turning back the clock to 2013 with a .290/.345/.500 kind of line with 120 RBIs is well within reach with proper placement in the lineup by Ricky and Jose’s continued good health.

On the other side of the ball, if Tim Anderson lived up to his promise and his D improves this winter, it will go a long way for Jose’s defensive numbers. Jose not having to chase shitty throws to the dugout or scoop shit outta the dirt like cat litter would be a nice change of pace for him. He’s never going to be Albert Pujols in his prime at 1B, but he’s not a sinkhole over there either. Add in the fact that Encarnacion, Grandal and even James McCann will be able to spell him at 1B will only help in the long run keeping Jose viable.

 

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: The flip side of the mega-positive coin is instead of having 2019 Nelson Cruz as a comp, you end up with 2019 Miguel Cabrera. While Miggy was still a decently productive player in 2019 (.282/.346/.398), he was a slightly below average league player (-0.3 WAR), which for a guy with a contract that has a $31 million dollar AAV is nightmare fuel for fans of a team with an owner like Jerry Reinsdorf.

Miggy had a terrible time staying healthy over the past few years, and really his contract is the only thing keeping him on the field at this point. I’ve always been a big fan of Cabrera and his shenanigans on the field, but for a team like the White Sox who are poised to take the jump to the next level having this happen to Jose would be bad news.

The other thing that would be absolutely brutal for some of the Sox off-season moves is the ball suddenly goes back to not being made out of plutonium and all the dingers are now warning track fly outs. In the past this wouldn’t be the end of the world for Jose, but last season he decided to turn and burn way more than in seasons past, and a dead ball would have his numbers crash faster than that guy trying to prove the earth is flat by flying his own rockets.

 

BAH GAWD THAT’S ABREU’S MUSIC: Here’s my prediction for Jose for this season: it’s gonna be pretty much the same as last season. What we’ve seen out of Abreu lately is the new norm for him, as pulling the ball for power is a lot more fun than trying to split the right and center fielders. Running sucks, and people who do it for fun are insane. Why leg out a double when you can put one in the bullpen and jog around the bases? His final line will look something similar to this: .269/.325/.489, with 30 dingers and 110 RBI for a total of 2.0 WAR and a wRC+ of 115. Which is perfectly acceptable for him on this team.

Jose will most likely start the season hitting out of the 3 or 4 hole (Because Ricky Renteria), but with all the danger the Sox present in their lineup going forward Ricky will see the value of hitting Jose out of the 5 spot where he can comfortably knock in runs all year without the pressure of hitting higher in the lineup. He’ll have to spend some time at DH to get Grandal and Encarnacion reps at first (which he hates) but he’s the ultimate team player, and it’ll work for him.

The most important thing for Jose is he’s gonna have a shitload of fun this season, right along with the rest of us. Even if the Sox end up with 85 wins and miss the postseason by 6 games it’s going to mark a change in that dugout. The wave hasn’t made it to the shore yet, but it’s on the horizon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baseball

The first roster-fringe player we cover on our 2020 Sox Preview series is Zack Collins. While there is not a guarantee that Collins will make the Opening Day roster, he probably should get a good long look before the Sox decide to burn another option and send him down to AAA for however long, as he has very little left to prove in the minors. In a world without James McCann, Collins would be the obvious backup catcher, but as long as McCann is here Collins’ roster spot is in a bit of doubt. But we will touch on that. Let’s dig in

2019 MLB Stats

27 GP, .186/.307/.349, 3 HR, 12 RBI

-0.3 fWAR, -0.2 bWAR, -0.3 WARP

13.7 BB%, 38.8 K%

.285 wOBA, 77 wRC+ .656 OPS

-4 DRS, -3.1 FRAA

Last Week on Nitro: Collins spent most of 2019 in AAA, where his numbers were infinitely better than that drivel above us. I listed his MLB stats because, as I said in the open, he has almost nothing left to prove in the minors and should be an MLB player moving forward. But don’t let those rough stats from limited action as a rookie scare you off – Collins’ slash line in 88 AAA games was a much more encouraging .282/.403/.548 with 19 HR and 74 RBI, good for a .401 wOBA and 140 wRC+. Among the most encouraging aspects of Collins’ numbers at all levels of the minors and even his short MLB spell is the walk-rate and OBP, as that 13.7% he posted in the bigs last year counts as the lowest that number has been for him at any level of the minors. Collins simply does not chase bad pitching, forcing pitchers to come into the zone where he is a legitimate threat to take them deep on every pitch.

Another reason you can quite easily disregard any concern that could come from looking at those 2019 MLB stats is the way Rick Renteria used Collins when he was first called up. Despite the fact that the Sox had no one on the MLB roster who could serve as a reliable DH, Ricky kept Collins out of the everyday lineup and only had him playing sporadically every 3-to-5 days, and two of his first eight appearances (including his freakin’ MLB debut) came as nothing more than a pinch hitter. Going from an everyday impact bat in the minors to bench piece is a tough situation to be in when you’re also trying to adjust to MLB pitching. Obviously that was still when McCann was one of the Sox best hitters, but it was still poorly handled, in my opinion.

