It was a winter extended by the cold realities of a lockout, but the 2022 baseball season is rapidly approaching. Given the vagaries of the scheduling and how rapidly everything has to happen, it would be easy to let some traditions go by the wayside. Not in this space! Playing Pepper returns for its 14th season with the assistant of some great bloggers and podcasters who rose to the challenge of the time crunch. There’s a lot of things to sort out so let’s stretch, get ready and play some Pepper! If you want to keep up with the White Sox during the season, I’ve created a Twitter list using the recommendations of our contributors and some other options as well. You can follow that here!
All those worries about Tony La Russa seemed to be somewhat unfounded as the White Sox had no trouble returning to October. The division has gotten a little better in the offseason, though, which means that repeating as division champs won’t be a cakewalk. Luckily, we’ve got some folks ready to tell us if and how they might be able to do it!
|Kristina Airdo||South Side Sox||liddle_ktina|
|Josh Nelson||Sox Machine||soxmachine_josh|
|Jordan Lazowski||Sox on 35th||jlazowski14 (podcast Sox In The Basement)|
|Steve||Sons of Hahnarchy||drunkchisoxfan|
C70: Not including lockout issues, tell me about Chicago’s offseason. What did you like about it, what didn’t you like about it, was there something you were hoping for that didn’t happen?
Kristina: Oh man, where do I begin… Overall, White Sox fans (and definitely myself) are extremely underwhelmed with what GM Rick Hahn has accomplished this offseason. After an early departure from the playoffs, it was obvious there were several holes that the Sox needed to fill in order to comeback better for 2022: Mainly starting pitching depth, second base, an actual right fielder, and a backup catcher. The initial frustration came when the club did not offer Carlos Rodón a Qualifying Offer of 1 year / $18.4M. He had an incredible bounce-back year, going 13-5 with a 2.37 ERA and finishing fifth in Cy Young voting. Considering he received nearly the same offer with San Francisco, it really makes no sense why they would not want to spend on someone like Rodón. Not to mention that they are currently going into an arbitration hearing with our ace Lucas Giolito over $50,000. What are they doing? Who knows. The White Sox are notoriously non-spenders, but have surprised many by spending $45M this off season, with the highest payroll they’ve had at nearly $185M. The spending isn’t the problem, it’s the way they spend it, which is not wisely. After trading 2B Nick Madrigal and RP Codi Heuer to the Cubs to acquire Craig Kimbrel, and César Hernández not working out as planned, the Sox were left with a gap at second, and remained on their never ending search for an actual right fielder. Craig Kimbrel came to the South side with a 0.49 ERA, with potential to be an additional weapon out of our already solid bullpen, but finished the year with a 5.09 ERA, which was honestly just brutal. The move wasn’t necessarily bad at the time, it’s just a shame the way it turned out. While already having a stud closer in Liam Hendriks, it didn’t seem like the Sox would pick up Kimbrel’s option for 2022… But we were wrong. Picking up Kimbrel’s option leaves $16M on the books for a team that has a track record of already being stingy (cough Jerry Reinsdorf). This was an… interesting move, though many assumed they would try to use him as a trade piece. Well it’s March 29th and he’s still on the roster and it seems like they miscalculated his market for a trade, so really, the joke is on us.
Instead of signing high caliber position players to strengthen our lineup and fill the very obvious gaps, we signed MORE relievers – Kendall Graveman for 3 year / $16.5M and Joe Kelly for 2 years / $17M. The White Sox bullpen was pretty stacked for 2021, so spending all of this money on relief pitching while still not *really* addressing 2B and RF is annoying at best. Over the last couple of weeks, the White Sox signed INF Josh Harrison for 1 year / $4M, which isn’t a terrible signing due to his strong defensive skills, complementing Tim Anderson well at SS. This would have been a more glamorous signing had they signed a good right fielder. Michael Conforto is still on the market, but rationally, it was never going to happen. The White Sox traded pitching prospect McKinley Moore to the Phillies for OF Adam Haseley, who was the No. 8 overall pick in 2017, but has not lived up to that hype. Over three seasons and 355 PA’s, his BA is .264, which is pretty decent, but when you factor in that he’s barely played 100 games, batted .190 in 2021 while putting up a -0.3 WAR, it doesn’t sound so great. With the current plan of an Andrew Vaughn/Adam Engel RF platoon, they can surely put up those numbers, if not better – heck, even DFA’d Adam Eaton and his .201 BA and -0.6 WAR could probably manage that. Apparently if they are not named Adam, they have no place in Right Field for the Chicago White Sox. I was hoping they would go for Kris Bryant, he is everything we needed in good defense, versatility, and a good bat. But Jerry doesn’t do big signings. Conforto or Castellanos felt more realistic, but alas here we are.
