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Kicking the Can, Part 2: Right Fielders

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Surely they’ll get it right THIS time!

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians
The Nomar Mazara Experience was so bad in 2020, it included a bout of strep throat.
Jason Miller/Getty Images

In my first installment of this series, I examined who might be sharing backstop duties with Yasmani Grandal in 2022. While Zack Collins might not be garnering rave reviews behind the dish, he’s at least proven serviceable enough in limited playing time to contribute positively in some fashion. While absolutely nothing sticks out about him in a good way (terrible batting average, mediocre OBP, mediocre SLG, average-ish OPS for the position, terrible framing, tolerable otherwise defensively), given the difficulties the White Sox had finding catchers in the post-Tyler Flowers era, even replacement level is appreciated, especially from a guy who plays in maybe a quarter of the games.

Moving on, let’s examine the position that has been, and continues to be, an absolute minefield of shattered dreams for the White Sox: right field.

While signing Bryce Harper in 2019 was probably never a realistic hope for the White Sox given their ownership, the team has spent year after year passing up decent free agent options while hoping for a breakout from an absolute menagerie of busted prospects and cheap veterans. The end result was last year’s Nomar Mazara fiasco (which, to date, Steele Walker has not made even more regrettable) and this year’s predictably underwhelming signing of Joc Pederson Adam Eaton.

The good news is, there are a lot of very good outfield options available next season, both in trade and as free agents. The bad news is, any one of them is liable to require an actual financial commitment that Jerry Reinsdorf may not sign off on. However, with a general lack of internal options forcing the issue (which we will also examine here), we can always hope that a good postseason push can bring a payroll boost.


FREE AGENTS

Chris Taylor
Taylor is the Dodgers’ version of Leury García — only he can actually hit the shit out of the ball. Though Taylor has played minimally in right field, he has experience at all three outfield positions in addition to second, third, and shortstop. A versatile and talented defender, he has been a well above-average hitter for the last five seasons, with solid on-base skills and 20-HR power. Entering his age-31 season, Taylor represents a bit of a financial risk given his age, likely competition for his services, high profile, and the fact that he’d have to be pried away from the biggest spenders in the league. But with Leury likely to depart, second base up in the air as Madrigal heals, and plenty of outfield reps to be had, Taylor could become the South Sides’s version of Ben Zobrist, providing starter-level production at any position they need him at on a given day.

Mark Canha
Another solid hitter with experience at all three outfield positions, Canha could be an attractive option who might not get paid what his production suggests he should. Not a household name because, let’s face it, even the best players on the A’s are treated like afterthoughts by the media, Canha had a breakout in 2019 that has consistently carried through to his 2021 production, with 20+ HR power and outstanding on-base skills (.389 OBP in 258 games/1,063 PAs since 2019). Not an exceptional defender, he is at least capable, and more than justifies playing at any of the three outfield positions with his offense. Entering his age-33 season, many teams will likely balk at paying a late bloomer into his late 30s. But if this limits his market and overall contract demands, he could fit right into the White Sox’s wheelhouse, even if Hahn has to be a bit creative with how the contract is structured (something he’s proven talented at).

Starling Marte
Marte rose to prominence during Pittsburgh’s three-year run as one third of an ultra-talented young outfield alongside Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco. While those two have declined considerably since, Marte is in the midst of a career year. Also to be entering his age-33 season, Marte is a well-known and well-respected performer, who will also command a considerable but not exceptional sum as a free agent due to his age, making him potentially attainable. Still a capable defender, he has openly expressed a desire to stay in Miami, and Marlins GM Kim Ng has said publicly that a contract extension has been discussed. That said, unless Marte plans on playing for free, I’m not sure how realistic remaining in Miami is when the offers come pouring in.

Nick Castellanos
Perhaps the most prominent of the missed opportunities for the position over the last two years, Castellanos had a down 2020, but has been a very capable hitter for several years now and leads the NL in hits, doubles, total bases, and batting average. An absolute doubles machine and consistent 25-HR threat, he’s an absolute sieve on defense but can at least play the position without hurting himself. Though he would have to opt out of the remaining two years/$34 million on his Reds contract, I have to believe that a guy entering his age-30 season with the numbers he’s posting will be able to get well more than that on the open market. A repeat of his original four-year/$64 million deal with Cincy isn’t entirely out of the question.

