In the last 7-10 days, there has been quite a bit of discussion surrounding an interesting question in the baseball world: Are the White Sox the best team in the American League? Many East Coast talking heads and the perpetually negative realm of White Sox Twitter have been quick to dismiss the idea, but is it really that far fetched?
When evaluating the question, there seems to be a disconnect between evaluating where the team and its AL rivals are as of January 18th, 2021 based upon what the White Sox have done to this point in the offseason and what fans WANT the team to do. For some reason, a portion of this fan base has equated not signing the likes of George Springer, Marcell Ozuna, or Trevor Bauer with this team not actually being good. Frankly, these are two entirely separate discussion points.
If we look at what the team has done relative to the rest of the junior circuit, they have actually been one of the more active teams in terms of bolstering their roster. They’ve added Lance Lynn, Liam Hendriks, and Adam Eaton to address three key areas of need. We can disagree on some aspects of these additions and whether or not they were the correct course of action, but if you really look at things, it’s hard to argue that these moves don’t make the White Sox a better baseball team. Are we so jaded as a fan base that we can’t objectively see that there has been improvement to this roster with still another four weeks to go until the team reports to Glendale?
For starters, people are really underselling the addition of Lance Lynn. Yes, I know you’re still angry they didn’t overpay to get him in late August using prospect capital that no other team in baseball was willing to pay, but he’s here now. And what he has been since his trade to the New York Yankees in late July of 2018 is one of the top 15 pitchers in the sport. Here is where Lynn ranks among all pitchers in a collection of categories since his 2018 trade:
|Hard Hit %||33.7%||11th|
This is a guy that now slots into the #3 spot in the White Sox rotation, so I think right off the bat here the starting rotation will be better. For some reason, people don’t seem to realize that this is a significant acquisition. The Sox aren’t just getting a guy that is going to give them innings, but they’re getting a guy that is going to give them quality innings. That kind of matters and for the life of me, I do not understand why people don’t see this.
Next, the team added the best relief pitcher in baseball for the last two seasons, Liam Hendriks. Since the start of the 2019 season, Hendriks ranks second in all of baseball in terms of innings pitched among relievers with 108.1 IP. Like Lynn, it hasn’t just been quantity from Hendriks but quality. During that time, he has put together an identical 1.66 ERA/FIP, while ranking third in K/BB (7.23) and sixth in HR/9 (0.50). All of this has led to the big Aussie accumulating 5.2 fWAR, which leads all Major League relievers. To be blunt, this man is an absolute weapon for new manager, Tony La Russa.
Hendriks affords La Russa the luxury to utilize him across multiple innings and in any situation he needs him to win a baseball game. This will be particularly important come October, as we have seen the style of postseason play change in recent years with less emphasis on starting pitching. Adding Hendriks to a bullpen that will include the likes of Aaron Bummer, Evan Marshall, Matt Foster, and rookie fireballer, Garrett Crochet, the South Siders have a lethal arsenal of arms that can match up with any team in the league.
Even the least popular move of the offseason to this point, the reunion with right fielder Adam Eaton, should make the White Sox better. Yes, this is a very uninspiring move, but let’s be real for a second about this. The Sox were never going to make a serious run at George Springer as long as the current owner still exists. We can certainly debate whether Eaton is the best use of $8 million, again, it’s not how I would’ve spent it if it was my money. I know Eaton was bad last year in Washington and at 32 it is entirely possible that he’s accelerating toward the decline phase of his career, but let’s not forget that prior to 2020 Eaton was a very solid player when he was on the field. So, I think there may still be a little left in the tank.
Beginning with his first stint at 35th/Shields in the 2014 season through the Nationals’ 2019 championship season, Eaton slashed .289/.367/.423, good for a .346 wOBA and 117 wRC+. That’s not a bad baseball player. In fact, it’s very much in line with the production from desired free-agent options, Marcell Ozuna and Joc Pederson. Let me be clear about this once again, I’m not saying Eaton was my choice to fill the void in right field and it’s entirely possible he’s cooked, but I find it hard to believe he won’t be better than what Nomar Mazara was in 2020. Again, that right there will make the White Sox a better baseball team.
Ahead of the Curve
So, in a winter where activity across the league aside from Ron Burgundy’s hometown has been moving at a snail’s pace, the White Sox have improved. As we look across the rest of the American League, who else can say the same? You can literally go team-by-team and find holes with every contending roster. The remaining question marks for the Sox are no greater than those of any other AL contender if we are really being honest here.
The Rays lost two of their top starting pitchers from their World Series runner-up roster. I fully expect them to do what they do and be in the mix when it’s all said and done, but you can’t look at this team as presently constituted and say they are better than they were when the 2020 season ended.
The Yankees’ rotation consists of Gerritt Cole, a young and developing Jordan Montgomery, and what else? A former Cy Young Award winner whose arm may or may not still be attached to his body along with a bunch of bigger question marks than the White Sox have? As I type this, I think Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton were placed on the injured list.
The Twins non-tendered their starting left fielder and haven’t re-signed Nelson Cruz. Those are two significant holes in their lineup. If those areas go unaddressed, Minnesota’s offense will be significantly less daunting than it has been in years past.
The Indians continued their salary purge by trading their best player in Francisco Lindor, rotation stalwart Carlos Carrasco, and saying goodbye to first baseman Carlos Santana. The team is a pitching factory, but someone please tell me how they are going to score, exactly?
The Astros are losing George Springer and Michael Brantley while showing no willingness to add to their payroll.
In Oakland, the A’s lost their closer, to the White Sox, and are going to lose their starting shortstop. Their best player, Matt Chapman, is coming off of hip surgery, so it remains to be seen how he will respond.
The Los Angeles of Anaheim of Orange County of California of the Pacific Time Zone Angels still have Dylan Bundy as their top starter. I don’t think I need to go any further there.
So I’ll ask this question, who exactly is markedly better than the White Sox at this moment? Because I sure as hell can’t find a team in the AL that is. I think we can all agree that the balance of power is currently more skewed toward the NL, and the White Sox don’t have match up with the likes of the Dodgers, Padres, or Braves. And I don’t think anyone is saying that they will be happy if the current team the White Sox have assembled is the team that takes the field against the Angels on April 2nd. But have some perspective people, this is a good baseball team whether you like Rick Hahn or not. In fact, this team is in a position to be playing deep into October.
I would love to see this team put their foot on the gas and continue adding to their core group so they are definitively the best team in the AL. That task lies at the feet of one man and one man only. If he can let go of a few million dollars so his buddy can have the best roster possible, the White Sox can be a clear-cut favorite in the AL. If he doesn’t, they will still be in the mix as one of the AL’s top teams but they will be leaving the door open for other teams.
The White Sox are going to be good in 2021, and it’s okay to admit that even if you hate the guy that is the GM. They can absolutely be better than they are at this moment too. We still have time until the trucks start heading west toward Arizona, but stop acting like this team isn’t in a good position.