With the signing of Liam Hendriks, the White Sox have fortified their bullpen with the best reliever on the market (and arguably in all MLB), likely ensuring no late-inning falloff from Alex Colomé’s excellent, two-year stint as their closer.
The Hendriks signing is the capstone of a White Sox offseason that has been unusually fast-paced compared to the rest of the league, with roughly two-thirds of free agents still available with a month to go before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report for spring training. With three significant additions thus far, let’s take a look at what remains and who are viable targets (barring a surprise spending spree).
Examining the roster, the White Sox starting position players seem set and, well, pretty impressive.
C - Yasmani Grandal
1B - José Abreu
2B - Nick Madrigal
SS - Tim Anderson
3B - Yoán Moncada
LF - Eloy Jiménez
CF - Luis Robert
RF - Adam Eaton
The bench is not a strength, but has some talent, with good defensive floors.
OF - Adam Engel
UT - Leury García
IF - Danny Mendick
Two things stand out immediately: the lack of a designated hitter and backup catcher. If Rick Hahn has stretched his budget as far as it will go with the Hendriks signing, that leaves the White Sox to look to internal options. And looking around, here’s what I see:
Andrew Vaughn High pedigree, but never played above high-A or had a full professional season
Gavin Sheets Lefty 1B/DH with uninspiring results in the minors, who wasn’t even invited to play in Schaumburg
Yermín Mercedes potential impact bat with no positional utility whatsoever
Zack Collins Bat-first catcher who can’t hit enough to make up for being bad at catching
Seby Zavala Decent defensive catcher whose bat completely disappeared in Triple-A
While some fans are calling for Vaughn to get the baton, it would be an unusual rush job for a player with an awful lot invested in him, especially given the general depth at the position otherwise. Sheets brings a lefty bat and good promise, but little demonstrated impact as a hitter and a long layoff from game action. Mercedes has the most demonstrated results of the group, but is a catastrophically bad defender who you’d have to hope is a very late bloomer (he turns 28 next month). Collins has not received much of a look in MLB, but, quite frankly, he hasn’t really earned one, either, and only his first-round pedigree has kept him in the conversation. Choosing Zavala basically punts any sort of hitting for an OK defender and pitch-framer.
In short, all internal options are uninspiring. I can’t imagine Hahn looks at any of these guys as acceptable options for Opening Day in a season where they’re supposed to have World Series aspirations. And the pursuit of a DH and catcher is only complicated by the team’s need for another starting pitcher. While Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, and Dallas Keuchel make for a fine front three, one would have to question the wisdom of entrusting 40% of the rotation to the combination of Reynaldo López (bad results two years running), Dylan Cease (command issues, gets hit hard), and Michael Kopech (no game action since 2018).
So let’s go forward assuming that Hahn sees the same thing we do, and examine what strategic paths are open to him with a remaining budget in the $10-15 million range.
THE PATH OF DESTRUCTION
Sign DH/OF Marcell Ozuna, trust in the youngsters to hold the line at catcher and in the rotation.
With Ozuna supposedly looking for five years/$100 million, one would assume he is out of the White Sox budget. However, Hahn has shown an ability to be creative financially (see Hendriks’ fourth-year option as an example), so let’s assume he’s able to spread out that money to take less of a hit in year one and let the departure of Eaton help cover year two. This gives them a high-impact bat at DH who can potentially be a backup outfielder while giving their outfield prospects one more year to make good on whatever of their potential remains (Micker Adolfo, Blake Rutherford, Luis González, Joel Booker, perhaps Yoelqui Céspedes). Also possible is Michael Brantley, though he is less of an impact bat. If the White Sox are willing to completely punt on further outfield depth, Nelson Cruz would be an outstanding fit as well.
THE PATH OF POWER
Sign starter James Paxton, C Kurt Suzuki, DH Matt Adams
This path brings a whole lotta heat, but with the risk of burning the candle out quickly. Paxton can be relied on for two things: Striking out a ton of hitters and spending a lot of time on the IL. Suzuki brings power potential, but is 37 and plays a physically-demanding position. Adams is a lefty bat who does well against RHP (.808 career OPS) and should be willing to take a make-good one year deal coming off a couple of poor seasons. Lots of upside in this path — with equally huge risks.
THE PATH OF FRIENDSHIP
Sign starter Adam Wainwright, C Yadier Molina, DH Nomar Mazara
At 39 years old, one has to question how much Wainwright has left in the tank, but he was a mainstay for Tony La Russa’s powerhouse Cardinals teams and pitched quite well in the shortened 2020 season (two complete games!). If the White Sox are just looking to hold the line for a couple months while their internal options get themselves sorted out, Wainwright could be a good budget-conscious option. Molina is similarly an old La Russa mainstay, and while he might still think of himself as a starting catcher, perhaps TLR could convince him that he can still be an important contributor to a winner. Mazara flopped horribly in a White Sox uniform, but if his market is tepid perhaps Hahn might look to bring him back on an incentive-laden deal to keep his lefty power and add some depth to the corner outfield.
THE PATH OF BALANCE
Sign starter José Quintana, C Austin Romine, DH Adam Duvall
Unlike the Path of Power, the Path of Balance invests in a floor more than a ceiling. Quintana, well known to White Sox fans, has generally been a reliable 30-start/170-inning pitcher, something that would provide welcome stability at the back of the rotation. Romine, like old friend Tyler Flowers, has an unremarkable bat combined with well-regarded defense that gives him a stable value, especially as a backup. Duvall, who was non-tendered by Atlanta, has three seasons of control if the White Sox can get him. While he’s another low-OBP right-handed bat in a lineup full of them, he isn’t unduly weak against RHP (career .747 OPS) and brings 30-homer power at a reasonable cost. He can also cover a corner outfield spot when needed.
Given there are still well more than 100 free agents remaining, obviously there are plenty of other routes the White Sox could go to fill out the roster. But philosophically, does it make more sense to invest heavily in a single need or spread out their assets? Go for upside or floor?
If their restrictions are as we perceive them to be, what’s your preferred path forward for the White Sox?