Right This Way: Free-Agent Options That Could Fill the White Sox RF Void
A breakdown of the pros and cons that each of the top right field free-agent options would bring to the White Sox.
You saw the Nomar Mazara Experience, right? It was truly one of the most gut-wrenching sights of the 2020 White Sox season. The offseason acquisition that the team was hoping would fill the void in right field failed miserably. The left-hand hitting Mazara hit one, yes, one home run and was unequivocally the biggest black hole on the roster. If the White Sox are to cement themselves as the class of the American League Central, they will have to fill this hole in 2021.
So here we are talking amongst ourselves on social media, through text, and other forms of communication about how the Sox should go about fixing the right field problem. I wanted to get a pulse from the fan base on where we were in early October:
Now, I did get some write-in votes for George Springer, but I’m still unsure that the White Sox will even make an effort to procure his services given that it would require a nine-figure commitment. I just won’t believe a certain octogenarian will cut that check until it happens. Perhaps they make a serious run at him if they bring in a new manager that, oh I don’t know, had a great relationship with him in Houston. That’s something I would be all for due to obvious reasons. If the Sox actually went shopping at the top of the market, Springer is the obvious pick given his combination of power, patience, and quality defense. Regardless of handedness and the White Sox’s need to add more left-handed bats to their lineup, Springer checks every single box and does it tremendously while hitting right-handed.
Now that we’ve covered the presumable longshot, let’s dive into the other options from the poll.
Marcell Ozuna was a very polarizing option that was available to the White Sox last winter. There were even reports that a deal was going to be completed only for it go the way of other widely publicized free-agent pursuits of the last few years. In hindsight, adding Ozuna would’ve been a huge boost to the 2020 White Sox. He signed a one-year, $18M deal with the Braves and proceeded to have the best offensive season of his career. The soon to be 30-year-old hit .338/.431/.646, good for a 179 wRC+ and 2.5 fWAR. He also smacked 18 home runs and led the National League with 56 RBIs. Adding that level of production to an already potent White Sox lineup probably gives them a division title banner to hang at some point next season, but I digress.
Ozuna did only play 162 innings in the field total, seeing the bulk of his time at DH for the NL East Champion Atlanta Braves. So penciling him into RF next season at 35th/Shields could be a little bit of a gamble for a player that hasn’t spent much time in RF and will be entering his thirties. A counterpoint to that would be, the White Sox won two division titles and a World Series with Jermaine Dye in RF (who famously was the World Series MVP), so will it impact this team that much given the world-class defensive ability of Luis Robert?
For his career, Ozuna owns a .276/.335/.466 slash line, good for a 117 wRC+. He has been plagued by some wild swings in his slugging percentage from year to year, so there would be some additional risk in committing multiple years to him. Another factor working against Ozuna is the fact that he hits from the right side of the plate. I think most of us can agree that the White Sox, as a whole, are a little too right-handed, so adding a left-handed bat that can man right field would be more ideal. However, Ozuna would be a significant upgrade for the team and provides offensive production very much in line with other options available in the open market.
The 33-year-old Brantley put up another solid season for the Houston Astros and mashed the ball in the postseason. In his 46 games during the truncated season, Brantley hit .300/.364/.476, good for a 134 wRC+ and 1.5 fWAR. Brantley did all of this while seeing the majority of his time at DH for Houston, similar to Ozuna in Atlanta.
Brantley has been a tremendously consistent player throughout his career, putting up lifetime marks of .297/.354/.440 and a 117 wRC+. There was a time when he was also an above-average outfielder, typically in left field, but I believe those days are gone. Brantley’s defensive limitations are the greatest cause for concern with a potential signing by the Sox. The oft-injured Brantley has played 140 games in a season just five times since breaking into the league in 2009. I have serious concerns about a 34-year-old manning a position that he’s only taken nine times in his professional career and being able to stay healthy doing it.
