Aside from a new manager, the White Sox don’t seem destined for a major shakeup after a very disappointing 2022 season.
- Lance Lynn, SP: $19.5M through 2023. Includes $18M club option ($1M buyout) for 2024
- Yasmani Grandal, C: $18.25M through 2023
- Yoan Moncada, 3B: $46M through 2024. Includes $25M club option ($5M buyout) for 2025
- Liam Hendriks, RP: $29M through 2023. Includes $15M club option ($15M buyout) for 2024
- Joe Kelly, RP: $10M through 2023. Includes $9.5M club option ($1M buyout) for 2024
- Kendall Graveman, RP: $16M through 2024
- Eloy Jimenez, DH/LF: $25.5M through 2024. Includes $16.5M club option ($3M buyout) for 2025 (also has club option for 2026)
- Luis Robert, CF: $39M through 2025. Includes $20M club option ($2M buyout) for 2026 (also has club option for 2027)
- Leury Garcia, IF/OF: $11M through 2024
- Jake Diekman, RP: $4.5M through 2023. Includes $4M club option ($1M buyout) for 2024
- Aaron Bummer, RP: $10.5M through 2024. Includes $7.25M club option ($1.25M buyout) for 2025
- AJ Pollock, LF/CF: $13M player option with a $5M buyout
- Tim Anderson, SS: $12.5M club option with a $1M buyout (also has club option for 2024)
- Josh Harrison, 2B: $5.625M club option with a $1.5M buyout
Total 2023 commitments: $135.47M
Total future commitments: $249.85M
Arbitration-eligible players (service time in parentheses; salary projections via Matt Swartz)
What went wrong with the 2022 White Sox? Take your pick. Start with former manager Tony La Russa, whose storied tenures with the A’s, White Sox and Cardinals landed him in the Hall of Fame in 2014. Upon being hired by the White Sox after the 2020 season, he’d been out of the dugout for nine years. The White Sox won the AL Central under La Russa last year, but finished in second place with a .500 record in 2022. Health issues prevented La Russa from managing in the season’s final month, and he eventually announced those issues would require him to step down rather than finish out a contract that ran through 2023. Regarding the disappointing ’22 season, La Russa explained in a statement, “I was hired to provide positive, difference-making leadership and support. Our record is proof. I did not do my job.”
The club’s search for a new manager is ongoing, with Ozzie Guillen, Ron Washington, Pedro Grifol and Joe Espada among those in the running. Managers are not measurable in the way players are, and I think often tend to get too much credit or blame for a team’s record. So I won’t try to get into the merits of each candidate, but hopefully this time around Rick Hahn, the team’s GM for the last decade, will have autonomy to make his own choice. Hahn’s place as the team’s GM seems secure at least for now. As Jon Heyman of the New York Post put it at the end of September, “It’s unlikely longtime White Sox general manager Rick Hahn will pay for the team’s stark underachievement…while owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s legendary loyalty worked against the baseball ops department with the Tony La Russa hiring, it likely works in their favor now.”
Turning to the players, disappointments and failures abound for a club that was a consensus favorite to win the AL Central and instead finished 11 games behind the Guardians. We’ll start with the outfield, which served as the worst defensive unit in baseball. Much of that has to do with Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets, who combined to take 30% of the team’s defensive innings in the outfield. Vaughn, in particular, probably rates as the worst defensive outfielder in baseball in 2022. While Sheets was exactly league average as a hitter, Vaughn improved to a 113 wRC+ as a sophomore. We’ll get to first base later, but that was Vaughn’s position through college and his brief time in the minors, and it seems he’ll finally settle in there for 2023.
That leaves the White Sox with only one outfielder definitively penciled in for next year: center fielder Luis Robert. Robert, 25, did not take the star turn many anticipated in 2022. Health has been a big part of that. Robert played only 68 games in 2021 due to a right hip flexor strain that cost him more than three months. Robert hit so well in 43 games since returning from that injury that 2022 seemed like his possible coming-out party. Instead, he played in only 98 games, managing a 111 wRC+ while playing a middling center field.
