The beginning of the year was a poor time to be a Chicago White Sox outfielder. Spark plug leadoff man Adam Eaton was batting under the Mendoza line, expensive new signing Melky Cabrera was very close to it, and Avisail Garcia was fairly rusty in his first full season with the team after tearing his labrum early last season. The right fielder was up and down all season, and he never seemed to get in the groove enough to produce the power he was capable of. Both Eaton and Cabrera bounced back to have fairly decent seasons with the bat- Eaton finished with a .287 average, while Cabrera finished batting .273- but their below average play in the field, and their lack of production in games that truly mattered, made them relative disappointments. There was a late season spark here in the form of Trayce Thompson, who was very impressive when given an opportunity to play, but where he figures to get future playing time in a fairly expensive outfield remains to be seen.
This grade is bolstered by the beast that is Jose Abreu. Even though the Cuban first baseman’s average was down from 2014, his performance was still phenomenal, as he joined Albert Pujols as the only two players in baseball history to hit at least 30 homeruns and knock in 100 RBI’s in their first two seasons in the big leagues. The rest of the infield… well, to say that they underachieved might be an understatement. At third, Connor Gillaspie was unable to produce the form that made him one of the best hitters in baseball in the first half of the 2014 season, and he was designated for assignment. His replacement, former Cub Mike Olt, flashed some power, but also showcased his major strikeout problem that has prevented him from fulfilling his first-round potential. Tyler Saladino showed some promise late in the season, but none of his at-bats had any meaning, so it will be interesting to see how he performs in more competitive games next year. 35-year old shortstop Alexei Ramirez finally started to show his age, and was one of the worst everyday players in the game. Young second basemen Micah Johnson and Carlos Johnson flashed some good leather, but neither were able to produce anything with their bats; neither did proverbial backup Gordon Beckham. Catcher Tyler Flowers didn’t, either. The biggest disappointment, though, had to be Adam LaRoche. He was heralded as being a slightly less powerful, but far more efficient, version of Adam Dunn. He was less powerful, but his average, .207, was definitely Dunn-esque.
Pitching Staff: C-
The inconsistency that plagued this team all year was especially prevalent in the starting rotation. There were times when Chris Sale looked like a man that could easily win the AL Cy Young award, but there were also times that he got shelled by teams that he had no business getting destroyed by. There were times when Jeff Samardzija looked like the 1A to Sale’s 1, but those times were few and far between, as The Shark finished with a high ERA of 4.96. Jose Quintana had the best area out of all the qualified starters, but he still finished with more losses than he did wins. John Danks continued his steady decline, finishing with a 7-15 record and an ERA of 4.71. The man that started the season as the number 5 starter, Hector Noesi, finished without a win in his 5 starts and was eventually designated for assignment. The Sox got a boost from two minor league call-ups- former first round pick Carlos Rodon lacked some control in the majors, but showed that he had the stuff to dominate major league hitters, while International League Most Valuable Pitcher Erik Johnson looked good in his 6 starts.
The bullpen in the 2014 season was absolutely horrendous, so the signing of David Robertson to fill the closer role automatically made the ‘pen better. Robertson did have a fairly high ERA for a closer at 3.41, but he was generally consistent at shutting the door on teams, which was vital. The two left relievers that were brought in, Zach Duke and Dan Jennings, had their rough moments, but both finished with over 50 appearances and had ERA’s under 4. Nate Jones came back from his steady in the 19 appearances he made after returning from two surgeries he underwent the previous summer. The best relievers from 2014’s disaster, Jake Petricka and Daniel Webb, had mixed results- Petricka was solid in his 62 appearances, while Webb struggled mightily, finishing with a 6.30 ERA in 27 appearances.
Robin Ventura and his staff came under considerable fire this past season- expectations for this team were very high, but they failed to meet them as the club finished under .500. Some of the criticism was warranted- many veteran players had steep fall offs in performance, and there was no fire to really instigate improvement. The team just never really seemed to mesh. On the other hand, there is only so much that the coaches could have done- a lot of the blame for this season’s results should fall on the players’ shoulders- and it seemed like Ventura did a solid job of incorporating minor league call-ups into the lineup and rotation, which is never an easy task.
Front Office: C-
The team’s biggest acquisition, Samardzija, was about as big of a flop as a pitcher of his caliber could possibly be. The other major transactions, the signings of both Cabrera and LaRoche, look to be expensive mistakes at this point. The biggest holes that were obvious in last year’s offseason- middle infielders, a good hitting catcher, and back-of-the-rotation starters- are still major weaknesses. Rick Hahn and his cronies did do a good job of bolstering the bullpen and promoting the proper players to help the big club, but they’ll judged mostly on their big moves, which were decidedly poor.
Looking to the Future
Hahn seems to have built this team in with a “win-now” mentality and in order to do that, he has a lot of different things to evaluate. Determining if Thompson has a permanent place in the outfield- possibly by moving Garcia to the DH slot and designating LaRoche for assignment, or reducing the right fielder to a backup role- will be important. So will determining whether or not to exercise Alexei Ramirez’s $10 million option, and whether the team will wait for its young infielders (Saladino, Sanchez, Johnson, and Tim Anderson) to develop or make a foray into free agency to find a more proven player.
Samardzija will likely be gone in free agency, unless he decides to take a hometown discount to stay with the Sox. If the team thinks Rodon can step into his role as the #2 man behind Sale, then Hahn can target innings-eaters in free agency instead of going after another big name. The bullpen seems pretty much set, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Hahn went after another arm or two, because in all honesty, you can never have enough relievers.