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A little White Sox Christmas dreaming

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The South Siders have been connected to nearly every free agent — what if they got them all?

MLB: ALCS-Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros
Imported Ace: Dallas Keuchel could still be a possibility to head the Sox rotation in 2019.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

In the past couple of weeks, the Chicago White Sox have added a closer and starting pitcher while surrendering their second-string catcher, a rookie league pitcher, and some international bonus pool money they likely weren’t going to spend anyway.

As Brett has stated in earlier posts, trends seem to be favoring the White Sox — the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs don’t seem as keen as originally thought on Bryce Harper, the Los Angeles Dodgers are in a holding pattern as they first try to unload players like Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, and the Washington Nationals have declared they may not have the financial resources to go beyond $300 million for Harper. Really, aside from perhaps the Philadelphia Phillies, the team that could do the most damage to the White Sox’s offseason dreams are the White Sox themselves.

Here’s a position-by-position look at what the White Sox could like when the dust settles this offseason if they didn’t just get some of the remaining top names, but all of them.

Catchers: Yasmani Grandal and Martin Maldonado. I’d love to see the White Sox acquire J.T. Realmuto via trade, but it seems the Miami Marlins’ asking price may be way too much.

Yasmani Grandal is the best free agent catcher available, and if the White Sox are willing to relinquish a draft pick and additional international money, he could be worth the haul. If the White Sox pursue this route, they’d either keep Castillo as their backup or simply try to trade him — creating room for Zavala or smaller-time, free agent backup. If they pursue Grandal, he’d be the starter for the next few years while the Sox will try to find some way to also incorporate Zavala and Zack Collins into the lineup for 2020 via the backup catcher/first base/DH route.

Of course, other solid catcher options exist, including Russell Martin, Wilson Ramos, and Maldonado. I especially like Maldonado due to his defense. Thus in my dream scenario, I have Grandal and Martin Maldonado as my two catchers once the dust settles.

First Base: Jose Abreu. There have been rumors circulating regarding teams such as the Dodgers, Houston Astros, Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants interested in Abreu’s services. However, if the White Sox plan on spending big, they no doubt will keep Abreu, in the hopes of extending him during the season. If unable to extend him, the Sox could either trade him during the season if out of contention, or try to insert someone like Collins there beginning in 2020.

Second Base: Yoan Moncada. There were certainly many holes in Moncada’s game last year, but he flashed enough flashes to show he could be a part of the White Sox organization for many years to come. If he could simply reduce his strikeouts to one a game, he would be a viable threat. With experience, he’ll also play sturdier defense at second. There’s always a possibility of trade or position switch for Moncada due to Nick Madrigal’s looming presence, but that shouldn’t be a factor until 2020 or 2021.

Shortstop: Tim Anderson. Like Moncada, there are still many holes in Anderson’s game. His defense was far more consistent this year, so there’s hope he can continue his improvements going forward. His aggressiveness on the base paths played well for the most part, but he still needs to tone it down a bit at the plate. Anderson did improve his walks, so it’s hopeful that he can get on base more often in 2019 and beyond — especially with a stronger lineup around him.

Third Base: Manny Machado and Yolmer Sanchez. All Machado did last year was slash .297/.367/.538, with 35 doubles, three triples, 37 homers, 107 RBIs, 70 walks, 104 strikeouts, 14-of-16 stolen bases, and above-average play at third base. He’d also be a terrific backup shortstop in case Anderson were to to be placed on the DL at any point. Plus, he’s only 26 and won’t require us to surrender a top draft pick. What’s not to like? Teammates like Adam Jones have sworn Machado to be a terrific teammate and battler, and that’s good enough for me. The White Sox will have to outbid the Yankees, Phillies and others for his services, which may be a tall order.

The reserve infield battle will be between Sánchez and Jose Rondon, with Rondon being the more economically viable option. Of course, the Sox could trade Sánchez, but I believe they’ll keep him due to his personality and experience; near the end of March, the White Sox will try to send Rondon to AAA and hope he goes unclaimed — it actually may work, as most teams will be set with their Opening Day rosters by that point.

Left Field: Eloy Jimenez and Leury Garcia. Of course, the White Sox could have Nicky Delmonico play the first couple weeks in left — I’d certainly understand this since those two weeks would enable Jiménez to stay in the Sox organization for an additional year. However, if the Sox make all the additions I’m dreaming about, they may have Jiménez begin with the White Sox on Opening Day, as they wouldn’t want to miss out on competing for the playoffs. Jiménez slashed .337/.384/.577 in Birmingham and Charlotte this year, and should be a fixture in the middle of the Sox lineup for many years to come. García would be the fourth outfielder, and could be the defensive replacement for Jiménez when the Sox are ahead late in games.

