I think there’s been a part of all of us that missed the intensity between Twins/White Sox games for the better part of the 10’s. After the inaugural season at Target Field, neither Minnesota nor Chicago were displaying particular competence at winning baseball games within the division.
As Detroit and Cleveland won pennants, and the Royals broke a 30-year championship drought, so did the two most midwestern teams sit at home and watch better squads slugging it out. It makes sense that if both organizations were rebuilding in roughly the same window, they’d both reach their peak again at the same time.
And that’s exactly what’s happened; almost no one has projected the winner of the American League Central to be a team other than the White Sox or Twins. Minnesota is the two-time incumbent; Chicago is the most-anticipated team this side of San Diego. Two franchises enter — one franchise leaves, hopefully to be contracted forever, and never seen on the South Side again.
- This winter, the Sox trimmed the fat. Their rock-and-roll offseason was bolstered by the fact that they had very few major subtractions off the roster, instead purging lower-tier guys and declining veterans, in favor of their dazzling young core and free agency targets.
- Edwin Encarnacion’s club option was declined shortly after the World Series; other late-30s guys like Clayton Richard and Jarrod Dyson were chucked back into the free agent market.
- The team’s only major losses were Alex Colome — who wound up becoming Minnesota’s biggest bullpen acquisition — and James McCann, who earned a promotion from Chicagoan backup catcher to a starting gig in Queens.
- You can also count Dane Dunning and Avery Weems as losses — the two young-ish starting pitchers placed an order for Rangers jerseys shortly into December, having been dealt away by general manager Rick Hahn.
The New Additions
- And so it began for Mr. Hahn, motivated by a 2020 playoff appearance to pull the trigger and fully construct a team with the goal of winning right now. We all got a sense of what the Sox were thinking when they swung a trade for Lance Lynn in early December. Lynn was somewhat infamously held at the deadline, only to be sent off in a two-for-one swap shortly into the offseason.
- The Sox, looking to deepen a high-ceiling rotation with some injury question marks, get back quite a consistent arm in Lynn, whose only really bad major-league season came when he was in a Twins uniform. Since then, he’s had a pair of top-6 Cy Young finishes, a 3.57 ERA, and a K/9 over 10. Entering his age-34 season, he’ll get himself a nice run with Chicago before hitting the market again.
- The bullpen equivalent came in the form of another former Twin — Liam Hendriks, the presumpted top reliever on this offseason’s market. IT was quite the lucrative deal for Hendriks, complete with a uniquely-structured buyout — but in today’s game, you often overpay not in present dollars, but in future years. (If a 35-year-old Hendriks gives up the ghost, but the Sox won a championship thanks in part to an All-Star season when he’s 34, then the extra year of futility will have been worth it to get him on the team in the first place.)
- Elsewhere in the realm of pitching, Carlos Rodon was re-hired after only the briefest of wades in the shallow end of the free agent pool. The former third-round pick has been absolutely beleaguered by injuries and inconsistency, ballooning his way to an 8.22 ERA in 2020. Most thought, after his non-tendering (non-tenderage?) that his time with the Sox had ended; instead, he’s brought back aboard in case the team needs some depth.
- Here’s something I didn’t realize until reviewing these transactions; the Sox only brought in two free agent signings from outside their organization. (Rodon doesn’t count in this exercise, having simply re-signed with the team.) Hendriks was the first — the other was Adam Eaton — though even he has already played for the team.
- After three years with the team last decade, Eaton found a niche with Washington and wound up winning the World Series as a starting outfielder by 2019. Now he’s back on the South Side, and Tony La Russa is ready to hit him second. I’m ready, too, Tony.
- Of course, the other major addition would be...Tony La Russa. There’s not much left to say about the man until we’ve seen his team play in a 2021 environment, but I think I speak for everyone when I say that I’m marvelously curious to see how it goes.
- Quick hits on minor-league deals include Billy Hamilton and Jonathan Lucroy.
- Let’s not forget — the impact was here last year, and it came in the form of Chicago’s slew of talented homegrown ballplayers.
|Chicago White Sox - 2021 Lineup|
|SS Tim Anderson|
|RF Adam Eaton|
|C Yasmani Grandal|
|1B Jose Abreu|
|LF Eloy Jimenez|
|3B Yoan Moncada|
|CF Luis Robert|
|DH Zack Collins|
|2B Nick Madrigal|
- If the Royals lineup last week was nothing to sneeze at, this is nothing to get an aggressive allergy bout over. There’s a reason the Sox have so much pre-season hype, and it’s hardly even because of the reigning MVP batting cleanup. They have impact players all around the diamond, and top-15 prospect Andrew Vaughn waiting in the wings to start slugging it out.
|Chicago White Sox - 2021 Rotation|
|RHP Lucas Giolito|
|LHP Dallas Keuchel|
|RHP Lance Lynn|
|RHP Dylan Cease|
|LHP Carlos Rodon|
- Our requisite Roster Resource rotation glance should remind us that Michael Kopech is projected to start in the bullpen, and could become a dangerous piece every fifth day sooner rather than later as he recovers from combination Tommy John surgery and pandemic-related opt-out. Still just 25 years old, his only major-league games were in 2018.
- So, we yet again beg the question. And let’s be honest with ourselves here. As fun as it is to bash the Hitmen over the head, they’ve done a good job setting themselves up for contention. They have a hot young core with a ton of identity. At the same time, there are question marks — they’ve been all but crowned division champions despite not having demonstrated 162-game depth yet, and their skipper hasn’t been seen in a dugout in ten years. — So what do you really think of our biggest rivals, reborn again?
Should we be worried about the Chicago White Sox?
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Where will the Chicago White Sox finish in 2021?
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