The Sox Stove: 2015 Edition, Part 1

Although the conclusion of the World Series is always a drag - winter is here, no more baseball, etc. - for teams like the White Sox, it means they are going to start having activity again after being told they weren't good enough to play in the month of October.  We have learned that the "Golden Era Committee" (formerly the Veteran's Committee) may give us some new Hall of Famers, most notably among them for White Sox fans would be Minnie Minoso and Dick Allen.  A flurry of other activity has kicked off: Adam Lind being traded to Milwaukee for Marco Estrada, and qualifying offers being extended to various players - including David Robertson, Victor Martinez, Max Scherzer, and Melky Cabrera.  Declined options have meant that Billy Butler, Nick Markakis, Chad Billingsley, and Rickie Weeks, among others are now free agents. As of Tuesday, November 4th, free agents can sign anywhere they like. So! What's going to happen? This is only the first in what will be months of speculation and analysis here at the Catbird Seat,  but I'm an impatient guy and I want to start talking about roster construction

The White Sox' biggest needs are fairly clear - they're set at 1/2 of 1B/DH, CF, SS, and probably RF.  Tyler Flowers doesn't inspire a ton of confidence, but at the same time, he's good enough that catcher isn't a clear area of need, and there aren't obvious avenues for improvement. 2B is a place where none of the internal options are super exciting, but between Carlos Sanchez, Marcus Semien, and then potentially Tyler Saladino and Micah Johnson later in 2015, one imagines that - like catcher - this is a lower-priority need that will only get an upgrade if the right opportunity presents itself.  James has already discussed Conor Gillaspie and how he can cover 3B but that there are ways to maximize his abilities and upgrade the position with the right complementary partner. 

Position-wise that leaves basically LF, some additional player to throw at the 3B/1B/DH squad, and then depth. Bench options aren't flashy acquisitions, but as 2014 made painfully clear, your starting nine aren't playing all 162 games, and having strong utility players can make a huge difference over the marathon.  It's actually stunning how bad the White Sox bench was last year - Leury Garcia is historically terrible as a bat, Adrian Nieto had never played above High A and acquitted himself as well as you could realistically hope, and then you had a ceremonial Paul Konerko.  4th outfielder went from "fine" to "ugh" real fast when Avisail Garcia got hurt. With Konerko and Dunn gone, there is suddenly an opportunity to bolster this area of the roster and give Robin Ventura a lot more flexibility. 

Using the Hardball Talk's Top 150 Free Agents list as a reference, here are a few position players that I think could be had for reasonable prices and could wind up being useful.  Hardly an exhaustive exercise, or even saying, "I want this player" -- rather, this is essentially brainstorming and trying to think of possible solutions.

Rickie Weeks - age 32 - 2B: Weeks is a platoon player at this point, but he still mashes lefties. Evidently he resisted the idea of a position change to left field.  I would be curious to see how hard he holds to that posture.  Maybe Weeks would be more receptive to it if playing left field became part of something he agreed to in negotiating with a new team instead of having it thrust upon him as he was phased out of the Brewers organization.  If not, perhaps he would be willing to serve both at 3B and 2B, where he would be a great platoon partner for Conor Gillaspie, or could bounce around spelling people at 2B and sliding into DH on certain days, or serving to replace Konerko as "pinch hitter against LHP."

Billy Butler - age 29 - DH: I want to start by saying that I don't think this will happen. It is hard to imagine a world where the White Sox finally slip the anchor of inflexibility that was Konerko and Dunn just to replace them with a sort of hybrid, younger version of the two of them.  It is worth noting that even though Butler is a member of the Plodding DH-Only Club, he has always been the good contact, doubles variety of DH rather than the Carlos Pena-Adam Dunn-Jack Cust ".220 with 40 dingers" species.  He has zero athleticism, which I find troubling, but he was a really good hitter not too long ago, and there has to be a tipping point in his price where he's good value.

Michael Cuddyer - age 36 - LF/1B/DH: On the heels of Billy Butler, I present a guy who would benefit from being a DH, but can also actually play 1B and LF (albeit rather poorly) if need be. Cuddyer is fragile and old,* and you have to take his Colorado numbers with a huge grain of salt - but, the guy has hit .331/.385/.543 for his last ~750 PAs and he was still a solid/above average hitter in his pre-Coors days. I could see getting ~450 PAs of an OPS+ of 105-110 or so, which would be a huge upgrade on what you got from Viciedo and Konerko last year. Cuddyer could act as a replacement for both of them, in a sense, and there's still a chance that he exceeds those numbers.

*I say it so matter-of-factly here, but now that I think of it, I would feel awful if I were to say this to him in person. Baseball analysis is a rather inhuman exercise at times. Still, I got excited at the idea of Weeks and Cuddyer in the fold for next year - my gut reaction to Billy Butler is, "Let someone else take the risk."

Next up...

There are also lots of possibilities when it comes to addressing the White Sox' weaknesses at the middle-to-back of their starting rotation and pretty much the entire bullpen. What's more, this article has only raised three free agent possibilities - there are other guys out there, and trades too.  More to come in Part 2 - the hot stove rules.