Despite the most exciting season (and the team’s only playoff appearance) since 2008, the White Sox entered the winter with large gaps to fill. The production in right field, at designated hitter, and in the back of the rotation was quite subpar for a serious contender. The White Sox’s cold streak to end the season could indicate that the team would not sustained its success through a longer season.
The front office was aggressive early on this offseason, trading Dane Dunning and Avery Weems for one year of Lance Lynn. While this is a gamble, it is a sound one given that the White Sox are ready to compete now. While Dunning was the No. 3 in the White Sox’s rotation in terms of reliability, he only has 34 innings at the major league level, and he turns 26 in a couple of days. Lynn, a 33-year-old righthander, has a long track record of success. While he is entering the decline phase, Lynn has not shown many signs of slowing down, boasting a 3.57 ERA, 3.43 FIP, and 8.3 fWAR in 2019-20.
The other deal, which brings Adam Eaton back, is less promising. One has to wonder why the White Sox jumped right to Eaton (one year, $7 million) when quite a few more reliable corner outfielders were on the market (probably that famous Old Friends and Family Plan, again). The White Sox will have to hope to get the 2018 or 2019 version of Eaton instead of the abysmal 2020 version.
Now, how do the White Sox build on these transactions? Of course, the biggest name connected to the White Sox in the rumor mill is Liam Hendriks. Hendriks, who is entering his age-32 season, is coming off a pair of remarkable years for the Athletics. Hendriks posted a sub-2 ERA and FIP in 2019 and 2020, resulting in a combined 5.3 fWAR in those seasons. That WAR total is off the charts, considering he only pitched 110 1⁄3 innings in 2019-20. The good (and surprising) news is that the White Sox have been willing to spend on relievers, unlike other positions.
The best reason to have reservations about a Hendriks signing is that the money it will take to sign him should be spent on an everyday player. However, judging from the Eaton signing, it is doubtful that the White Sox have further plans to upgrade the outfield. Right field was mighty close to the top of the priority list to begin the offseason, and because the White Sox seem to have settled on an inexpensive upgrade it leaves more money to be spent elsewhere. Given the White Sox’s free agent history, if they are to make a big splash, it appears that Hendriks is the most likely option. This would be far better than no big splash at all, and it is an outcome that White Sox fans should be happy with.
Hendriks alone would not plug the White Sox’s gaps, so where else could they look to upgrade while fitting within the budget?
José Quintana (hello, Old Friends and Family Plan)
In 2019, Quintana posted a 4.68 ERA, and he only pitched 10 innings in 2020 due to a thumb injury and left lat inflammation. However the lefthander, who is entering his age-32 season, still has plenty of life. While Quintana allowed a lot of runs in his most recent full season, his FIP (3.80) and xFIP (4.20) tell a more encouraging story. That season (2019), Quintana’s ground ball rate (44.5%) was right in line with his career average, yet opposing hitters had a .326 BABIP. Regardless, the end of Quintana’s tenure with the North Siders ended on a low note and is likely to drive down his price. The White Sox already have Eaton. Given the team’s rotation needs, Quintana is a mid-2010’s White Sox player who makes sense.
Let’s get crazy. First Len Kasper, then José Quintana. Now, Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber is not the best option available for corner outfield/DH. However, given the White Sox’s spending habits, they’re unlikely to get a pricey player — especially with Eaton (and hopefully Hendriks) already in the fold. Like Quintana, Schwarber had a lackluster ending to his Cubs career that is likely to lower his price. However, as recently as the second half of 2019, Schwarber posted a .280/.366/.631 slash line in 70 games. Schwarber is entering his age-28 season, so his off-year in a shortened 2020 season is not an age issue. A Schwarber signing is a risk, but he brings a left-handed bat that normally produces many walks and homers.
Even with Lynn and Quintana, the White Sox could use help in the rotation. Sugano, 31, has been putting up prime Clayton Kershaw numbers since entering the NPB. In four of the past five seasons, Sugano has ranked in the top three in NPB pitcher WAR, per Deltagraphs. Sugano finished first in 2016 (6.9 WAR) and 2018 (7.6). Sugano also finished 0.2 WAR behind the league lead in 2020, with 4.8. Not even Kenta Maeda, who finished second in AL CY Young voting in 2020, had as much success as Sugano in Japan. Translating success from NPB to MLB is a tough task. But, it is difficult to find anyone in recent history as ready to make that switch as Sugano.