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Projections show work remaining for White Sox

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Major-league depth, lack of innings the biggest immediate issues

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Chicago White Sox Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason has not just lacked in moves this offseason, but there’s even a noticeable drop in the nearness of them — and the year is almost over. Without much activity to report, the national reporters are left to kick at the dead rumors to see if they get up.

Probably not. OK, Wade Davis just signed with the Colorado Rockies, but relievers are the one group of players not experiencing difficulties finding contracts this winter.

Back to the non-bullpen types, the Manny Machado gossip was fun for a week, but the projections have repeatedly doused the usefulness of such an addition beyond short-term thrills.

The 2018 ZiPS projections for the first-stringers provides a clear update:

(He did correct Dylan Covey’s name in a revision.)

The White Sox project to be the worst team in baseball according to FanGraphs, and when you look at this depth chart, you can see why the system might be selling the Sox short.

*Leury Garcia showed the skill set of an average center fielder before his hand injury, so there’s a pathway to an average center fielder. He’s curiously absent in FanGraphs’ playing-time projections.

*If Avisail Garcia is now above average as his 2017 suggests, he won’t be within the same rounding error as Nicky Delmonico (unless Delmonico has some immediate improvement in store himself).

*Yolmer Sanchez and Tim Anderson looked much better than those projections at the end of 2017.

*Matt Davidson would be the first man out in the event of any addition.

But projections are inherently reasonable, because they’re based off what a player has shown capable of doing on the field. They’re not going to predict a 30-homer season for a guy who hasn’t shown it anywhere in their history just because he looks strong enough for it.

Their conservative nature often makes them the fun police. For instance, Sanchez and Anderson might both be underestimated, but both of those WAR projections are merely middle ground for what the player had shown the previous two seasons. Anderson’s struggles might have a very human source, but his plate discipline always stands a real risk of being exploitable even if he didn’t have to battle extreme grief. Likewise, a 1 WAR season would have been a triumph for Sanchez before his strong September made it possible to dream bigger.

But once you get past the itemized quibbling, there are three major truths that projections hammer home.

  1. Even with the disappointing projections, these are the best players the depth chart can muster at this time.
  2. Look at the pitching.
  3. Then consider (1) again.

Maybe Carlos Rodon and Michael Kopech usurp the spots occupied by Carson Fulmer and Dylan Cove(r)y in short order, but the projections for the top three starters seem reasonable. More pressing to any immediate hopes is that no one pitcher is an OK bet to exceed 180 innings.

Jose Quintana aside, that lack of in-season endurance was last year’s problem, and look how much better the initial 2017 rotation projected than the 2018 iteration.

There’s always room for surprises. Looking at the those initial 2017 bullpen projections, ZiPS didn’t see Tommy Kahnle and Anthony Swarzak coming, although even without that knowledge, I still liked last year’s Opening Day bullpen more than next year’s on-hand group.

But the Sox would need a lot — a lot — of surprises to justify any immediate-impact acquisitions, and any trades would reduce the pool from which they can conjure those out-of-nowhere performances. And one of those surprises would be a complete absence of costly injuries, which is another thing that can’t be assumed.

The projections aren’t out yet -- UPDATE: Now they are — but since everybody’s going to be arguing about them when they are released, I figured I’d get ahead of the game with the overview. In the meantime, if you want individual figures, you’ll have to guess off Dan Szymborski’s veiled projections for pitchers and position players: