Until now, the Chicago White Sox have been a cautionary tale for teams eyeing a rebuild. The Astros and Cubs might have been able to get a title out of trading away their good players and tanking, but the White Sox haven’t even managed a winning season since 2012. A team could pick up two of the top-three prospects in baseball, but that alone won’t guarantee success. Those prospects could spin their tires for two or three seasons while other promising players suffer injuries and setbacks.
Ownership could curb spending to the point where trying to woo a superstar free agent by signing his brother-in-law seems like a good idea. However, after years of disappointment, the rebuild might actually pay off. The White Sox are an intriguing team heading into 2020, but they’ll need everything to break right while having a good offseason.
The White Sox have a few pieces already in place to field a contender. Yoán Moncada finally put things together in an excellent season, slashing .315/.367/.548 for a 141 wRC+, and his 5.7 fWAR tied him for 15th in the majors. The question is if Moncada can replicate that success. He cut down on his strikeout rate, but a 27.5 percent mark is still worse than the major league average. He was also buoyed by a .406 BABIP, but much of that batted ball luck was the residue of design. Moncada ranked in the 92nd percentile for hard hit rate and 97th percentile in average exit velocity. His .380 wOBA only outperformed his xwOBA by 18 points.
Eloy Jiménez turned in a solid rookie season in which he posted a 116 wRC+ and clubbed 31 homers. 2020 will mark his age 23 season, so it stands to reason that he will take a step forward next season. Tim Anderson is also coming off a BABIP-driven breakout, but even if he’s the two-win player Steamer thinks he will be, that’s still a solid contributor. James McCann had his best year at the plate as he posted career-highs in just about every offensive category.
The offense should also get reinforcements from the farm system. Chicago’s top prospect Luis Robert figures to play most of the season, and he will shore up a majors-worst outfield that made Leury García look like an All-Star. Nick Madrigal was the first player from the 2018 draft to make it to Triple-A, and he might be the first to reach the majors. Madrigal hasn’t hit for power as a pro, but he also hasn’t struck out. If he spends significant time in the big leagues in 2020, it might be more as a role player, but he gives the White Sox more depth.
On the pitching side, the White Sox feature plenty of potential. At long last, Lucas Giolito has started pitching like he was supposed to when the Sox acquired him. Giolito doubled his strikeout rate and cut down on walks thanks to shortened arm action, better pitch selection, and higher spin rate. Reynaldo López, who also came over in the Adam Eaton trade, is an intriguing pitcher. He struggled with homers in 2019, and he doesn’t spin the ball well, but he throws the ball hard and he has put up two-win seasons in each of the last two years.
Dylan Cease flashed his potential in half a season. He struggled with home runs and walks in his debut, but he has a lethal fastball/curveball combination. As long as he can keep the ball in the yard, he’ll be in for a nice sophomore season.
The White Sox will be getting one and possibly two pitchers back from injury. Michael Kopech, who missed most of 2018 and all of 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, will return in 2020, and he’s FanGraphs’ seventh-best pitching prospect in baseball. If he stays healthy, Kopech has the talent to rival Giolito. If all goes well, the Sox will also get Carlos Rodón back around the All-Star Break. Before he had to undergo Tommy John surgery, Rodón looked like he had put things together.
The White Sox have plenty of promising players, but they’ll need everything to go right. Jiménez and Kopech returning or improving might be a zero-sum gain if Giolito and Moncada take a step back or if López and Cease don’t pan out. Even in the best possible world, the Sox will need to add in free agency or through trades.
The White Sox only have around $60 million on the books for 2020 according to RosterResource and the estimated arbitration salaries from MLB Trade Rumors. The Sox should have plenty to spend this winter even by the standards of the current market. Chicago should be looking to add at least one outfielder, a designated hitter, and a starting pitcher. Nicholas Castellanos wouldn’t do much to improve the outfield defense, but his bat would be a major upgrade. Marcell Ozuna could allow Jiménez to slide into the designated hitter role. Kole Calhoun or Yasiel Puig would also make the White Sox better in 2020. Chicago has plenty of cheap options to fill their most obvious holes.
The White Sox, like every team, should at least make an attempt at Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, but Dallas Keuchel, Jake Odorizzi, or Zack Wheeler would be excellent consolations. Keuchel is likely the most realistic option as he has no qualifying offer attached and he’ll take a smaller contract. Keuchel is also a good fit for the homer-friendly Guaranteed Rate field because Keuchel keeps the ball on the ground.
Even with additions from the free agent market, the White Sox are by no means a lock for contention, but they are an intriguing team to watch this offseason. They could make the AL Central much more interesting. 2020 could finally be the year where the rebuild comes together. If it’s not, I’m sure 2021 will be.
Okay, maybe 2022.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.