There are a few concerns about Collins’ future in the bigs, but I don’t think his 2019 should lose you any sleep.

TOO SWEET (WHOOP WHOOP): The best case scenario for Collins in 2020 is that some catcher elsewhere in MLB gets hurt and the Sox are able to trade McCann to fill that void, opening up the roster spot for Collins to walk into. There is a legitimate case to be made that Collins is a better fit for the 2020 Sox’ roster than McCann, anyway. With the presence of Jose Abreu, Edwin Encarnacion, and Yasmani Grandal, all of whom hit lefties extremely well and should never sit when the Sox are facing a lefty, McCann is kinda crowded out of the only lineup where it makes sense to play him consistently. On the flip side, Collins absolutely raked righties throughout his MiLB career and in a perfect world might even feature in a lineup vs RHP over Abreu, although now we are just dreaming.

Regardless of McCann’s presence on the roster, Collins needs to spend significant time at the MLB level in 2020, and the ideal outcome would be that he gets platooned almost exclusively into those lineups vs RHP. That would eliminate a huge weakness from Collins’ game immediately. The walk rate is far from a concern, though you definitely want to see the K-rate come crashing down. He’s never struck out at a rate lower than 24.4% in the minors, but being below 30% is all I ask. Getting him into those RHP lineups on a semi-consistent basis and bringing the K-rate down should allow him to bump that OBP up closer to .350, and if he starts putting the bat on the ball more he is going to hit very hard and very far, so the slugging percentage will be nice as well. No, I don’t give a shit about his batting average.

Lastly, an ideal 2020 sees Collins’ work with his good buddy Grandal behind the plate take him from a downright liability at the backstop to a reliable backup option. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: The nightmare outcome for Collins’ 2020 season is that it ends up looking an awful lot like his 2019 did. You don’t need a hell of a lot out of a backup catcher, but when you draft a guy in the first round of the MLB draft because his best position is hitter, you need to see that hitter come through. I don’t think he will ever stop walking, but if he can’t at least make more contact he will never really get to take advantage of all his power, and he will probably need to have at least a .210 average to really let his OBP be any semblance of productive. If 2020 looks like 2019 and he stays below the Mendoza line, the walking will only be worth so much.

I don’t actually think his fielding will get worse, but if he doesn’t improve behind the plate there could be some major problems.

BAH GAWD THAT’S COLLINS’ MUSIC: I think that at some point in the season, McCann will no longer be the primary backup catcher for the White Sox and Collins will take over that mantle, either via McCann getting traded or the Sox just doing the prudent thing from a organizational future standpoint, prioritizing the young controllable player instead of the pending free agent. Collins could also end up being the backup 1B and DH, giving Ricky three different ways to work him into lineups at various times throughout the year and get him more consistent at bats.

In terms of results, I would expect Collins line to wind up more in he realm of a .220/.350/.450 kinda player, as I really believe that even getting above .200 on the average will turn Collins into a damn near elite OBP guy. I still think he will strike out too much – more than the ideal 30% mark I said in best case – and that will prevent him from getting to all of his power, but he should hit 15-20 dingers if he appears in 60+ games. Unless his defense vastly improves, it will bring his WAR metrics down, but I think he can still be worth 1.0 to 1.5 wins in a semi-regular backup role in 2020.

Previous Player Previews

Yasmani Grandal

James McCann

Baseball

James McCann finds himself in a new world of a different kind in 2020: Backup Catcher, staring at the high likelihood of not reaching 100 games played for the first time in his career since his short debut at the end of 2014. McCann’s 2019 was a pleasant surprise, a torrid start helping to see him to setting career highs with 118 GP, 120 hits, 62 R, 26 2B, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 30 BB, .273/.328/.460/.789 batting line en route to an All-Star nod and a place in Sox fan’s hearts. What did he get for his breakout? a one year, $5.4M deal and a seat on the bench behind new starting backstop/pitch framer extraordinaire Yasmani Grandal. I feel like James isn’t gonna like the dip in GP heading into certain free agency this winter…

2019 Stats

.273/.328/.460, 18 HR, 60 RBI

2.3 fWAR, 3.8 bWAR, 1.0 WARP

6.3 BB%, 28.8 K%

.333 wOBA, 109 wRC+ .789 OPS

5 DRS, -10.2 FRAA, 11th-percentile framing

Last Week On Nitro: James found himself non-tendered by his previous employers in Detroit in the winter of 2018. He’d just come out of the worst season of his short career (57 wRC+) and the the Tigers decided the continued rebuild could do with any other backstop, allowing the 2nd-year arbitration eligible McCann to sign a one year, $2.5M contract with the rival White Sox. McCann sure did go about rubbing Detroit’s nose in it, scorching out of the gates on his way to an All-Star appearance and the aforementioned career marks all over the stat sheet. McCann’s intangibles were also deeply felt at the Arrow, with quick comfort and bonds with Lucas Giolito and others on the pitching staff helping to create some consistency and positive clubhouse culture from a position with a great deal of turnover for the Pale Hose. This all earned him another one year pact, avoiding his final arbitration chance for a cool $5.4M.

