The White Sox entered the offseason needing a starting pitcher, a high-leverage reliever, a lefty reliever, a left-handed hitter or two, and a corner outfielder. Could the White Sox do better elsewhere? Sure, but they couldn't afford to do worse in those specific areas.
Melky Cabrera crossed the last item off the list, reportedly signing with the White Sox for three years and $42 million. He's not a perfect player -- his defense deteriorated in left field with Toronto, and he was caught up in one of the more ludicrous PED dramas -- but assuming he's not a future suspension risk, the assets outweigh the liabilities.
Here's what he's done the last four years:
What doesn't show up in those lines:
*He missed almost all of September 2014 after breaking his finger diving into first base while getting picked off.
*He missed all of September 2013 after having a benign tumor removed from his spine. He went on the DL with an ankle injury before that on Aug. 1, but it seems like the Blue Jays just called it an ankle problem until they could figure out what was causing him to move like an old man.
*He missed all of September 2012 due to the PED suspension, which wouldn't have been all that memorable if he and his associates hadn't tried creating a fake website for a nonexistent product to explain a spike in testosterone. He played his last game on Aug. 14, and the Giants didn't put him on any playoff roster during their World Series run.
Cabrera's hit when he's healthy, before and after he got busted, in both leagues,and from both sides of the plate. He's shown virtually no platoon split over the last four years:
- vs. LHP: .308/.350/.477
- vs. RHP: .309/.352/.451
And that will allow Robin Ventura to play him everyday, presumably in the second spot, which is where he hit for the Blue Jays almost all of last season.
Theoretically, the White Sox could contend with this lineup if it all hangs together:
- Adam Eaton CF
- Melky Cabrera LF
- Jose Abreu 1B
- Adam LaRoche DH
- Avisail Garcia RF
- Conor Gillaspie 3B
- Alexei Ramirez SS
- Tyler Flowers C
- Carlos Sanchez 2B
There's always the chance that any of the guys with established track records can get hurt and/or randomly crap the bed, but beyond the general risk associated with relying on mortals, there are a few specific areas of concern.
Garcia has almost has a full season of MLB games to his record, and it's underwhelming:
But he's also 23, and the labrum injury gave him a legitimate excuse for depressed numbers in 2014. His physical tools and scouting reports suggest an upswing is in store, and this is a risk the Sox have to take, for this season and future ones.
That said, an outfield with Garcia in right and Cabrera in left means that a defensively gifted outfielder is a necessity for the bench -- not just because Garcia and Cabrera are both below-average until proven otherwise, but also because neither of them can handle center field.
Jordan Danks ain't dead yet, but the Sox might want to give him some competition beyond Trayce Thompson.
If Gillaspie's 2014 resembled a reputable base line, there'd probably be no need to consider an upgrade. But 2014 could very well be the best he can do offensively -- regression certainly whupped him the last two months -- and his defense hampers his value further. That's why Chase Headley has been a popular name here, but it seems like the Cabrera signing made such an investment financially impossible. Unless it didn't.
Semien would've been an excellent right-handed caddy, at least assuming that one could attribute the errors there to a lack of reps. With Semien in Oakland, there isn't a complement to Gillaspie on the roster unless you believe in Matt Davidson after his disastrous 2014. There isn't one in free agency, either. A trade would be required to fill that gap.
Sanchez now holds the inside track, and after hitting .250/.269/.300 with three walks to 25 strikeouts over 104 plate appearances, he has the weakest bat of the bunch. However, his glove looks like the real deal at second, and given the possible liabilities in the corners, it might not be the worst idea to have a defensive specialist batting ninth, and it'd be an easy chance to take if he were the worst projected infielder of the bunch by a comfortable margin.
He isn't the only in-house option, either -- he just happens to the surest at this point. Tyler Saladino was due to join Sanchez as a late-season call-up before Tommy John surgery ended his season. He'll be back for spring training, but it could disrupt his development. Micah Johnson's health also puts some clouds on his ceiling. He offers more excitement, but he needs to get his legs back first.
Normally, that would be enough to run with considering reasonable payroll constrictions. But with solutions on the open market (Jed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera) and trade candidates elsewhere (Ben Zobrist), it's not unreasonable to aim higher.
This one's often listed as a weakness, but it's hard to do better than Flowers without sacrificing prospects or a lot more cash. It's easier to do better than anybody who's backed him up in his life, and yet somehow Rob Brantly doesn't clear that bar.