The Chicago White Sox had a lot of momentum coming into this season. The development of left handed pitchers Jose Quintana (9 wins, 10 losses, 3.36 earned run average, 177 strikeouts, just over 206 innings pitched) and Carlos Rodon (9-6, 3.75, 139, just over 139) allowed for the team to let free agent pitcher Jeff Samardzija walk (a five year contract worth $90 million with the San Francisco Giants). This allowed the White Sox to kind of rebuild their infield, as they made separate trades for All Star Todd Frazier (.255 batting average, 35 home runs, 85 runs batted in, .806 on base plus slugging) and third baseman turned second baseman Brett Lawrie (.260, 16, 60, .706) with the Cincinnati Reds and Oakland Athletics, respectively. The White Sox topped it off by adding shortstop Jimmy Rollins (.224, 13, 41, .683) and outfielder Austin Jackson (.267, 9, 48, .696) as free agents. The White Sox also signed free agent catcher Alex Avila (.191, 4, 13, .626) and starting pitcher Mat Latos (4-10, 4.95, 100, just over 116). A move that will impact the White Sox in a very positive way was the re-signing of right handed reliever Matt Albers (2-0, 1.37, 30 games, just over 37 IP). A healthy Albers will help provide an easier bridge to get to closer David Robertson (6-5, 3.41, 34 saves, 86 Ks, just over 63 IP).
Chemistry in the Chicago clubhouse may or may not have taken a hit with the sudden retirement of designated hitter Adam LaRoche (.207, 12, 44, .634). From a baseball sense, the White Sox rid themselves of a player who performed at below replacement level. A concern could be whether there is or is not a divide among White Sox players who had an issue with his son Drake being in the clubhouse and those that supported the former player. If there are no lingering effects, the Chicago White Sox dodged a huge bullet.
The White Sox starting pitching is led by star left hander Chris Sale (13-11, 3.41, 274, just under 209), who was the most vocal among the Chicago players in support of LaRoche. Rodon should become a no doubt number two pitcher this season with Quintana sliding right behind him. I think the White Sox do have some concern in the forth and fifth spots in the rotation, though veterans John Danks (7-15, 4.71, 30 starts, just less than 178 IP) and Latos should be able to provide innings if not quality ones. The White Sox may be wise to inquire about a back end starter; perhaps a team has a surplus that can help this team obtain a little bit of depth.
Robertson's first season in Chicago was read with mixed reviews. Just his second season as a big league closer and his first in his new home, the right hander saw his strikeouts per nine innings pitch go down and his earned run average go up. On the bright side, his walk rate went down drastically, impacting his walks and hits per innings pitched and strikeout to walk rate in a positive way. Right hander Zach Putnam (3-3, 4.07, 64, less than 49) will team up with Albers to pitch the seventh and eighth innings. Left handers Zach Duke (3-6, 3.41, 66, just under 62) and Dan Jennings (2-3, 3.99, 53 games, just over 56 IP) give the White Sox respectable group for manager Robin Ventura to mix and match with. Of course, the left handed pitcher Dan Jennings has absolutely no relation to the former Marlins executive and field manager. Right handed pitcher Nate Jones, a one time White Sox closer before he was lost for almost two seasons due to Tommy John surgery, can be a wild card as the hard thrower should be ready to contribute this season. Jake Petricka (4-3, 3.63, 62 games, 52 IP) served last season as more of a right handed batter only guy.
The White Sox lineup gets a huge boast from Frazier, who joins star first baseman Jose Abreu (.290, 30, 101, 850) and budding star Adam Eaton (.287, 14, 56, .792, 98 runs scored, 175 hits, 9 triples, 18 stolen bases. The departure of LaRoche puts Melky Cabrera (.273, 12, 77, .709) in the best position to serve as the team's everyday designated hitter. Jackson can play center everyday, moving Eaton to left field. This will put some extra pressure on right fielder Avisail Garcia (.257, 13, 59, .675), who is going to have to produce a little bit more if he wants to remain a regular player in the major leagues. Expect the White Sox to be in the market for a forth outfield type to provide a little bit of outfield insurance.
The lineup I would go with if I was the White Sox is Jackson CF, Cabrera DH, Eaton LF, Abreu 1B, Frazier 3B, Lawrie 2B, Garcia RF, Avila C, Rollins SS. Shortstop Tyler Saladino (.225, 4, 20, 602), who was expected to take over a White Sox everyday player after incumbent SS Alexei Ramirez departed and before Rollins was signed, should still get a lot of playing time. He has had a solid spring, hitting over .300 and surprising many with four home runs. Veteran Dioner Navarro (.246, 5, 20, .682) is in as a free agent as well to serve as Avila's backup behind the plate. That could change based on offensive results. Outfielders JB Shuck and Jerry Sands get the first crack to earn a little more playing time. Both are best served as being fifth outfielder, with Sands suffering from a history of not remaining on major league rosters for a long time. Veterans Travis Isikawa, Hector Sanchez and Steve Lombardozzi are (and were) in camp looking to earn a spot on the bench.
The White Sox shortstop of the future seems to be 2013 first round draft pick Tim Anderson. Anderson hit over .300 with 49 stolen bases and 12 triples for Double- A Birmingham. There is doubt though, over whether Anderson has the tools to be a defensive shortstop at the major league level. This is something the White Sox will figure out this season. Another college pitcher taken in the mold of Rodon is former Vanderbilt right hander Carson Fulmer. Fulmer will get a lot of work this season with the thought of being big league ready next season or perhaps in 2016 as a September call up. 2012 first round pick Courtney Hawkins is still looking to develop some consistency in Double- A, but has shown a lot of improvement in the last year.
The way I value things that cannot be quantified into stats, the White Sox became a little bit of a concern to me. The attitude and chemistry in a clubhouse impacts the performance on the field way more than it gets credit for. Talent wise, the White Sox are as good as any team in the American League Central. That is saying a lot, because the AL Central has to most talent as a division in the entire sport. I thought they would turn the corner last season and they did as the season came to a close. I think the White Sox should be able to take the next step and become a legitimate contender for the American League Pennant this season. Las Vegas was down on them, putting their over/ under number at just 80.5. I think they will zoom past that and I see the Chicago White Sox finishing the season at 91-71, first place in the American League Central division. I am leaning towards feeling that any chemistry issues that may exist in the White Sox clubhouse are now resolved with the decision by LaRoche to retire.