The White Sox have one of the most talented rotations in baseball in 2021, and still have a top tier rotation, but losing Rodón definitely hurts, and there is a lot of uncertainty around Dallas Keuchel and Michael Kopech. Giolito and Lynn returning is huge, with ERA’s of 3.53 and 2.69 respectively, and Lynn even finishing third in Cy Young voting. Dylan Cease greatly improved, with an ERA 3.91 and was third in the AL for K’s, seventh in MLB, my point? He has some good stuff, excited to see how he comes back in ‘22. Michael Kopech is kind of a question mark, he was a reliable reliever and spot starter last year with a 3.50 ERA, throws hard, and can strike a lot of guys out. The original plan was for him to eventually be in the starting rotation, though he’s not even thrown 70 innings in a year yet. He is effective, and regardless of how he is used, I’m looking forward to watching him this year. Dallas Keuchel was our fifth starter last year… he didn’t even make the playoff roster and was very loyal to his 5.28 ERA, that should pretty much explain that. The Sox still have Reynaldo Lopez that was solid, and have signed Vince Velasquez to a 1 year / $3M deal, but surprisingly not on a minor league contract after a rough 2021 producing -0.4 WAR and a 6.30 ERA over 25 games. There are hopes that they could still trade for Sean Manaea or Frankie Montas, but I have zero clue what they are doing so really am not going to hold my breath.
One of Hahn’s biggest moves this offseason (that wasn’t a reliever) was re-signing White Sox Legend and utility player Leury Garcia. Leury is a fantastic utility player, and showed up huge last year with all of our injuries and in the playoffs, but if that is one of the biggest signings you made, then you should probably re-evaluate your strategy.
Josh: The one good thing about the Chicago White Sox offseason is they established a very strong bullpen. Picking up Craig Kimbrel’s option with the hope he turns around his poor performance second half of 2021 and adding Kendall Graveman along with Joe Kelly gives manager Tony La Russa plenty of options late in games.
After their ALDS loss to Houston, it was clear the White Sox needed to address right field and second base. They only addressed one of those positions, which is re-signing Leury Garcia and bringing veteran Josh Harrison into the fold to handle second base. Adding Marcus Semien would have been a significant difference-maker. I think Michael Conforto still makes sense for this team despite his shoulder injury. It appears the White Sox game plan for right field is taking two first basemen (Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets) and two fourth outfielders (Adam Engel and Adam Haseley), and hoping they don’t drown manning the position. Vaughn has already hurt himself playing in right field during Spring Training, so I’m prepared to see a wide cast of characters for this position.
General Manager Rick Hahn spent $45 million this offseason without upgrading second base and right field. Very puzzling offseason for him.
Jordan: Before about 11 AM CT on April Fool’s Day, fans were very confused by the White Sox offseason. The team started this offseason with a few glaring holes: RF, 2B, and the back end of the rotation. Up until Friday, they had spent about $30M and still had the same holes. The money was spent on three additional relievers (Kendall Graveman, Joe Kelly, Vince Velasquez) and two utility players (Josh Harrison, Leury Garcia).
That all changed when Rick Hahn and the front office were able to do something most fans had anticipated they’d do all offseason: trade Craig Kimbrel. The return – A.J. Pollock – gave an answer to the hole in RF, and the trade itself takes the offseason from confusing to solid. Now, the moves for Graveman and Kelly help fill the hole left by Kimbrel, and Pollock gives the White Sox their best RF in a very, very long time. It makes the weakness at 2B a lot easier to manage, as Harrison and Garcia will be serviceable, even if not incredible.
There is still some work I’d like to see the White Sox do – with the injury to reliever Garrett Crochet, the team could still use one more RP. In addition, with Dallas Keuchel struggling and Michael Kopech on an innings limit, the team would do well to add a back-end SP to eat innings (Sean Manaea, perhaps?). This also doesn’t mean they’ve had a perfect offseason in my mind. The team made the confusing decision to not extend a Qualifying Offer to Carlos Rodon, thereby both letting him leave via free agency while also not gaining an additional draft pick in the process.
All this being said: this White Sox team is very talented and should once again have World Series aspirations. I liked both the Graveman and Kelly signings, as they are both proven and experienced relievers in the Postseason that make the bullpen among the deepest in baseball. In addition, I loved the Kimbrel trade. As of this writing, I’m not sure the White Sox are done. Though, if they are, this is a B-/C+ offseason in my mind. That said, it’s a lot better than the grade I would’ve given a day ago, as for the first time, it feels as if this team made an improvement from the 2021 iteration.
