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Discount Vision: 2021

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If the White Sox fail to add a blue-chip free agent, what will the young core have to produce for the team to blossom into AL Central champs in three years?

Solid Sophomore Season: If Nick Madrigal can somehow duplicate Dustin Pedroia’s second full year in the majors (no prob, an AL MVP award, whatever), it’s full speed ahead on the free agent-less rebuild!
Kim Contreras (@Cu_As)/South Side Sox

The odd couple articles continue.

Me and whisoxman20051917 seem to have an offseason thing going where he throws out an idea like his White Sox best-case scenario for the 2018 offseason (i.e., ALL the free agents), and I play out the scenario (in the case of “the wish list” article above, it generated not 100 wins in 2019, but 83 or 84).

So, on making somewhat of a flip on his previous piece, on Saturday wsm projected what a 2021 roster made up entirely of White Sox system products will look like.

On my end, I’ll project the performances of that roster to see how close it gets to a division title. For discussion’s sake, even in the weak AL Central, let’s say 95 wins is necessary to take the division.

That means 47 wins above replacement are needed to turn a 48-win replacement team into AL Central champs. (An average of 2.3 WAR per 18 non-bullpen players gets the team to 41.4 WAR, and the bullpen can take it the rest of the way.)

Let’s take a look at how the 2021 young bloods stack up!

Catcher

Zack Collins: Collins is not a catcher, and is unlikely to become one. So even if he develops a major league bat over the next two seasons, his defensive work will bring him down. Still, as the left-handed part of this platoon, he’ll should see the majority of at-bats — but because he’s less developed than even Seby Zavala, let’s limit him to 81 games in a straight position split. All bat, no D? Sound likes Omar Narváez to me. Likely WAR: 1.5

Seby Zavala: Zavala is bringing better D behind the plate, but still, he seems destined for average marks defensively — but a better bat. For 2021, he’s my right-handed platoon catcher, but he could actually assume full catching duties if Collins shifts to either first base or DH. Likely WAR: 2.0

First Base

Eloy Jimenez: Let’s just assume, in what is an disturbing early trend, Eloy manages to transition to first base; presumably, he’s no more than an average first baseman. The bad news? All of his value will come from his bat? The good news? That’s a helluva bat. I’m going to comp Jiménez as David Ortiz with the Boston Red Sox, where his third full season in Boston was a 5.2 bWAR (and MVP runner-up) effort. Likely WAR: 5.2

Second Base

Nick Madrigal: I want to use Dustin Pedroia (no, I don’t have Red Sox envy) as a Madrigal comp. It doesn’t sound outright crazy, does it? Problem is, Pedroia’s first full season (2020 for Madrigal), he was the AL Rookie of the Year. His second year (2021, in this thought exercise) he was AL MVP! I’m simply not that confident in Madrigal, and saying he’ll fall short of league MVP in his second full season is hardly a dis. How about José Altuve, whose first two full seasons clocked in at 1.4 and 1.0 bWAR? That’s a bit dour. He’ll need to be better on a White Sox division winner. Likely WAR: 2.5

Shortstop

Tim Anderson: Anderson, at least from a bWAR standpoint, acquitted himself well in 2018, at 2.5. Does he have another gear in his game? Skewing conservatively, I’ll say he’ll do well just to hold steady. Likely WAR: 2.5

Laz Rivera: The White Sox would take on a middle-infield sub, to pinch-run and maybe start two games a week. Let’s get Rivera up to the big club in that role. He’s still raw, and with limited playing time, won’t produce much. Likely WAR: 0.2

Third Base

Yoan Moncada: Moving Moncada to third base because of Madrigal’s ascendance doesn’t seem like it will do anything for his natural defensive talents, so he’s another guy I’ll say will have to derive full value from his bat. He almost has to at least keep pace with Anderson, right? Likely WAR: 2.5

José Rondón: Given that Yolmer Sánchez will price himself out of Chicago as his role diminishes, let’s presume a future where Rodón assumes the jack-of-all-positions role. Likely WAR: 0.4

