The White Sox and their fans started the 2018 offseason with so much hope and optimism with the team in prime position to land one of the two biggest free agents to ever hit the market because of their ages. Before the Winter Meetings even started photos leaked of the United Center having the LED lighting reading Bryce Harper #34 and the Michael Jordan statute shrowded in a Harper White Sox jersey. Then came the seemingly daily, never-ending, rumors of how close the White Sox were, and the mystery teams, then the conflicting reports of how much money was being offered. It finally came to an end with the news that Machado had signed with the Padres, not the White Sox. The Padres would guarantee the ten years 300 million dollars everyone with a Twitter account knew the Machado camp was asking for. The Sox would only guarantee eight years at 250 million, with the possibility to get to ten years 325 million dollars, which somehow they still think is better. There is no point in continuing to dwell on this major organizational misstep, there is still a very important season ahead of us.
This season is a very important season for the rebuild going forward, the core of this team will have to take steps forward, some of them very large to keep this rebuild still looking good. Yoan Moncada is the most important player that will be in the lineup on opening day, assuming the White Sox don’t stop caring about service time before March 28th and Eloy Jimenez breaks camp with the team. Yoan Moncada had a season that has resulted in fans already throwing the word bust around, mostly due to his strikeout rate of 33.4. Fans may not realize that Yoan had a lot of called third strikes. He actually had the most called third strikes in all of baseball, with 85, 29 more than Chris Davis who was in second. Peeling back one more layer you see that a quarter of those called third strikes was actually outside the strike zone. He led the league in those two with 22, four more than Matt Chapman. Yoan spent a lot of time in the offseason with Todd Steverson the White Sox hitting coach in Arizona working on his swing and hopefully becoming more aggressive. Alarming also about Yoan’s 2018 campaign was his batting average of .235 even with a .344 BABIP, which should normalize to about .300. So even in a year that he got “lucky” with the number of balls that fell in, his batting average was low, Yoan will also have to improve on his home run per fly ball rate of 11.4, but with him being more aggressive at the plate could lead to more power, it is there. Yoan will also be manning a new position, instead of second base where he played all of 2018 he will be manning third base this season, where manager Ricky Renteria thinks he will have to focus and concentrate more.
Lucas Giolito is another player who needs to take a step forward. He did not have a good season on the whole last year, there was a bright stretch in July and August where Lucas seemed to have figured it out, raising his arm slot and quieting down his leg kick, but it didn’t last as he fell apart again come September. Giolito finished 2018 with 4.67 walks per nine, which ranked dead last in the major leagues among starters last season. Giolito loves throwing both his fastballs, as he threw them 60% of the time but they both have a below average swinging-strike rate under 5 percent, while his curveball hasn’t been much better getting only a 6 percent swinging strike rate. There is hope though as his slider and his changeup have gotten much higher swinging strike rates, 16 percent for his slider and 17 percent for his changeup. Lucas will have to rely less on his fastballs and more on his slider and change and improve his command. This may a make or break season for Lucus, the one highly touted prospect has seen his star fade over his career. It leaves one to wonder if he would still be looked at as highly had he not had the prospect pedigree if he would be in the major leagues still.
After signing Manny Machado’s friend Jon Jay and his brother in law Yonder Alonso there is less room on the roster for last years breakout player Daniel Palka. Palka will have to prove that his glove can play in the majors as much of the DH time will be taken by either the aforementioned Alonso or his first base counterpart Jose Abreu. It seems that Yolmer Sanchez, who led all third basemen in putouts in 2018, now seems to slot in at second base and super utility. Hopefully more super utility time than solid second base, especially with Jose Rondon out of options and poised to make the big league team. After a disappointing spring training, we say Eloy Jimenez sent down to Class AAA to work on his defense but it must have improved on the backfields and he was offered and signed the biggest extension for a player who had not made a major league plate appearance. He will be up all season and should push and possibly win the American League Rookie of the Year. Tim Anderson will be back manning shortstop for the season again, after being rumored to be moving positions to make room for Manny Machado. Tim Anderson was relieved and a bit firey about the length of the Machado sweepstakes and how it affected him, hopefully, he takes it to the plate with him this year. He had a career-high walk rate last season after making it a priority but so far this year Anderson only has one walk this Spring training.
The pitching side of things will have some interesting battles and call ups coming too as the bullpen may, as usual, be a rotating cast of tryouts. Ricky Renteria used 25 different arms out of the bullpen last season and will probably use about the same this year, probably a bit less as they won’t have Matt Davidson to throw out there this year. Last season the 3 relievers Renteria used in the highest leverage are back, Caleb Frare, Ian Hamilton, and Jace Fry. If Renteria is building off his trust at the end of last season look for Fry and Hamilton to be used in the highest leverage situations with Fry giving way to Hamilton in the most trusted, highest leverage situations. Veterans Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera will provide a steadying presence at the end of games too. The starting staff will be populated by the aforementioned Lucas Giolito, last years breakout starter Reynaldo Lopez, the oft-injured Carlos Rodon, newly acquired Ivan Nova, and whoever wins the battle for the fifth starter role, probably Ervin Santana who was signed to a minor league deal but is currently working through the rehab of a finger injury. Look for the top (healthy) pitching prospect Dylan Covey, to make his debut in mid-August, as it seems to be the White Sox track record, its when the Sox called up Giolito, Lopez, and Kopech.
The White Sox should be better this year but are clearly not yet a finished project. Most of the next division contending team is littered throughout the minor league system and should garner some interest from fans. The offense should be better this season with the additions of Jon Jay and Yonder Alonso, and the call up of Eloy Jimenez. Improvement of the pitching staff will rely heavily on the improvement of guys in the rotation from last season. The additions of Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera added to the improving bullpen from last year will see many less blown saves and wins late. It looks as of now to be one of the better bullpens in the league, and the biggest improvement of the end of the year win total will be seen here. PECOTA has the White Sox winning 70 games, I think they will end up closer to 80, and wouldn’t be surprised to see them break the .500 threshold.
Thanks as always for reading, this should be another season of transition for the White Sox. Follow us while we chronicle what should hopefully be the last year of transition into a competitive team Rich Hahn envisioned in 2016. Follow us on Twitter @SidedSox and Facebook. You can also email us, SoxSided@Gmail.com, we would like to start doing mailbag stuff as the season gets here.