Joc Pederson
Pederson seriously overestimated his market last offseason, reportedly spurning Rick Hahn’s $10 million offer in expectation of a guaranteed, multiyear deal. When that failed to materialize, Pederson was forced to accept a lesser offer from the Cubs, with the White Sox having aggressively moved on to Plan B in Adam Eaton. While Pederson isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire for the Cubs, he’s still a 25+ home run threat who kills right-handed pitchers, something the White Sox sorely need. While that comes with shoddy defense, a low OBP, and extreme platoon splits, a need is a need, and he’s certainly been more productive than Eaton overall. While he has a $10 million mutual option for 2022 with the Cubs, if his numbers hold he’ll take the $2.5 million buyout and test the open market again (and the Cubs might decline anyhow, depending on the direction they go in). This time, maybe Pederson won’t pass on Hahn’s offer.

Michael Conforto
Lefty bat? Check. Younger than 30? Check. Power bat? Check. On-base skills? Check. Conforto pretty much checks all the boxes, and would probably be the dream pickup of the of the offseason, closely equivalent to George Springer last season. Though a somewhat inconsistent performer year-to-year who is in the midst of a rather mediocre 2021 campaign, at his peak Conforto is an elite on-base presence with 30-HR power potential, and at his worst he provides passable defense and above-average offense. Entering his age-29 season, Conforto should still have some prime years to capitalize on that align with the White Sox window; however, if Springer’s example is to be taken as instructive, Conforto may be too cost-prohibitive to hope for from Reinsdorf.

Kyle Schwarber
Barely a left fielder, and even less so a right fielder, Schwarber was flirting with a 40-homer pace before a hamstring injury likely shelved him for at least the rest of July. While Schwarber’s triple-slash is leaning more on slugging than ever before and he’s a defensive liability, on a team that is pretty much flinging anybody into the outfield they can at this point, the White Sox would be willing to hold their noses at the poor fielding and take the power lefty bat they so desperately need (and if Eloy Jiménez gets moved to DH, it could leave playing time in left field as well, depending on the team’s plans with Andrew Vaughn). Another example of a missed opportunity, Schwarber is looking at a decent payday for 2022 and beyond, but not one that is likely to be prohibitive to the White Sox. Entering his age-29 season, Schwarber still has productive years left to bank.

Others
Corey Dickerson, Marwin González, Adam Eaton, Kole Calhoun, Jake Marisnick, Brett Gardner, Avisaíl García, Jorge Soler, Steven Souza, Jr., Gregory Polanco (I’d assume his option will not be picked up by the Pirates), Jay Bruce, and Eddie Rosario are all still-functional free agent options, but I don’t see how any advance the White Sox fortunes at the position. Like Eaton this season, they’re just cheap Band-Aids for a festering wound.


TRADES

Charlie Blackmon
Technically an option even right now, Blackmon has two player options remaining for 2022-23, at $21 million and $10 million. Chances are the Rockies are more than happy to shed as much of his salary as possible for a pittance in return (re: Nolan Arenado trade), so the prospect cost is unlikely to be steep, even with the Rockies picking up enough of the tab to fit the White Sox’s stingy budget. However, Blackmon is no longer a particularly capable defender or runner, his numbers have long been considered a Coors Field mirage, and this season his power has all but disappeared. Regardless, he is still a capable on-base presence, one who is drawing almost as many walks as strikeouts this season.

Bryce Harper
As with Blackmon, this assumes a salary dump will motivate a trade. In this case, however, I don’t think the Phillies would be willing to pick up much of the tab (if any), never mind that it’s probably not realistic to expect Reinsdorf to sign off on adding about $265 million to the payroll for the next decade. But if there is even the slightest hope that the White Sox, free of COVID restraints and fresh off a deep playoff push, find the money to take on this sort of salary, Harper is still a top-tier offensive threat. The Phillies’ phailure to win with Harper may motivate a retooling or even an outright rebuild, and freeing themselves of Harper’s contract would be a big first step in doing that. Harper seemingly being a fan of Chicago could help facilitate a trade. Yes, wildly speculative, but hey, that’s what I’m here for!