The one element that can’t be overlooked with Brantley is something that the White Sox could sorely use in a strikeout-laden lineup, and that would be his premium bat-to-ball skills. For his career, Brantley has a 10.8% K rate, which would greatly help balance out a lineup that is filled with plenty of swing-and-miss profiles. The significant pluses that Brantley could bring to this lineup in providing balance should surely be considered.
Perhaps the most polarizing option listed in the poll is one that I think is one of the more realistic options heading into next season. We all remember two years ago when rumors of a Pederson deal were spreading like wildfire only to have the deal killed by premature reporting of the trade interest on Twitter (yes, this really happened). Pederson is a flawed player, but he does bring upside and would check a few boxes for this team.
For his career, Joc is hitting .230/.336/.470, good for a 118 wRC+. He adds some consistent power from the left side, hitting at least 25 homers four times with a career-high 36 in 2019. People who love the 1950s style of baseball will hate Joc Pederson because he has a low batting average. But notice if you compare his career OBP (the stat that measures how frequently you don’t make outs, thus the more important one) with the aforementioned Marcell Ozuna, Joc is a tick above Ozuna. But because batting average is still a thing people look at in 2020 since they had a little league coach tell them it’s important and Pederson has a career strikeout rate of 24.2% (even though it was steadily declining coming into the 2020 season), people will say he isn’t any good.
This isn’t to excuse Pederson’s flaws because they do exist and they’re glaring. He is strictly a platoon bat, as he is essentially worthless against LHP. He does go through stretches where the strikeouts add up in bunches, which makes his overall skillset not aesthetically pleasing. He would be a guy that would drive this fan base mad. Just look at the reaction on Twitter to Yasmani Grandal this year and multiply it several times in Pederson’s case.
The one significant plus that Pederson provides to other free-agent options at this point is his defense. He’s been a part of the vast outfield platoon system with the Dodgers, seeing most of his time in left field. However, he’s played 47 games in RF the last two seasons and has been worth six DRS playing in cavernous Dodgers Stadium. Adding him to the outfield mix in the smaller ballpark at 35th/Shields could dramatically improve the team’s outfield defense, allowing Luis Robert to shift more towards left and take some burden off the defensively “challenged” Eloy Jimenez.
Grossman is the least heralded name we will discuss today. The 31-year-old put together a career-best season for the Oakland Athletics in 2020, as he hit .244/.341/.482, good for a 126 wRC+. The .482 slugging mark represents a career-best for Grossman. I know, another player with a sub .250 batting average *gasp*.
Grossman is a tough player to get a gauge on at this point. He bounced around from Houston during their rebuild and was cast off by the Twins prior to the 2019 season before catching on with the A’s. For his career, Grossman has been a player that has had issues driving the baseball, as he has only reached double digits in home runs once. One does have to wonder if the swing changes he made in 2020 allowing him to get more loft are here to stay, however. Grossman sports a career .350 OBP and 12.6% BB rate, which are both areas in which the White Sox still need to improve heading into next season.
Grossman represents another option with limited action in right field over the last few seasons, only playing a handful of games in that spot with the Athletics.
All things considered, the free-agent right field options the White Sox will consider this winter all come with significant strengths and weaknesses. Players like Ozuna and Brantley have defensive limitations and saw most of their 2020 action in the DH role, which makes their acquisitions complicated due to the presence of Jose Abreu and top prospect Andrew Vaughn, who promise to be in a 1B/DH timeshare for the next few seasons. Then you have options like Pederson and Grossman, who are strictly platoon bats that have problematic contact profiles. There isn’t a perfect player out there to man right field for the 2021 White Sox. They did have a chance to get that guy two winters ago, but he’s eating cheesesteaks now.
This is just one avenue the Sox have to fill this black hole for next year. I’ll be back in the coming days to look at potential trade targets.
Be sure to follow Sox On Tap on Twitter for further White Sox analysis, commentary, and updates from On Tap Sports Net.