2019 Record: 72-89
2019 Outcome: 3rd Place, AL Central
The 2019 White Sox were not exactly bottom-dwellers in the AL Central, thanks to the terrible Tigers and the wretched Royals. However, 72-89 still put them 28.5 games behind the Twins, and 20.5 behind the Indians.
Then came an active off season. While the White Sox (like the Twins) tried and were unable to land Zack Wheeler, they made a flurry of moves. They traded for Eddie Rosario-esque (with the bat and the glove) outfielder Nomar Mazara. They signed the second best hitting catcher in majors (we know who the best is) in Yasmani Grandal, who is an upgrade over their catcher in 2019, James McCann, even though McCann was an All-Star last year. They rounded out their starting rotation by signing Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez. They signed Twins-killer Edwin Encarnacion. They signed super-prospect Luis Robert to a team-friendly 6-year extension, and should have him starting in centerfield from Day 1. With all the moves and the excitement around their young players, the White Sox hype train has really started chugging.
However, I’m here to slow the roll a bit. The White Sox were twenty-eight and a half games behind the Twins last year. That is no insignificant amount. The Twins improved by 23 games last year, which was by far the most in the MLB. So even if the Twins are 5 games worse this year (hint: they shouldn’t be), the White Sox would have to match the Twins’ league-best leap to pull even with them. The White Sox will be no pushover this year, but don’t start crowning them division champions quite yet.
The White Sox are similar to the Twins in many ways. However, the Twins’ strengths (bullpen, hitting) are stronger and they share similar weaknesses.
There’s a lot of hype surrounding the starting rotation for the squad after added Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez. However, Keuchel’s FIP of 4.72 last year is very concerning (and significantly worse than Kenta Maeda’s), and Gonzalez has been slowly sliding as he’s hit the back nine of his career. Lucas Giolito did have a breakout season last year, and should be able to sustain it, but could regress. As a whole, the Twins’ “weak” starting rotation should be stronger overall than Chicago’s “strong” one.
The other weakness the two teams share is defense. After the addition of Josh Donaldson, I would call the two teams even on infield defense. Tim Anderson and Jorge Polanco are similarly (bad) defenders. Josh Donaldson is better than up-and-comer Yoan Moncada at third, but Chicago top prospect (who could be up this year) Nick Madrigal should be a better defender than Luis Arraez at second base. Jose Abreu is limited defensively at first, and Miguel Sano should be pretty average.
In Chicago’s outfield, the corners are bad defensively. The scouting report on the young Luis Robert is that he will be a plus defender in center, although no man is Byron Buxton. If Buxton can stay healthy, the Twins will have a defensive advantage in the outfield.
In summary, the White Sox are young and exciting. They will be better than last year. However, they are likely a year (or two, depending on pitching) away from truly challenging for the division title. Moncada, left fielder Eloy Jimenez, Robert, and Madrigal are the next wave, and they’re mostly here. We saw the same thing with the Twins, where it took a few years for the young core to really establish themselves. Chicago may catch Cleveland, but Twins Territory need not despair.