Andrew Benintendi
Alongside Yoán Moncada, Benintendi was one of the darlings of an ultra-strong Red Sox system who looked like a future star before his career petered out in Boston. Now on the IL, Benintendi was having a reasonably strong season for the Royals and should return before long. While perhaps not the stud some expected, he’s been an average or better bat more often than not and theoretically could play right field, though his arm has kept him in center and left in his career. The biggest question is what would motivate the Royals to bother trading him (then again, why did they bother to trade for him in the first place?), or if they have any delusions of competing next season.

Others
Joey Gallo, Mitch Haniger, Ketel Marte, David Peralta, and Tyler Naquin all are on non-competing teams and controlled through at least 2022. Excepting Haniger, they’re lefty bats (in the case of Marte, a switch-hitter), and would fit in well with this lineup’s needs.


PROSPECTS

Gavin Sheets
A first baseman moonlighting in right field of late, Sheets has a solid triple-slash in Charlotte, but with lopsided home/road splits. He is still not driving the ball like one would expect from somebody with his raw power, but he does have a sound swing, manages professional plate appearances, and brings a lefty bat to a very righty-heavy lineup. For what it’s worth, he’s had a spectacular debut with the White Sox this past week.

Jake Burger
Continuing the White Sox theme of large-bodied infielders we just fling into the outfield for the hell of it, Burger has completely redefined his prospect status by not only raking after his long injury hiatus, but doing so at the highest level of the minors and with vastly-improved athleticism. One of the most polished bats in his draft class, he may yet be able to make good on the potential that made him the 11th pick in the 2017 draft, especially if he can use his revamped frame to handle outfield duties.

Blake Rutherford
The long-running narrative on Rutherford is that he had a beautiful left-handed swing, but needed to develop more of a power stroke to make good on his promise. Well, that still kinda rings true, as he’s been underwhelming in his Triple-A debut despite the friendly dimensions of Charlotte’s home park. He’s not hitting for average, power, or getting on base, and his arm probably limits him to left field, so Rutherford’s path to an MLB roster is very limited. Currently 24, he’s well past the days of being a Top 100 prospect.

Luis González
The current go-to guy when the White Sox are pressed to call-up a “true” outfield defender, González turned heads when he had a breakout 2018 in Kannapolis and Winston-Salem as a 22-year-old, then held his own in the offense-suppressing environment of Birmingham in 2019. A capable defender at all three outfield positions, González has little in the way of carrying tools, but has enough going for him to be a fifth or sixth outfielder. Pressing him into service for a full season seems unlikely to result in anything good.

Micker Adolfo
At first glance, Adolfo’s power numbers are impressive. A .530 slugging percentage in Birmingham is nothing to scoff at, and his triple slash overall (.242/.319/.530) is not bad at all in that league. However, paired with a strikeout rate hovering around 35%, it’s clear that Adolfo has a long way to go, because in his current form MLB pitchers would eat him alive. At least he’s finally healthy, and has spent most of his time in right field, though reports on his defense are mixed. The cannon arm, however, is still there, and it would be a dream scenario to see Adolfo put it all together, because he looks like one of those guys (like Jorge Soler) who could just have a 40+ homer season out of nowhere. Seriously, the raw power is that elite.

Craig Dedelow
One of those long-shot guys who we love to root for, this ninth-round pick in the 2017 draft, seemed destined for the dustbin that most ninth-round picks wind up in. He posted unexceptional numbers as a 23-year-old in Kannapolis in 2018, similarly unexceptional numbers as a 24-year-old in Winston-Salem in 2019, and with a year of development lost to COVID in 2020 was largely forgotten in the shuffle. However, Dedelow has come back with renewed vigor in 2021, posting a career best .833 OPS to date in a pitcher-friendly environment. Like Adolfo, he is running a concerning K rate, but he also has a more even triple-slash (.279/.333/.500) for what that’s worth. Also like Adolfo, Dedelow is a lengthy 6´4´´, and though he doesn’t have the same ridiculous raw power as Micker (few do), what Dedelow does have is still impressive, and he is arguably a more rounded player overall. Currently 26, Dedelow is likely to move up in the system this season if he maintains his current level of performance, and possibly in line for a look at some point in 2022 if Triple-A doesn’t chew him up. But he’s almost certainly not a starting option.