The Chicago White Sox thought 2019 would be their year to take the Central Division title away from Cleveland. They were mistaken. They don’t want to be wrong again.
The Chicago White Sox began last season believing their off-season moves made them championship contenders. But the club’s confidence was terribly misplaced: the Sox finished third, 17 games below .500 and 28½ games behind first-place Minnesota. Determined to avoid such embarrassment again, the Sox are spending serious money on serious free agents.
Dallas Keuchel, the Cy Young award-winning, two-time All-Star and key component of the Astros’ 2017 World Series championship team, agreed to a three-year, $55 million deal. Although he was only 8-8 for Atlanta in 2019, it was for Keuchel a season abbreviated by his own reluctance to give in to an inhospitable free agent market. He didn’t settle for a one-year deal with the Braves until June and didn’t pitch until almost July.
With a full season ahead of him, Keuchel is the kind of established veteran hurler the Sox need. He spent the first seven of his eight big league seasons with Houston, winning 20 games in his 2015 Cy Young season and 14 to help them to the 2017 World Series. His control is typically good and his career peripherals commendable: a 110 ERA+, 3.80 FIP and RA9 of less than 4.
Jose Abreu became a free agent at season’s end but wanted to stay in Chicago — so much so, in fact, that he quickly accepted the club’s qualifying offer. He and the Sox then firmed up their future together by agreeing to a three-year, $50 million extension, an unsurprising move considering the mutual admiration society that is the Abreu-White Sox relationship.
The deal secures Abreau’s services, his immense popularity with the fans, and his firepower — he owns a career 134 OPS+ and clubbed 33 homers, drove in 123 runs, and slashed .284/.330/.834 last season. Retaining Abreu saved Chicago from having to fill the gaping first base hole his departure would have opened.
Although James McCann was a serviceable catcher for the Sox in 2019, the signing of Yasmani Grandal solidifies the position. Grandal, a two-time All-Star, led the NL in put-outs by a catcher for three straight seasons before opting for free agency this winter. He won’t hit for average but has power (he homered 28 times for Milwaukee in 2019 and drove in 77 runs), and has 20 or more homers and 50+ RBI’s in four consecutive campaigns.
Right field production was a 2019 problem for Chicago, but Nomar Mozara may be the solution. Obtained in a December 10th trade with Texas for minor league outfielder Steele Walker, Mozara hit 19 home runs in 116 games for the Rangers last year with 66 RBI’s and a .268/.318/.469 slash, and averaged almost 20 homers a season in his four Ranger years.
A dead arm sidelined Gio Gonzalez for part of last season, but that didn’t deter the Sox from signing him to a one-year, $5 million contract — the club has money and can absorb the financial hit if Gonzalez isn’t healthy. A career starter, Gonzalez played two years with Grandal in Milwaukee before testing free agency; although he didn’t pitch much for Milwaukee, his 130 career wins (20 with Washington in 2012) suggest he may be good at the back of the rotation.
Are the Sox done? Rumblings are they are completing a deal with Edwin Encarnacion, a veteran power hitter with at least 32 homers and 100 RBI’s in the last eight seasons. Other reports suggest the club is still interested in Yasiel Puig, Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna; the addition of any one of those outfielders would make the ChiSox even more dangerous than they’ve recently become.