Cornering The Market
Analyzing reasonable options for the White Sox to fill out their roster and have a competent platoon in right field.
Earlier this week, the first part of my White Sox improvement series was published where I looked at how the Sox could address the 2B position in an effort to find an additional five wins to catch the Twins and Indians. Today, I’m shifting my focus to the corner OF market. One of the early moves of this offseason was the acquisition of right fielder Nomar Mazara. Mazara is viewed as a reclamation project of sorts considering that for the first four seasons of his career he has been a replacement-level player. The organizational hope is that the new hitting coach, Frank Menechino, can unlock the potential that once made Mazara a top prospect in the Rangers system.
Mazara initially looks to garner the lion’s share of PAs against RHP, so that leaves the team in need of a platoon complement when they have to deal with opposing southpaws. Given the current state of the free-agent market for corner outfielders, price points may be coming down to a level where the Sox could find it appetizing to bring in Nicholas Castellanos or even Yasiel Puig on a short-term deal. Signing either player would essentially render Mazara redundant and most likely earn him a trip to lovely Charlotte, North Carolina. I don’t think that is the intent of the organization, however, given the way the market is trending it can’t be ruled out at this time.
For the sake of this discussion, let’s say Mazara is the right fielder when righties are on the mound against our Sox. Who would represent some options to pair him with making a viable platoon?
On Tap’s very own, Billy Rehfeld, recently opined that Pillar would make sense as a free agent acquisition to round out this club, and I couldn’t agree more. Since coming into the league, Pillar has been a standout defensive outfielder, spending much of that time patrolling the spacious center field in Toronto. He was dealt to the Giants in 2019 and upon acquiring, the Giants decided to deploy Pillar in right field in addition to his customary center field spot. What has been discovered, as reflected by his Statcast data, is Pillar has lost a step or two, taking away his effectiveness in centerfield. For the season, Pillar accounted for (-5) DRS in center while being worth 2 DRS in right. This could be an effective blueprint for the use of Pillar going forward. He could still spell in center for a brief time should Luis Robert go down with an injury, and the insurance policy of a veteran player at the position wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Offensively, the deployment of Pillar is very simple. He should rarely see the batters box against RHP. Pillar’s career splits look like this:
vs RHP: .253/.290/.387 81 wRC+
vs LHP: .281/.313/.453 103 wRC+
Simply put, he’s outfield Yolmer Sanchez against RHP and should only be used against them in absolute emergencies. Pillar’s numbers against southpaws have ticked up in the last three years with a .282/.313/.502 line since the start of 2017, good for a 112 wRC+. That coupled with above-average defense in a corner spot makes for a viable platoon option. Fangraphs’ Steamer projection system has Pillar pegged to be worth 1.2 WAR in 2020, so adding him to the fold would certainly help the Sox continue to close the gap in the AL Central with another Major League-caliber player on the roster.
Should the Sox be unable or unwilling to execute on a deal with Pillar, Steven Souza Jr. could represent another platoon option. Souza missed the entire 2019 season with knee issues, so there is reasonable concern about his effectiveness after missing an entire season. Prior to his injury, Souza provided a competent bat against southpaws. For his career, he has slashed .243/.338/.418 against lefties.
Steamer is reasonably high on Souza in 2020 coming off the knee injury. The projection system has him pegged for a .243/.331/.450 slash line with 23 HR over the course of 530 PA. The overall volume would be significantly reduced, in my opinion, if he were to come to 35th/Shields less an absolute cratering in production or health from Mazara.
Souza has demonstrated an ability to be a sound defender in right field throughout this brief career. He’s amassed 6 DRS over the course of his career, peaking with 7 DRS for 2017 Rays. Souza represents an interesting buy-low, bounce-back candidate for the Sox in their effort to address the right-field platoon. His combination of above-average power and corner outfield defense would bring value to this team.
Barring a stunning late offseason acquisition of either Nicholas Castellanos or Yasiel Puig, I believe Pillar and Souza Jr. represent reasonable options for the Sox to fill out their roster and have a competent platoon in right field. Both have shown an ability to be above-average defenders in right, which would significantly help to lessen the burden on rookie Luis Robert, who may want to think about acquiring some real estate in the left-center alley at 35th/Shields because he could be spending a lot of time sprinting there in 2020. At this juncture in the offseason with most of the heavy lifting done for the Sox, rounding out the roster with competent Major League veterans is a sound strategy that could prove crucial if they are to be playing meaningful baseball in 2020.