Steve: Honestly, up until April 1, I absolutely despised the Sox off-season. If we’re talking about grades, I gave Rick Hahn and the rest of the front office a D. The bullpen was already solid and had a lot of money dumped into it, and then they went out and spent more money on Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly. At that point, Craig Kimbrel’s time on the South Side looked about finished. However, they still had him going into the final week of Spring Training. The 1-for-1, AJ Pollock for Kimbrel trade is an incredible move. Kimbrel could possibly have a bounce-back year, but the Sox desperately needed another outfielder. While I don’t know if Pollock has the arm to play right field, his bat will solidify this offense as one of the best in the league. The only thing I want to see the Sox do still is add a starting pitcher, especially with Lance Lynn’s recent injury. I’ll touch more on that in a second.
C70: Lance Lynn seemed to have no problems adapting to the South Side. What do you expect from him this season? Can he keep up what he’s been doing?
Kristina: Lance Lynn might not be from the South side, but he fits in perfectly, and outside of him being an excellent pitcher, he is the coolest guy. He signed a 2 year / $38M extension last July, stating he knows where he wants to be. I love it, happy to have him back for a couple more years. Lynn came out of the gates hot last year, taking everyone by surprise at how dominant he was with his 1.99 ERA through the All-Star break. He struggled a bit on the back end with a nagging knee injury, so hopefully if he can stay healthy this year and perform similarly to 2021, we will be in great shape. As a veteran arm, he is one of the most important pieces of the rotation – but he has some work to do in terms of postseason performance, with a career 5.28 ERA.. yikes. He has addressed changes to be made, making sure he is throwing quality pitches and hitting his spots, and I trust that he will live up to that this year, hungry for more.
Josh: The expectation is Lance Lynn continues to be a dependable veteran starter who takes the ball every fifth day hoping to put up 30 starts in 2022. We’ll see what his knee thinks of that plan, but if Lynn pitches 175+ innings in 2022 at the quality he did in 2022, he’ll be a Top 10 AL Cy Young contender.
Jordan: The Lance Lynn trade and subsequent extension were incredibly important parts of the White Sox 2021 season. Lynn came to the South Side and remained a dominant horse at the front end of the rotation. He’s getting up there in age, but with the White Sox signing him to a two-year extension, they clearly believe he is someone who is going to make a top of the rotation impact during the 2022 season. As a result, I have these same expectations. Lynn has made a living for quite some time off of being a heavy fastball pitcher, simply by mixing the type of fastball he has thrown. If he can continue to keep his top level velocity while avoiding some of the knee issues that plagued his 2021 season from time to time, I see no reason this wouldn’t be a successful two-year extension for Lynn. I’m excited to see what he will do this year, and he’s been a welcome addition by fans to the South Side.
Steve: Lynn had a great year last year, no doubts about it. The only downside during the regular season was his stint on the IL due to knee pain, and unfortunately that same knee now has a minor tendon tear that will sideline him most likely for 6-8 weeks. His health is crucial to his success. He’s 35 years old next month with plenty of mileage on him. His MO is throwing hard, which puts even more wear on the lower body. He’s also not in the greatest of physical condition, which puts extra stress on muscles, ligaments, and tendons. If he’s healthy the rest of the year and is a sub-4 ERA guy, I won’t be upset. I don’t expect him to have a Cy Young Award-type season at all.
C70: There are some notable folks that are set to hit free agency this winter. Do you expect any of them to be extended during the season?
Kristina: This is a great question, because even when a move feels like a no-brainer, the White Sox typically have to make it as complicated as possible. José Abreu will be a 36 year old free agent going into 2023, my guess is they sign him for two more years at least, but hopefully he plays his last games here on the South side – it’s only right that he retires as a White Sox. Tim Anderson has a 12.5MM club option for 2023… if the White Sox do not extend and pay that man White Sox fans will burn it all down (laughing but also kind of serious). Not only is he insanely fun to watch, he’s proven how valuable he is to the team, and he’s consistent and continues to improve.
Jordan: For the White Sox, Dallas Keuchel, Jose Abreu, and Tim Anderson are three major White Sox players who could reach free agency this winter. Of the list, I only expect Keuchel to not return for the 2023 season. Keuchel has a $16M vesting option if he pitches 160 innings this season, and given his recent results, I don’t expect the White Sox to allow that option to vest. Truthfully, it will be nice to have that salary free up next offseason.
