Heading into the 2014 season, the White Sox seemed to be set on minimizing Dayan Viciedo’s at-bats, having what they hoped were everyday players in Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia in center and right field, and the frustratingly decent Alejandro de Aza in a position to start the majority of games in left.
Unfortunately, not even 10 games into the season, this plan was derailed, as Garcia tore his labrum diving for a ball on April 10th and wound up missing the majority of the year. This thrust Viciedo into a starting role once again, and after some flashes of improved approach in April, things quickly went south, resulting in 145 games of below-average offense and laughably putrid defense out of the Cuban right fielder.
As the White Sox have begun to load up for 2015 contention, a persistent worry has been what to do with the last outfield position. Simply put, a team that won only 73 games in 2014 would be hard-pressed to contend while relying on a bat-first left fielder who can’t really hit and really can’t field. This sentiment was clearly shared by Rick Hahn & Co., who late Saturday night reportedly agreed to sign former Blue Jay Melky Cabrera to a three-year deal reportedly in the $45 million range.
Cabrera is no small upgrade over Viciedo. Whereas Viciedo compiled a .231/.281/.405 line in 2014, the Melk-Man slugged to the tune of .301/.351/.458 in 2014, leading the MLB’s fifth most productive offense in batting average. Though Cabrera isn’t a gold-glover by any means (and rates pretty poorly by all defensive metrics), he is decently athletic and certainly a defensive upgrade over the sentient statue that is Viciedo. And while Viciedo has exhibited a bit more power than Cabrera throughout his career, Cabrera’s colossally better on-base skills more than make up for the difference. In signing Cabrera, the White Sox have gone from having a black hole in left field to a legitimate offensive threat.
That huge jump in OBP will certainly be a boon for a White Sox offense that placed 20th in baseball in the category last season. Cabrera can slot second in the White Sox lineup, giving the Sox two on-base machines (along with Eaton) to set up Jose Abreu, Adam LaRoche, and Garcia. After a season that saw walk-allergic Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez get the majority of PAs directly ahead of the AL’s runner up in wRC+ in 2014, this would certainly be a welcome addition. Between Cabrera, trading in Adam Dunn for Adam LaRoche, and hopefully a full season out of Garcia, it is reasonable to expect the White Sox will score quite a few more runs in 2015.
The question then becomes whether or not the additions that have been made are enough. Obviously, between Jeff Samardizja taking over for the collective wad of replacement level that was Scott Carroll, Andre Rienzo, and Chris Bassit, David Robertson and Zack Duke pushing relievers like Jake Petricka and Zack Putnam into more reasonable roles, and the aforementioned offensive upgrades, the 2015 White Sox are a considerably better team than their 2014 iteration. They did only win 73 games last year, however, and even in a weak AL Central 86 wins is probably the benchmark for contention. 13 win improvements are hard to come by, and with no clear second baseman, a weak back end of the rotation, and a third baseman and catcher who have not proven to be everyday players, they may not be quite ready to make such a leap. That said, they are much improved, and in a position where one or two more upgrades and a breakout performance from a player like Avisail Garcia can put them in position to be near the class of not just the Central, but the American League as a whole.
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