CHICAGO -- The disappointing 2022 season left more questions than answers for a White Sox squad that finished at 81-81 but still possessed a contender-worthy talent. So, where do they go from that low point?
Here are five questions I picked that need to be answered leading into the ’23 campaign.
1. Will José Abreu return?
The first baseman has been the face of the franchise for the past nine seasons and one of the top middle-of-the-order run producers in all of baseball. He vowed to sign himself back after the 2019 season -- and he did return via a three-year, $50 million deal -- but has not made any such bold proclamation leading into this next round of free agency.
Andrew Vaughn, who is 11 years younger than Abreu, also possesses frontline offensive capabilities after only two full seasons in the Majors and with very little Minor League experience on his resume. He has played out of position in left field, but with the White Sox needing to get more left-handed and the outfield being an option for that change, the time could be now for Vaughn to move to his natural position at first, where he should be above-average defensively. Eloy Jiménez is set now as the primary designated hitter, so where does that leave Abreu?
Abreu did have a full-season career-low 15 home runs and 75 RBIs in ‘22, with one homer over his last 55 games, but still produced a .304/.378/.446 slash line. You can cut the numbers any way you want, but they still point to Abreu as extremely valuable. Of course, that value goes beyond the field. Abreu might be interested in checking the free-agent market this time around, although his teammates would like him back with the White Sox.
2. Who is the manager?
The White Sox have two playoff victories, in total, to show for their three-year competitive window following a rebuild, so this hire is extremely important, especially without a great deal of apparent maneuverability within the roster. A preferred candidate figures to exist in this process, much like Bruce Bochy seemed to be for the Rangers, but the White Sox search continues.
Fans, in general, don’t seem to want a candidate with White Sox DNA, as the last four hires have possessed. They also don’t want an individual at the helm with little or no managerial/coaching experience. But again, for me, it’s about the fit with this roster and front office. The new hire has to lead the team with a strong perspective on how that needs to be done, but also has to work collaboratively with his coaches and higher-ups and be open to all forms of information and ideas. Maximizing the vast talent remains essential.
3. How do the White Sox balance the lineup?
The left-handed-hitting Oscar Colas, the team’s No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, looks ready to make his mark in right field, although that promotion might not happen at the season’s outset. Outfielder Brandon Nimmo would be a great add through free agency, and Gavin Sheets already is in place after a solid second half of the ’22 season. Second base is another spot where the White Sox could go left-handed, although the team would be greatly assisted by a return to top form from switch-hitters Yasmani Grandal and Yoán Moncada.
4. Who's behind the plate?
Grandal enters the finale of his four-year, $73 million contract coming off the worst season of his very solid 11-year career. Injuries contributed to Grandal’s .269 slugging percentage and .570 OPS, with the veteran speaking very confidently in the season’s last week about his offseason plan to engineer a bounce-back. But even with a healthy and productive Grandal, who is the White Sox catching future? If that player is not on the current roster or within the organization, the White Sox need to supplement that spot.
5. Is the rotation set?
With Dylan Cease, Lance Lynn, Michael Kopech and Lucas Giolito, the White Sox enter 2023 in good position when it comes to starters. Johnny Cueto was a rotation revelation in ’22 and would like to return to the White Sox, but the team also has Reynaldo López, Davis Martin and Jimmy Lambert as ’23 possibilities. They could make a splash via free agency or trade for another significant rotation piece.