The non-waiver trade deadline came and went and the White Sox didn't do anything. I suppose it wasn't that surprising, given how little rumbling there had been about pending moves, and given how hard it was to think of movable pieces on the roster. Players like Gordon Beckham, Dayan Viciedo, Alejandro de Aza and Matt Lindstrom, who are fungible at this point, unfortunately have been bad or injured, killing their market value. So - what exactly is this offense that they've kept intact for now?
The White Sox entered Friday - and indeed, all statistics here are from before Friday's game against the Twins - ranked 7th in the majors in runs scored. That's plenty good enough to be a playoff team, even when you account for the fact that yes, they have a DH, and yes, they play half their games in a hitter-friendly park.* Given that it's a top-ten offense and the team has allowed more runs than it has scored, it would follow that the pitching is the problem. That jives with the eye test and common sense. The pitching after Sale and Quintana is just not there. Scott Carroll or John Danks or even Hector Noesi would have been welcome on some of the really pitching starved iterations of the White Sox a few decades ago, but you can't have that as 60% of the rotation and make the playoffs. That's without even mentioning the bullpen.
*Interestingly, Baseball-Reference has U.S. Cellular as a solid pitchers' park this year, and as neutral over the past few seasons. Prior to last year it was a strong hitters' park. I had thought that last year it was a product of the White Sox boasting pretty good pitching and one of the worst offenses in the universe, but now I don't know what to say.
Despite the positive results so far, there's actually a lot of room for the offense to realistically get better. Check it out:
Two of Rick Hahn's moves have been paying immediate dividends. Jose Abreu has been slowly going more and more supernova for months now, and even with his numbers at 1B watered down by a sprinkling of Konerko and Dunn, first base is clearly not a problem on offense. Adam Eaton has also turned a problem position into an area that does not need to be corrected. He has no power, but fields the position well, and gets on base at a very nice clip.
Hahn has shored up another area of profound weakness at third. For the low price of Jeff Soptic, Conor Gillaspie has staunched the gaping wound that was once the hot corner. A position where the White Sox were basically dead last in the majors in 2012 is now a place where they are getting anywhere from serviceable to solid production extremely cheaply.
Alexei Ramirez and Adam Dunn, as you can see, are holding up their end of the bargain at the plate.
But Gordon Beckham, Dayan Viciedo, and to a lesser extent Alejandro de Aza are just anchors around the neck of an otherwise very good offense. Beckham and Viciedo, considered under the regime of Kenny Williams to be the cornerstones of the next great White Sox offense have both plateaued and then eroded to the point where they both look like non-tender candidates this winter. Their OBPs continue to dive further below .300 as they age into their mid-to-late 20s.
By the end of this year, Beckham and Viciedo will have had approximately 3,000 and 2,000 major league plate appearances respectively. I'm not sure how much more time you're supposed to give somebody. Then again, Ventura hit Beckham 2nd last night and Viciedo has been hitting cleanup with some regularity recently, so who knows if the organization has any sort of sanity with regard to these guys.
I'm still largely ready to bury Tyler Flowers, but the bar for catcher production - at least on the offensive end - is so utterly low that it's hard to really call it an issue that needs to be addressed. The glasses seem to have helped lately, at least. I do have Russell Martin flagged as a possible White Sox free agent this winter, particularly if they decide to go for the Division again in 2015.
The good news is that left field and second base should be easy places to upgrade. For one thing, pretty much anyone would be better than what Viciedo and Beckham have been doing. Also, there are a number of possible internal replacements for Beckham at second - Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez are the first that come to mind. Meanwhile, left field is quite low on the defensive spectrum, and at least Avisail Garcia should be back sooner than we had initially been told, which will hopefully solve another outfield spot, leaving only one unclaimed.
The point is that given the emergence of Eaton and Abreu, and the fact that there is an increasing level of general competence around the roster, means this could be an excellent offense in 2015. It may only take a couple minor moves. The top half of the lineup looks like it's largely here and makes sense - they just need to shore up the weaknesses. And given just how weak they are, significant improvement shouldn't be hard.
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