Center Field: Adam Jones. I actually would prefer A.J. Pollock, but his injury history scares me a bit. Pollock would also cost the White Sox a draft pick, but if they sign Harper and Pollock to contracts of four years or greater, that wouldn’t leave much room for guys like Luis Robert, Micker Adolfo, Luis Alexander Basabe, or Luis Gonzalez. Thus, I think a two-year deal for someone like Jones could be a possible fit. Jones is nowhere close to the center fielder he once was, but he’d play it adequately enough. His down numbers this year (partly a result of the atrocious squad the Baltimore Orioles trotted out) were superb compared to those who played center for the Sox in 2018: .281/.313/.419 with 15 homers, 63 RBIs, seven-of-eight stolen bases, 24 walks and 93 strikeouts in 580 at-bats. Adam Engel would begin 2019 with Charlotte in this scenario, but would play center while Jones moves elsewhere in the instance if/when a corner outfielder should appear on the DL.

With Andrew McCutchen’s signing, there are no other viable free agent center fielders; however, others like Ender Inciarte or Jackie Bradley, Jr. may be had for the right price if the Sox prefer to go a younger and more athletic route. I’m not a huge fan of this older version of Jones, so if the White Sox want to do some sort of platoon with Leury and Engel until one of their center field prospects prove worthy, I can live with that — especially if they make significant upgrades on offense elsewhere.

Right Field: Bryce Harper. I’ve already tipped my hand here in my statements above, but Harper is the likeliest option here. His numbers weren’t particularly overwhelming in 2018 though they weren’t bad: .249/.393/.496 with 34 homers, 100 RBIs, 13-of-16 stolen bases, 130 walks and 169 strikeouts. He already has 184 homers in his career, which is quite impressive considering he’s only 26. His bWAR was down because he played far more in center than he should have; at right, his bWAR should be much higher. If the Sox were unable to sign him, Michael Brantley would be a strong if less potent option in right. Tertiary free agent options for shorter deals could include Nick Markakis, Carlos Gonzalez, our old friend Avi García, and Jon Jay.

Designated Hitter: Daniel Palka. Let’s face it, Palka’s defense screams DH. The White Sox played him at right field out of necessity far too often in 2018 — primarily due to injuries to Avisaíl García. Palka hit .240/.294/.484 last year, with 27 homers, 67 RBIs, 30 walks and 153 strikeouts — despite playing most of April in Charlotte.

A better option would be Nelson Cruz. Playing in the difficult hitting environment of Safeco Field, he’s been able to average 41 homers over the past four seasons. This year, Cruz hit .256/.342/.509 with 37 homers, 97 RBIs, 55 walks and 122 strikeouts — all numbers easily besting Palka’s. I believe the Sox will save money here in order to splurge elsewhere; however, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Cruz in a White Sox uniform for the next couple years.

Starting Pitchers: Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo Lopez, Carlos Rodon, Iván Nova and Lucas Giolito. As Patrick Corbin has signed with the Nationals, Nathan Eovaldi with the Boston Red Sox, Charlie Morton with the Tampa Bay Rays, and J.A. Happ will with the Yankees, Keuchel is the best remaining starter in this year’s free agent market.

Keuchel had a bit of a down year, although it really wasn’t all that bad: 12-11, 3.74 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 204 23 innings, 211 hits, 58 walks and 153 strikeouts. He throws strikes consistently, goes deep into games, is durable, and has been part of a successful rebuilding program with the Houston Astros. Because of his down year, Keuchel may sign for just three or four years. He’d be a logical fit for the White Sox for all those reasons.

There are other shorter-term, less sensational options, including Gio Gonzalez, Matt Harvey, and Anibal Sanchez, among many others. The Sox will sign a free agent this year with 2020 foresight, as Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning and even perhaps Alec Hansen may be ready by then.

Relief Pitchers: Alex Colome, Adam Ottavino, Nate Jones, Jace Fry, Juan Minaya, Caleb Frare, Ian Hamilton, Aaron Bummer. The only guy I add to the bullpen would be Adam Ottavino. Aside from perhaps Craig Kimbrel, Ottavino may end up as the most expensive reliever on the market based on this year’s results: 6-4, 6 SV, 2.43 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 77 23 innings, 41 hits, 36 walks and 112 strikeouts in hitting-friendly Coors Field. (Many other bullpen options exist, including Andrew Miller, Joakim Soria, David Robertson, Kelvin Herrera, Zach Britton, and Sergio Romo.)

Adding Ottavino would give the White Sox an outstanding bullpen — especially when one considers that other high-leverage relievers, like Jose Ruiz, Zach Burdi, Ryan Burr, Thyago Vieira, Zach Thompson, Carson Fulmer, and Tyler Johnson are virtually major league ready.

I could live with this lineup, with Anderson and Moncada switched versus southpaws:

Yoan Moncada (2B)
Manny Machado (3B)
Eloy Jimenez (LF)
Bryce Harper (RF)
Jose Abreu (1B)
Yasmani Grandal (C)
Daniel Palka (DH)
Adam Jones (CF)
Tim Anderson (SS)

And if the White Sox are in contention but Giolito is struggling, the White Sox could opt to trade prospects for a solid, experienced hurler.

The likelihood of all the above happening, is I must admit, not very strong. However, it’s my Christmas list, and it never hurts to dream!