Robert battled a groin strain in April, but then went on a 62-game tear in which he posted a 139 wRC+ despite a COVID stint in the middle. After that run of success, Robert dealt with lightheadedness, blurred vision, a wrist sprain, and a bruised hand. While Robert’s talent remains tantalizing, he’s played in just over half of his team’s games since 2021, and the White Sox have to be ready to call upon backups often next year.
One of those backups could again be AJ Pollock, who must decide between a $13M player option and a $5M buyout after the season. As a 35-year-old coming off a down year, Pollock doesn’t figure to top the $8M net value of that option on the open market, so the smart money is on him staying put. The Sox also gave center field innings to Adam Engel, who can be retained affordably through arbitration but is not a lock given a 63 wRC+ on the season.
Pollock, Vaughn and Eloy Jimenez served as Chicago’s left fielders this year. Assuming Pollock takes more of a backup role, Vaughn moves to first and Jimenez gets increased DH time, the White Sox need a new starting left fielder. Several key White Sox hitters struggled against righties this year. Free agency offers a particularly solid fit in Andrew Benintendi, a quality defender who hits right-handed pitching well. Joc Pederson is another palatable option. Pollock can be a complement in a lefty-mashing role.
Right field continues to be a revolving door for the White Sox; they haven’t found any success at the position since Avisail Garcia’s 2017 campaign. At 24 years old, Oscar Colas might be able to break the mold. Colas signed in January for $2.7M and spent most of the season hitting well at High-A and Double-A, finishing his season at Triple-A. Yoelqui Cespedes could be a factor as well, but he didn’t hit well enough at Double-A to suggest he’ll succeed in MLB.
Since neither the health of Robert nor the success of Colas is guaranteed, the Sox could consider a veteran addition capable of playing both center and right field. Mike Yastrzemski, Cody Bellinger, Kevin Kiermaier and Ramon Laureano could fit that description. Bellinger could be non-tendered by the Dodgers, while Kiermaier’s club option will be bought out by the Rays. Yastrzemski and Laureano are arbitration-eligible for the Giants and A’s, respectively, but could be trade candidates this winter.
Moving to the infield, the White Sox are in a tough spot with Yoan Moncada. The 27-year-old is locked up at significant cost through at least 2024, but he has continued to alternate good and bad seasons since coming to the White Sox. In 2022 he was both bad (career-worst 76 wRC+) and injured (oblique strain, multiple hamstring strains). Barring a trade, the team will have to pencil Moncada in at third base again, with Jake Burger still serving as the backup option.
At shortstop, Tim Anderson’s $12.5M club option is an easy choice to exercise. Anderson is an excellent player when healthy, but has only played in 62% of the team’s games since 2021. This year he dealt with a groin strain and a torn ligament in his left hand. The White Sox caught lightning in a bottle with the strong play of veteran Elvis Andrus, who was released by the A’s in August. If Andrus departs for a more clear starting job elsewhere, the club will need a good backup plan at shortstop much as they do with Robert in center field.
Second base was handled by Josh Harrison and Leury Garcia in 2022. Harrison, 35, played capably, but there’s still a pretty good chance the team declines his $5.625M option after the World Series. Second base has been a void for the White Sox even longer than right field has; they haven’t really had a player excel there since Tadahito Iguchi in 2005, excepting 109 solid plate appearances from Nick Madrigal in the pandemic-shortened season. Speaking of Madrigal, there’s a fair chance he’s made available this winter if the Cubs sign a shortstop. The White Sox do still have Garcia under contract. Danny Mendick could be an option as well, once he’s recovered from a torn ACL suffered in June. The free agent-market could offer players such as Jean Segura or Kolten Wong if their options are declined. Brandon Drury could be a solid addition given his ability to play both second and third base.
Over at first base, vibes are strong that Jose Abreu will be allowed to leave as a free agent after nine successful seasons. While I understand the desire to plug Vaughn in at his natural position and leave DH at-bats for Jimenez, Sheets and Yasmani Grandal, the team seems fairly nonchalant about losing arguably their best hitter. It’s true that a team with Abreu, Vaughn and Jimenez has to make a defensive compromise by putting one of the latter two into a corner outfield spot. Still, the offense takes a hit with the probable loss of Abreu.
