The Chicago White Sox didn’t add as much as they could have — or probably should have — this past winter.
They left gaping holes at second base and right field generally unaddressed, and didn’t add much depth to an elite, yet thin, starting rotation.
Meanwhile, division rivals made significant improvements. The Minnesota Twins, who were regarded as Chicago’s top competition atop the division going into last season, completely reloaded, adding Carlos Correa, Sonny Gray, Gary Sánchez and other impact players.
The Detroit Tigers, who surged after a very slow start to 2021, made drastic improvements to their roster, adding Javier Báez, Eduardo Rodríguez, and Austin Meadows.
Although the Cleveland Guardians and Kansas City Royals didn’t make the impact additions that Detroit or Minnesota did, both teams are in better shape than they finished last season. Cleveland’s rotation is finally healthy after a year of injuries, and the Guardians extended star third baseman José Ramírez prior to Opening Day.
Last season, the White Sox had the benefit of two teams in the division — Detroit and Kansas City — being in the thick of their rebuilds. Both teams may not have entered their windows of contention, but star prospects such as Spencer Torkelson, Bobby Witt Jr., and Riley Greene are knocking at the door of stardom.
Minnesota and Cleveland, who both underperformed last season, opted against rebuilding. For the first time in a while, all five teams in the AL Central are actually trying to win.
Now, the early returns of this aren’t shocking. The White Sox are the only team in the division that is better than .500 through 10 games. They easily handled the Tigers, and probably should have swept Detroit if not for an Opening Day collapse. They’ll play three straight in Cleveland starting Tuesday, which should be the first real test against division competition.
Why are the White Sox still miles ahead of the rest of the AL Central? A few reasons:
- Pitching: The White Sox rotation, when fully healthy, is one of the best in all of baseball. Only Cleveland’s 1-2 of Shane Bieber and Zach Plesac can rival Chicago’s presumptive playoff rotation of Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, and Michael Kopech. From 1-5, the White Sox rotation is far stronger and deeper than the rest of the division.
- Star Power: The White Sox already have one of baseball’s best lineups. With Tim Anderson and Luis Robert, the White Sox have a pair of legitimate MVP candidates. With Yoán Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, and Eloy Jiménez, the White Sox have a trio of All-Star caliber bats. The Guardians have one viable All-Star bat (Ramírez). The Twins have a pair of stars in Byron Buxton and Correa, but Buxton can’t stay healthy and Correa likely won’t be in Minnesota next year. Salvador Perez and Báez are perennial All-Stars, but neither of their teams have the supporting cast necessary to compete with the White Sox.
- Relief Pitching: This might be the biggest gap. The White Sox bullpen has been very good in the early going of 2022, and will only be improving. Despite Garrett Crochet going down for the season, Joe Kelly starting the season on the injured list, and Liam Hendriks struggling to get in rhythm, the White Sox bullpen looks as strong as ever. Aaron Bummer has his moments, but he’s likely the best left-handed reliever in the entire division. Kendall Graveman has looked awesome in a set-up role, and young arms such as Bennett Souza, Tanner Banks, and José Ruiz have been reliable arms in the first two weeks of the season. Compared to the rest of the division, the White Sox have the best closer, strongest back-end, and best depth pieces. Cleveland’s combo of James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase once looked unstoppable, but Karinchak is hurt and Clase is not off to a strong start.
The rest of the AL Central is coming — that’s for sure. They aren’t here yet. The scariest part about the White Sox smooth start — albeit three series into the season — is the fact that they’ll only get better. No team in the division will add the value that the White Sox will when Lynn, Giolito, and Moncada are fully healthy.
The White Sox will need to add in order to compete with teams such as Toronto and Houston, but the division looks a whole lot like it did last year: a cake walk.