Playing Pepper 2015: Chicago White Sox

It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Preorder this outstanding baseball simulation today!

Chicago White Sox
73-89, fourth in the AL Central

While they don’t have the same record of futility that their North Side brethren do, having stopped their World Series streak in 2005, there’s still not been just a ton of excitement around the White Sox franchise over the past few years.  You have to go back to 2010 to see where they’ve won over 85 games.  There have been some stars, but no overwhelming talents in black and white.

That seemed to change some last year, especially with the arrival of Jose Abreu.  The White Sox were busy in this offseason and it seems like it might be their time to break through that ceiling.  To talk about that, we’ve got a returning Pepper veteran.  James has moved around a bit and now is writing good stuff at The Catbird Seat.  You’ll find him on Twitter @JRFegan.

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason?  Did they do what they needed to do?
TCS: Jeff Samardzija, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, David Robertson, Zach Duke and Dan Jennings. Geovany Soto‘s in there too. It’s definitely the most active single offseason I can recall in the last 15 years, but it was also built up to be. In their 2013 purges of Alex Rios and Jake Peavy, the Sox notably sought full salary relief rather than eating money for top-tier prospects. They’ve been dutifully clearing money off the books for years now, and while they were expected to maybe spread out the spending a bit more, getting more aggressive in free agency is the logical move.
That said, the Sox have filled a myriad of holes very quickly–left field, bullpen, replacing Adam Dunn, grabbing another above-average starter–and made themselves very interesting for 2015, but they stopped short of an “all-in” approach. Conor Gillaspie, Carlos Sanchez and Tyler Flowers are not hopeless, but they left some key positions in an iffy situation. The back half of the rotation is mostly waiting for prospects to come up. Their spending spree will leave them short of a top-10 payroll. They can talk about October, but they can’t book their plane tickets.
I’m very excited without being fully satisfied.
C70: What does Jose Abreu do for an encore?
TCS: GOOD QUESTION. Jose Abreu put together two very distinct halfs of baseball. The first version was a very free-swinging and reckless slugger who popped whatever he made contact with a very long way. He slugged well over .600, with an insane .338 ISO, but got on base less than 35% of the time. He followed it up with a rather troubling power outage as he reportedly tired in the second half, but basically became impossible to retire (.435 OBP after the All-Star Break). He had an 18-game homer drought that started at the end of August, and hit .415/.493/.538 during it. Odd, but not exactly a problem.
Is he going to combine the two strengths? Is the power outage something more long-term while the high batting average is unsustainable? Will he strike a balance? He’s sort of a mystifying player to watch. His plate approach was nonexistent and impossibly brilliant at different portions last year.
C70: How strange will it be not to have Paul Konerko on this team?
TCS: I’m sure beat writers will miss getting a week’s worth of quotes in fifteen minutes, but Paul Konerko’s 2014 was a very satisfactory victory lap. He got his due from all the old lions he battled in the AL Central for a decade and a half, his US Cellular Field send-off was unforgettable, and he really wasn’t capable of doing anything on a baseball field by the time the season was done. The team has a new set of stars and identity now, and we can’t prolong things anymore.
C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?
TCS: Let’s say Avisail Garcia, since if he doesn’t make strides, the Sox are probably in trouble. Garcia has tremendous raw power, but gets in the habit of looking only to slap singles to right field. He has good plate coverage skills and hit tool, but has strikeout issues on the inner-half. He’s shown some plus-speed in the past, but is clumsy in the outfield and played heavy last season. He could be a high-average, 20 HR power monster with plus defense or be Dayan Viciedo.
If he shakes to being slightly above-average, that would be a big development. The Sox aren’t playing a ton of guys with growth potential.
C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?
TCS: The ambition is to win the division and push at 90-wins, but the middle ground of possibilities probably puts them at 85-77, second place to the Indians or Tigers.
C70: What do you like best about being a White Sox fan?
TCS: Cover the league with enough breadth and the idea that your fanbase and team are special starts fading away from you. So other than intense regionalism from having grown up on the South Side of Chicago, and personal memories, intrinsic reasons why the Sox are awesome have to be dug for.
Hawk Harrelson is a very bad announcer these days; spouting falsehoods about bullpens being the most important part of the roster and being uncomfortably morose whenever the Sox are not doing well, but he’s most harshly criticized by people who never have any actual reason to have to sit through his broadcast. It’s still fun when the team is doing well how cartoonishly excited he gets (even if you’re just laughing at him), and it ticks off everyone else in the world to no end, so that might be the most unique White Sox fanhood treasures outside of watching Chris Sale and Jose Abreu.
My thanks to James for giving us the low down on the South Siders.  I don’t think it’d be a stretch to see them in October this season!

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