In Jimenez, the White Sox have a third core position player who has missed significant time over the last two seasons. Jimenez has missed even more time than Anderson and Robert, playing in only 43% of the team’s games since 2021. Turning 26 in November, Jimenez remains capable of a monster offensive season if only he can stay healthy. In 2021, he tore a pectoral muscle in spring training and made his season debut in late July. This year, it was a late April hamstring strain that required surgery and cost Jimenez more than two months. While the lack of communication between players and teams during the lockout is a significant variable here, it’s fair to ask: Why can’t the White Sox keep Robert, Anderson and Jimenez healthy? Is it something inherent in the players or the team?
Behind the plate, the White Sox have a repeat of the Moncada situation: stuck with with a player who has a big contract and hit really, really poorly in 2022. Grandal, 34 in November, led all catchers with a 158 wRC+ in 2021 and was one of the worst-hitting backstops with a 68 mark this year. Grandal dealt with back and knee injuries this year, following offseason knee surgery. Unless they can unload his franchise-record contract somehow ($18.25M of which remains), the White Sox have to hope he can bounce back and provide value in ’23. Grandal hasn’t topped 627 1/3 innings behind the dish since 2019. He needs to be complemented with a starting-caliber catcher. Seby Zavala was able to fill that role this year with a surprising 111 wRC+ at the plate. A veteran addition would still make sense here.
Moving to the rotation, the White Sox received better results than they could possibly have expected out of Dylan Cease and Johnny Cueto, who combined for 337 1/3 innings of 2.70 ERA ball. The only thing holding Cease back from being a bona fide ace is his walk rate, which went up a tick this year to 10.4%. He still managed to post a ridiculous 1.51 ERA over his final 23 starts. The White Sox control Cease for three more years, and they may consider trying to lock him up beyond that. Cueto, signed to a minor league deal in April, may sign elsewhere as a free agent.
Along with Moncada and Grandal, Lucas Giolito performed well below expectations this year. While his SIERA was virtually identical to 2021, his ERA rose from 3.53 to 4.90. Strikeouts, fastball velocity and walks all moved in the wrong direction, and notably, Giolito’s batting average on balls in play rose from .269 to .340. That can’t all be blamed on the team’s defense or on bad luck, as Giolito’s pitches were indeed hit harder than last year, per Statcast. There’s not much to be done here except try to find a way to bounce back; Giolito is still a bargain at his projected $10.8M arbitration salary.
On the other end of the spectrum, Michael Kopech pitched to a 4.73 SIERA but managed a 3.54 ERA, despite being the staff’s pre-eminent flyball pitcher working with the game’s worst defensive outfield. Much of that ERA stems from a .223 BABIP. It’s worth noting: If the skills Giolito and Kopech demonstrated in 2022 — strikeouts, walks and groundballs — remain the exact same next year, you should expect Giolito to have the better season.
At any rate, the White Sox have four starting pitchers locked in for 2023. Even with internal options like Davis Martin, Sean Burke and eventually Garrett Crochet, the Sox would be well-served adding a starting pitcher.
With a collective 4.00 ERA, the White Sox did not get great results from their bullpen. But again, ERA is unreliable, and the group did miss bats. Having traded Craig Kimbrel on April 1, the highest-leverage innings went to Liam Hendriks, Kendall Graveman, Aaron Bummer and Reynaldo Lopez. The first three are under contract for next year, and Lopez is under team control. Veterans Joe Kelly and Jake Diekman are under contract as well, so Chicago’s bullpen seems pretty well set for next year unless they trade someone to trim salary.
The White Sox opened the season with a payroll over $190M — easily the highest in franchise history. Assuming Giolito, Cease, Kopech, Lopez and Mendick are tendered contracts, they’ll have about $167M committed to 18 players. Add in eight more players at the league minimum and the payroll is around $172M. So if you’re Hahn, what do you do with a roster that is already largely in place for next year, and limited financial wiggle room?
Running a similar group back next year with a new manager isn’t as crazy as it sounds. The Sox can add one decent defensive outfielder and get Vaughn into his natural position, and the outfield defense will improve greatly. They could use a new second baseman plus rotation and catching depth. Maybe Hahn will shake things up with some trades, but it’s not a team with any real surplus except possibly well-paid relievers. Most of the pieces remain in place for a 90-win team — particularly if Anderson, Robert and Jimenez are able to stay healthy next year.