As for Anderson and Abreu, I don’t expect either to hit free agency – at least for a very long time. Anderson has two club options on his deal currently, and I would expect the team to exercise both of them to get him through 2024. As for Abreu, this is his team, and if he doesn’t choose to retire, he will be in a White Sox uniform in 2023. The only other White Sox players who are only under contract through this season are Josh Harrison and Vince Velasquez, and neither are positioned to be high impact losses for the White Sox. Other than the previously listed names, it will be interesting to see whether or not A.J. Pollock exercises his $10M player option for 2023. However, this won’t be the same for long, as in the next few years, players such as Yasmani Grandal, Lucas Giolito, and the aforementioned Anderson will all reach free agency, and the first wave of the White Sox contention window could come to a close.
As for the rest of the league, there are some exciting names that could hit the market next year: Chris Sale, Jacob deGrom, Xander Bogaerts, and Carlos Rodon, to name a few. All of these guys have player options in their contracts, however, and barring anything too crazy, I would expect most of them to exercise their options or be further extended. The 2023 offseason has a ton of appealing names; though, to be fair, tempered expectations among fans are always a fair choice, especially with names that big as the subject.I would still expect an interesting 2023 offseason no matter what.
Steve: Of the core starters, Jose Abreu is the only one that is a UFA next year (if I’m not mistaken). I’ll get crucified for saying this, but I’ll say it anyway: I’d love to see the Sox win it all this year, let Abreu ride out into the sunset, and make room for Andrew Vaughn’s development at 1B. Abreu is a clubhouse and fan favorite, but I think he’s going to demand a solid chunk of change unless he settles for a hometown discount. Sox fans always want to complain that Jerry Reinsdorf doesn’t spend the money, but we’re currently ranked 7th in MLB team payroll. If Vaughn can become a proven major league hitter this year to replace Abreu, and they find a way to dump the behemoth that is Dallas Keuchel’s contract, they could be in the market for a top tier free agent by December 2022 or January 2023.
C70: Which prospect are you most excited for and when should they make their major league debut?
Kristina: I’m pretty excited to watch Yoelqui Céspedes continue to improve throughout the minors and potentially make his debut later in the 2022 season. While the Sox did sign Haseley and have a couple of options they could utilize in RF, it’s very possible we see him in the majors. In 2021, between Single-A and Double-A, he slashed .285/.350/.464 in 72 games, and proceeded to go 5 for 19 (.263) in seven spring training games. He has a lot of raw power and could be an asset to the lineup.
Josh: I’m intrigued by middle infield prospect Jose Rodriguez. He was one of the few White Sox prospects who actually performed well in 2021, and again with the issues at second base, I wouldn’t mind seeing him get a shot if Leury Garcia or Josh Harrison really struggle this season.
Jordan: The White Sox farm system at current is, to put it kindly, barren. They’re ranked 30th pretty unanimously for a reason. That being said, this past year has seen the pipeline start to look up a bit with the additions of Colson Montgomery, Wes Kath, Yoelquis Cespedes, Norge Vera, and Oscar Colas, as well as with the rise of Jose Rodriguez and Bryan Ramos. Personally, I’m probably most excited to see what Colson Montgomery can be, as he was the first high school draft pick the White Sox took in the first round in a very long time. I’d like to see him serve as the shortstop of the future after Tim Anderson’s time is done – though being 19 years old, he’s still quite a few years away. More immediately, Oscar Colas was the big International Free Agent addition for the White Sox and could be ready in the next couple of seasons. Perhaps he can finally solve the White Sox’ RF problem in 2024, haha. Yoelquis Cespedes was also rather impressive in Spring Training, and he may be worth a look at the major league level later in the season. It’s not an impressive list on paper, but if a few players can have really solid years at the lower levels, the system will start to look a lot stronger as a result.
Steve: This was a fun question to answer two or three years ago. Right now, all of the formerly exciting prospects are currently up on the MLB roster in my opinion. There are a few guys who will eventually make The Show, but it won’t be this season. The guy I’m most excited for in the future is probably Jose Rodriguez. He’s a 20 year old shortstop that made his way up to AA in Winston Salem last year after starting in Low-A Kannapolis. He’s got a ton of pop in his bat, speed on the basepaths, and plays decent enough defense. Apparently he can hit well to all fields too, which is huge in today’s game.
C70: How do you see 2022 shaking out for this team? What’s your expectation of where they finish?
