The sky is falling. The collapse is beginning. It was all a mirage. I’m sure this is the narrative that is permeating across social media platforms and Chicago sports talk radio after the White Sox four-game sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros this past weekend. So I opened up the MLB app on my phone and *checks notes* the White Sox are still in first place with a record of 43-29. How can this be?
It can be, due to the fact that they simply had a bad weekend in mid-June. It’s baseball, it happens. I’m old enough to remember a certain team in 2005 that lost seven consecutive games in mid-August that started a spiral almost resulting in blowing one of the largest division leads in baseball history. Alas, the ship was steered back on course and a happy ending was achieved. The point of this tale is that in the course of a 162-game season, bad weekends happen, particularly when you are undermanned and beginning to show signs of an injury-depleted roster needing reinforcements.
Areas Of Need
With 90 games to go, I feel it is clear that the White Sox have needs that are going to have to be addressed externally if they are to be best positioned to realize their lofty goals. Personally, I feel this team needs to address the following positions: high leverage right-handed reliever, designated hitter, second base, right field, and centerfield (yes, centerfield). That seems like a lot for a first-place team with limited prospect capital to draw from, but we need to be honest here. I’m not going to dig into specific names here, there will be plenty of time for that in the coming weeks, but I’m going to speak in more general terms.
Underperformance from the bullpen, a group that I had overwhelming confidence in heading into the season, cannot be ignored any longer. The bridge from the starting rotation, which has exceeded all expectations, to Liam Hendricks is wobbly at best. All contending teams are looking for bullpen help each and every season, so this will be a highly competitive marketplace for the White Sox. However, they have to find some reliable arm(s) that can help them get the ball to Liam Hendriks in the ninth inning, while preserving a lead.
The torn hamstring to Nick Madrigal, who was beginning to show signs of life offensively aside from his soft singles, couldn’t come at a worse time for this team. Since May 21, the White Sox rank 18th in baseball in terms of team wRC+ at 98. This puts them behind offensive juggernauts such as the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, Miami Marlins, and the Cleveland Indians (the very team that is chasing the Sox). This is not an encouraging trend, and the numbers have taken a deeper dive since Madrigal’s departure from the lineup.
The offensive struggles from this team, prior to the latest injury setback, were apparent to most ardent observers. The White Sox simply aren’t hitting for power, and the production they received from role players has begun to wane. In the past month, the White Sox rank 22nd in baseball both in terms of SLG% and home runs. This is an area that must be addressed.
Specifically on the second base front, Danny Mendick has provided some value defensively, however, he simply can’t be relied upon to provide the offensive production that would be warranted from this spot. Mendick is a player that is best suited to start maybe once a week, so in the interim, the White Sox need to find an everyday option that can provide offensive value to a depleted lineup. It seems they may have something — albeit not the sexiest option — in the works, as recent trade rumors link the White Sox to Eduardo Escobar.
On the DH front, I have to say what we are all thinking: the Yermin Mercedes Experience is over, folks. He carried this team for a month while consistent regulars struggled, and he should be applauded for that, but a black hole has re-emerged in the DH position that has been ever-present for much of the past decade. True, the White Sox will get Eloy Jimenez back presumably in the next six weeks at some point, which should help production at this spot, but they can’t sit on their hands until that happens. We also don’t know what we will get from Eloy upon his return. There are going to be plenty of corner players with defensive liability issues that can fill this spot and allow Tony La Russa some roster flexibility with the likes of Andrew Vaughn and maybe even Jake Lamb.
The outfield mix is where things are truly complicated. Andrew Vaughn has held his own for a player that had no experience above High-A heading into the season, but overall since the loss of Luis Robert, this has been the biggest area of need for the squad. The aforementioned Eloy Jimenez COULD factor into this mix (although a very compelling case to take his glove away from him can be made given that his Spring Training injury has helped put the White Sox in this predicament). Even with Jimenez back in the lineup, the outfield still needs more help.
Prior to his recent hamstring issues, I wrote about the White Sox needing to move on from Adam Eaton in right field. My position still stands as I believe his days as an everyday player with a level of utility have simply passed. Finding an everyday right fielder will be important for this club as they desperately need production out of this spot. The Adam Engels, Leury Garcias, and Jake Lambs of the world can be fine in short bursts here, but there needs to be some sort of tangible improvement offensively at this position.
I know many of you scoffed when I typed centerfield as a need earlier in this piece. However, despite reports of Luis Robert progressing from his torn hip flexor, it is my belief that the White Sox need to prepare for the worst-case scenario of Robert not returning to the field until 2022. If he happens to come back and be close to what he was showcasing prior to his injury, that is just icing on the cake for this team. Ideally, they need to search for an outfielder that CAN cover centerfield with the capability of shifting to a corner spot should the young Cuban return *cough Starling Marte.*
Jumping The Market
Let me be clear: it is not all doom and gloom for the White Sox. This is still a really good baseball team, the roster warts are simply starting to get exposed due to a rash of catastrophic injuries. How this team is able to address these needs will be fascinating in the coming weeks.
They simply don’t have many marketable pieces in the upper minors that would be sufficient returns, in my opinion, to fill some of these areas of need. At the same time, the youngsters down in Kannapolis who would be viewed as ideal pieces for rebuilding clubs looking to get young prospect capital have underwhelmed, to say the least. Will other clubs overlook the results and rely on tools that are identified by their scouts? I think that has to be the hope at this point.
One thing is for sure, it is incumbent upon the front office to be bold and get in front of the market. As I mentioned above, all contending teams will be looking for bullpen help so it will be a tough task as always. The positional areas of need should be addressed as quickly as possible to prevent any prospect price inflation from hitting an organization that will already have a challenging time paying the required freight. While the Sox have a soft pocket in the schedule leading into the All-Star break, solid performances in that timeframe can simply camouflage the issues that are apparent for all to see.
Rick Hahn has talked recently about all seasons being sacred. It is time for this organization to show that they truly believe this. There are 90 games left and the Cleveland Indians aren’t going away, folks. Every win will matter in terms of capturing this division and potential playoff positioning. Brining in roster reinforcements sooner rather than later could easily turn out to be the difference between a magical Soxtober and an early exit that we’ve seen from this team in their last two playoff appearances.
We’ve got enough data on what this White Sox team is in 2021. We know what areas need to be addressed. It’s time to get it done and set this team up for success down the stretch.