Left Field

Blake Rutherford: wsm was pretty aggressive in getting Rutherford up to the South Side by 2021, and I’m going to place Luis Basabe in a platoon here, to take Rutherford’s at-bats vs. lefties. Basabe will also get some platoon time in right field, giving his better defensive play and speed almost a full-time load of at-bats. This is likely a first full year for both players, so expect left field to be a weak link. Likely Rutherford WAR: 0.8 Likely Basabe WAR: 1.1

Center Field

Luis Robert: Probably the toughest projection of all. Seriously, Robert could eventually be a consistent 5.0 WAR superstar; with his injury past, he might also self-destruct before even reaching the majors. Given that he, too, could well be starting his first full season in 2021, let’s assume he’s not a 5.0 WAR guy quite yet. Likely WAR: 2.0

Right Field

Micker Adolfo: : Adolfo may be taking the biggest leap of all as our RF starter in 2021, between his lack of experience and injury history. Using wsm’s comp of Dwight Evans (more Red Sox!), that gets us to 350 PAs in 2021. Plausible, with Basabe taking up the rest of the slack. Likely WAR: 1.0

Designated Hitter

Jose Abreu: I’d say it’s a stretch that Abreu is a regular on the White Sox in 2021, much less a guy producing enough to be the full-time DH. But in staying true to wsm’s thought experiment, allowing Abreu to duplicate his 2018 semi-injured production seems a fair prediction. Likely WAR: 1.7

Starting Rotation

Carlos Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning: For the sake of the experiment, let’s assume that all five members of the rotation get at least 30 starts in; in reality, that’s unlikely to be so, but whatever Triple-A or long-relief name that gets plugged in, we’ll assume produces at the level of the guy for whom he’s taking the turn.

The good news is that each one of these five starters should have at least one full season under his belt by 2021. It sure would help for any of these guys to blossom into that 5.0 WAR, Eloy Jiménez All-Star. But man, that’s a big IF. I’ll peg Rodón and López for 3.1 WAR, Kopech and Cease combining for 5.0 overall, and Dunning at 1.5. Likely WAR: 12.7

Bullpen

Tyler Johnson, Ian Hamilton, Jace Fry, Caleb Frare, Jose Ruiz, Ryan Burr, Kodi Medeiros: wsm likes an eight-man pen, I don’t, so I’m going to keep three southpaws and say that Zack Burdi is not on the 2021 White Sox (for the purposes of the exercise, it hardly matters, as we’re not counting on massive relief numbers from anyone). If Johnson, Fry and Hamilton all have “Fry 2018” seasons; Frare, Ruiz and Burr are passable; and Medeiros has a long-relief/sub-starter role, this is a solid pen. Likely WAR: 5.8


Summary

The 2021 White Sox, as projected above, come in at 89.9 wins. Not bad. But not a playoff club.

The pitching staff (both starters and pen) produces more than adequately in the above scenario. It’s the offensive side that takes the White Sox off the rails.

Basically every position, aside from Jiménez at first base, underperforms what’s needed to push the team toward 100 victories and an assured playoff berth. The young outfield will be completely underwater in a pennant race — as a group, these guys are unlikely to begin peaking until 2023 or so.

And Abreu as a DH, at 34, on a team in dire need of pop, just won’t work. He may play a valuable platoon or sub role, but if the White Sox are dependent on an aging Abreu as one of the only linchpins of the 2021 lineup, they’re in trouble.

On the plus side, there is the chance that someone like Robert, Kopech, Cease, or Moncada steps up and joins Jiménez as 5.0 WAR superstars in 2021. But a more secure route overall would be import at least one (and likely two, because adding a 5.0 WAR player will still just be a net of ~2.5 WAR) superstar via free agency or trade.

Otherwise, unless everything breaks right for the White Sox (particularly with regard to injuries, where the White Sox have not had luck with this “2021 core” of players), making the postseason three seasons from now is unlikely to happen.