In recent memory, the Detroit Tigers have been the king of the jungle – at least in terms of the American League Central. The team has won the division in each of the last four seasons, but after an offseason headlined by the additions of Jeff Samardzija, Adam LaRoche and David Robertson – the Chicago White Sox appear poised to dethrone Miguel Cabrera‘s club.
The White Sox improved their record by ten games from 2013 to 2014 – improving to 73-89, which placed the club fourth in the division. Manager Robin Ventura has led Chicago to just one winning season in the last three years – his first campaign at the helm of the club. Since 2012, the club has gone 136-188 – good for a mere .419 winning percentage.
Last season, the club lost longtime captain Paul Konerko to retirement – clearing the way for American League Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu to take the reigns at the helm of the offense. Abreu was not only the league’s best rookie in 2014, but also finished fourth in the AL MVP race while also collecting a Silver Slugger and an All-Star selection. Chicago general manager Rick Hahn headed into the offseason with several holes to fill – and, to date, he’s greatly altered the feel of his team.
The White Sox, despite Abreu’s monstrous rookie season, scored the eighth-most runs in the American League – finishing in the middle of the pack. As a club, Chicago struck out more than any AL club besides the Houston Astros in terms of percentage – Ventura and his staff will no doubt place a heavy emphasis on that next month when players report to Spring Training in Arizona.
LaRoche, meanwhile, will be tasked with replacing a franchise icon in Konerko after spending the last four years with the Washington Nationals. Last season, the left-handed-swinging slugger ranked seventh in the league, clubbing 27 home runs and driving in 92 – his third-highest RBI total of his big league career. He will likely slot in alongside Abreu in the White Sox lineup, giving the team a powerful combination in the heart of the order.
Offensively, the team will also rely heavily on a breakout campaign from outfielder Avisail Garcia – who struggled in limited action in 2014. Still just 23 years old, the former Detroit prospect is still highly-thought of by many around the Chicago organization. But after batting just .244/.305/.413 last year, a strong rebound year would take the White Sox offense from potent to downright dangerous. Other cogs in the club’s offense will include shortstop Alexei Ramirez and speedy center fielder Adam Eaton.
In terms of pitching, the team has relied heavily on southpaw ace Chris Sale in recent years – and he has not disappointed. Last year, he hit his pinnacle thus far, compiling a 2.14 earned run average, while racking up 208 strikeouts in just 26 starts – finishing third in the American League Cy Young voting. Now, with the addition of former Chicago Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija, the team has one of the best one-two punches in not only the AL – but all of Major League Baseball.
Samardzija, who was traded to the Oakland Athletics in early July last year, returns for one year in the Windy City after going 7-13 with a career-best 2.99 ERA in 33 starts spanning 219 2/3 innings – the heaviest workload of his career – between the Cubs and A’s. Ventura now has the right-hander slotted in behind sale and ahead of Jose Quintana, Jon Danks and Hector Noesi in the rotation.
Danks has struggled of late, but Quintana is probably one of the more underrated starting pitchers in the game today. With the starting rotation shored up – not to mention the depth that came with the signing of left-hander Zach Duke. Behind the starting five, the team’s most glaring weakness was the back end of the relief corps – which was addressed in a big way when the team landing the former New York Yankees’ closer, Robertson.
Last season, the White Sox blew 21 saves – which ranked third amongst all American League teams. Even if the team had converted half of those blown opportunities, a .500 season would have been in the cards. Robertson, who inked a four-year, $46 million deal this winter to join Chicago, is coming off a season in which he replaced the retired Yanks’ legend Mariano Rivera, closing the door 39 times in his first campaign as a big league closer.
Shoring up the starting rotation, addressing the glaring weakness at the back end of the bullpen and adding another slugger to the ranks greatly diminishes the White Sox’ weaknesses heading into 2015.
With Jose Abreu and Chris Sale once again leading the charge, get ready for Chicago to shake up the American League Central.