The bright lights would fade, though. McCann turned in a 133 wRC+ through the first 61 games and slowly reverted back towards his norm in the final 55 with a 83 wRC+ mark and stark regressions everywhere but in the power department (9 HR in each segment). Stark regression (sick fake band name) to his BB/K ratios and BABIP contributed to the swift end to the party and erased the thin veneer masking his near-league worst framing skills. Rick Hahn and Co., in somewhat of a shocker, decided not to bank on McCann finding a way back to his first half season glory and inked C Yasmani Grandal to the richest free agent contract in team history. Thanks for the good will and early season stat spikes, here’s about 40% of the playing time and double the pay for your troubles.

TOO SWEET (WHOOP WHOOP): The good news is we don’t have to try to project what a full McCann follow up might look like on account of having his playing time slashed to pieces. Shortly after the Grandal signing, there were many easily connectable dots to see a fun timeshare to be had between C-1B-DH among those on the roster in the form of McCann, Grandal, Jose Abreu and Zack Collins. McCann likely would have found his way to at least half a season’s worth of games, give or take, or more when you factor in that familiarity with the staff and team already in house. Then Christmas came and Edwin Encarnacion came with it, and any idea of a fun little timeshare with plenty of PT to go around went out the window.

You can safely expect McCann to be more of what he was in Sept/Oct 2019 throughout his reserve role in 2020, and a .250/.315/.460 and a BABIP closer to .300 is a very palatable line to get from your second catcher. Development and the signings of Grandal and EE make relying on McCann’s bat moot, something that even he should be feeling relaxed about, so he can focus on his real deficiencies. The area that McCann can really improve his worth is by becoming something more than literally the bottom of the league in pitch framing.

Those FRAA and 11th-percentile framing ranks are absolutely unacceptable for any team trying to win in the MLB and McCann seemed to realize, whether it was before the Grandal signing or the seconds after it was announced, that he needed to do all he could to improve in this area. He’s taken the steps this offseason to put the time in and work exclusively on his framing, and having a full spring training and season with Grandal will likely help the 31 year old backstop improve his abilities and his market value. Anything he can do to continue to help the development of the young starters and bullpen arms on the pitching staff will help McCann and the team.

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: Keeping with the theme here, the Grandal and EE signings and overall development within the organization has shielded the team against having to deal with a “worst case scenario” involving James McCann. The Sox don’t need the McCann from the first 60 games last year, they don’t need him to sway nearly 20 homers and drive in gobs of runs and set career marks across his stat line. They also don’t need to worry about what to do in the event he craters to 2018 57 wRC+ levels because they actually went out and got ahead of that exact potential problem.

Is this really the White Sox we’re talking about?? The absolute worst case scenario is Grandal going down with a serious injury, McCann reverting to his non-tender campaign offense and failing to have any of the offseason framing work pay off. That would be a real fucking Rube Goldberg machine worth of catastrophes to get us anywhere close to that kind of scenario. No, this is a rare occasion where the Sox put themselves in position to deal with some sort of awful chain of events without having the bottom fall completely out.

McCann would pretty much have to pout to Chris Sale/Adam Eaton Drake LaRoche-era levels for us to hit a “worst case scenario” on his season. Progress!

BAH GAWD THAT’S McCANN’S MUSIC!: McCann got his island in the sun moments last summer, and he seems pretty damn pleased with it all. The guy has gotten a bunch of PT, albeit on some pretty atrocious teams, and gotten paid to do so, and he finally might be a part of something special. Would he like to keep playing 110 games/year? Sure. But I bet James McCann is pretty excited to be on a team with playoff aspirations for the first time in his entire career, too.

McCann hasn’t complained or shown any attitude with his change in role, at least not publicly. If he can pitch in a solid OBP and show improvement on his pitch framing he might find himself getting closer to 60+ games. Abreu and EE are going to need days off, Grandal can’t catch 140+. McCann still has plenty to prove for another contract and possibly a shot at a starting gig elsewhere in the future, but he’ll be needed this season with this team. Hopefully he can embrace that and succeed with the at bats and innings he’s given, and if not, well, it’s really just not that big of a deal.

Baseball

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:

C: Grandal/McCann

1B: Abreu/Encarnacion/Grandal

2B: Garcia

SS: Anderson

3B: Moncada

LF: Jimenez

CF: Robert

RF: Mazara

DH: Encarnacion/Abreu/Grandal

SP1: Giolito

SP2: Keuchel

SP3: Cease

SP4: Gonzalez

SP5: Lopez/Kopech/Rodon?

CP: Colome

RP: Marshall

RP: Herrera

RP: Cishek

RP: Bummer

 

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!