Kristina: I’m still hoping they address the starting pitching further, but I expect the White Sox to be strong AL contenders in 2022. Having Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert back for (hopefully) an entire season is key, and between the two of them they add an insane amount of power. If the team can stay healthy, it’s a great lineup top to bottom, and will still hold down the AL Central. Now that they have had a taste of the playoffs and had a feel for the setting, I think they come back stronger with a lot more confidence.
Josh: Despite the moves Minnesota and Detroit made, I still think the Chicago White Sox win the AL Central by more than seven games. How deep they go this postseason will largely depend on how their starting pitching performs. Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease were not good against Houston. They are taking their lack of last year’s postseason success personally into this season. If they can perform like we know they can in October, this is a legit World Series contender. If injuries or other setbacks come into play, they could burn out again early in the postseason.
Jordan: Even with a good-but-not-great offseason, this White Sox team is good enough to win the AL Central Division and at least 90 games – I’d project 94-68. I think the fans’ frustration with the confusing offseason is leading many to forget this. I would expect them to repeat as AL Central champs for the first time in their history (what a wild statement). From there, as we all know, the Postseason has a largely random element to it. I believe this White Sox team is good enough to make their way to the World Series – however, I hope they continue to add to the team in order to put themselves in the best position to win deep into October. In reality, the in-house team will need to be a lot stronger regardless if they want to avoid an ALDS exit this season, as no additions will really help the root causes of the White Sox’ early exit from the 2021 playoffs. That being said, the expectation at this point in the rebuild is a team that can go deep in the playoffs, and that will remain my personal expectation.
Steve: The window for the Sox to make a championship run is closing fast. 2022 and 2023 are probably the years the team has to get the job done. AL Central Champs for the first time since 2008 was nice last year, but it wasn’t enough. The end of last year was a big disappointment for South Siders, and I’m hoping that makes the boys even more hungry to win something more significant this year. The talent is there, but can they stay healthy? The offense is stacked, but do they have enough starting pitching? Does the bullpen continue to pitch well? Which of the younger guys has a much needed breakout year? Lots of questions for a team with big expectations.
My prediction: 90-72. AL Central Champs. They take big steps by getting an AL Wild Card Series win and an ALDS series win. They fall short of the World Series by a game or two.
C70: Besides yourself and the team account, give me up to three good White Sox Twitter accounts to follow.
Kristina: Ahh how will I only pick three!! Janice Scurio (@scuriiosa) is an excellent follow. Not only is she awesome, but she’s extremely knowledgeable about baseball and sports in general! She also writes for South Side Sox, CHGO Sports, NBC Sports Edge, and Baseball Prospectus. Chrystal O’Keefe (@chrystal_ok) is also one of my favorites. She puts out fantastic work and is also just extremely cool! She writes for Pitcher list and South Side Sox, definitely recommend following. Jordan Lazowski (@jlazowski14) is the Editor-in-Chief for sites Sox on 35th and Diamond Digest, and is a numbers guy that has some solid insight and takes on the White Sox and baseball in general. There’s so many great accounts to choose from!!
Josh: Oh, man. It’s tough to keep it at just three, especially with the beat reporters.
Well, everyone should make sure to follow us @SoxMachine but for outsiders, also check out:
Those three will deliver you enough of the White Sox Twitter spectrum to know what’s up.
Jordan: Oh, that’s a good question. I’m going to only mention individuals – you do a great job getting a good mix of blogs in here in these yearly articles! I’ll choose Patrick Nolan (@soxmach_pnoles), Janice Scurio (@scuriiosa), and Matt Zawaski (@SouthsideZo). I have to cheat a bit and name a fourth: Beefloaf (@MrDelicious13). There are way too many to name though, and I’ve honestly left out so many good ones. If you have a chance, venture over to White Sox Twitter some time!
Steve: Wow. This is tough, as I follow a lot of White Sox Twitter. It’s full of so many good people and great minds.
1. @fromthe108, who are a group of guys who podcast/blog/go to all the games. Those guys have treated me like one of their own throughout the years and I’m so grateful for them.
2. @jlazowski14. Jordan Lazowski is a super funny, smart, and insightful baseball guy. He’s well-known on Sox Twitter for a reason. Great baseball mind, always gives well-informed and original takes, and always interacts with those who reach out to him.
3. @HawtTakeTommy, who is my co-host on the @SonsOfHahnarchy podcast. He’s one of my best friends from college, and has always had my back through good times and bad. Unlike Jordan Lazowski, his takes are not always well-informed, but he sure does make me laugh on a regular basis when we record our podcast.