The Chicago White Sox’s starting lineup in 2014 will be in sharp contrast to the one that opened the 2013 season with quasi-optimistic expectations.
For one, the White Sox were counting on a guy like Alex Rios to repeat the success he found in 2012. They were also hoping that Tyler Flowers could, at the very least, partially fill the shoes of A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko had one more good season left in the tank.
Well, Rios has already been traded, Flowers has been demoted and Konerko may retire when this season reaches its conclusion. Suffice it to say that the batting order is going to look much different when the 2014 season opens.
Change was already in the air, actually. General manager Rick Hahn has made it clear that he “wants to field a team that excels in on-base percentage and plate discipline as well as the long ball,” per the Chicago Sun-Times’ Daryl Van Schouwen.
So let’s put on the GM’s hat for a second and take a look at a projected 2014 lineup that fits those criteria, before going into detail regarding some of the potential changes.
Shin-Soo Choo—.278/.415/.445, 15 HR, 37 RBI, 82 BB, 107 K—would be an ideal fit for a few reasons.
From a fiscal perspective, Choo may be available for a three-year contract at around $13 million annually with a player option for a fourth season. Given his career production and relatively young age, that figure is not so ludicrous that it prohibits Hahn from working with his agent, Scott Boras.
Further, the fact that the White Sox are not tied to first-round draft-pick compensation this offseason only increases their leverage. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, teams with one of the first 10 picks in the draft that sign a free agent who was tendered a qualifying offer are not required to surrender their top pick.
In the White Sox’s case, that means singing Choo would only require them to send their second-round selection to the Cincinnati Reds.
For more details on the CBA, see this article from Bleacher Report’s Ash Marshall.
In addition, his offensive skill set is also something that would immediately give the White Sox a more complete lineup. He is a left-handed leadoff hitter who can drive the ball to all fields and has a career .386 OBP. He is also a very good baserunner and an excellent defender, which are two areas the Sox desperately need to improve in.
Finally, signing Choo would allow for some of the other outfield prospects in the farm system to develop. Second-round draft pick Jacob May, Trayce Thompson, Brandon Jacobs and Courtney Hawkins, for example, will need more time and will not be ready for the 2014 season.
Garcia Replaces De Aza, and Semien Replaces Ramirez
For various reasons, addressed in a prior column, the White Sox would be wise to part ways with both Alejandro De Aza and Alexei Ramirez. De Aza’s departure would open the door for Avisail Garcia’s ascension to be the primary center fielder, and the team has several options to replace Ramirez.
Marcus Semien would seem to have the inside track. He found sustained success at Double-A Birmingham before earning a promotion to Triple-A Charlotte. Since then, he is only hitting .250 but has been patient at the plate and has a .121 IsoD and .893 OPS between both levels entering play on Monday, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
Another caveat to trading Ramirez for prospects is that it would help offset the loss of their second-round selection if they sign Choo.
Jordan Danks Takes Over in Left
Jordan Danks is earning the chance to replace Dayan Viciedo in left when he transitions to first base next season, which is something that would certainly benefit the White Sox, according to Van Schouwen.
Since getting regular playing time, Danks has responded well, compiling a .289/.341/.368 slash line in his last 41 at-bats. If he continues to produce, he should be given every opportunity during spring training next year.
To be sure, what the White Sox lineup will look like in 2014 is anybody’s guess.
Hahn could go out and sign multiple free agents to shore up the batting order or promote strictly from within. He could also find a way to sign Konerko for one more season and bring back the exact same group next year.
One thing is certain. The Sox are three or four targeted free agents and two very good drafts away from fielding a lineup that is on par with some of the better ones in the league. A topflight offense is not what will drive this team, though.
The White Sox are a team built around pitching and only need enough hitting to score one more run than the opponent. An infusion of youth, a guy like Choo and some increased team speed would go a long way toward reaching that end.