Offseason of major upgrades for White Sox
Addition of free-agent outfielder Cabrera is club's latest move
One of these days, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn is going to take his foot off the accelerator, isn't he?
As holiday shoppers go, he and the White Sox suddenly seem tireless.
Already having made enough moves for it to be one of the most aggressive Hot Stove seasons in franchise history, the White Sox just keep trying to strengthen their bid to build a team that can get them back to the postseason. The latest addition is switch-hitting outfielder Melky Cabrera, who a source says has agreed to a three-year, $42 million contract. The club did not confirm the deal.
Cabrera is no small part. His .808 OPS ranked third in the American League among left-field qualifiers, behind only Michael Brantley and Nelson Cruz, and defensive metrics show him to have the third-best arm amongst left fielders, behind Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon.
He will be a major upgrade for the White Sox, who haven't had an above-average left fielder since Carlos Quentin, whose big season helped them make their last trip to the postseason, in 2008. Since shifting Quentin to right field in 2010, they have used Juan Pierre, Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo as their primary left fielders.
The White Sox had been rumored to have an interest in Cabrera since before Thanksgiving, but most recently it had appeared the Mariners and Orioles were the best fits for him. The Royals kicked the tires before adding Kendrys Morales, and the Blue Jays hadn't given up hope of getting him back even though he rejected their qualifying offer. But in the end it was White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Hahn who got the deal done, which shouldn't be that surprising given everything else they've done this offseason.
The White Sox had previously traded for Jeff Samardzija -- even though he can be a free agent after 2015 -- and added David Robertson, Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke through free agency. That's $128 million in guaranteed commitments, plus Samardzija's projected $9.5 million salary through arbitration (if the Sox can't succeed in signing him to an extension that keeps him off the market in a year).
As a result, their payroll seems likely to go from $90 million on Opening Day a year ago to about $115 million. The overhaul has White Sox fans buzzing, and it seems certain to end an eight-year attendance slide at U.S. Cellular Field.
When Hahn took over for Ken Williams as general manager before the 2013 season, he said he did not believe the White Sox needed a drastic rebuilding process. He made a huge move by signing Jose Abreu after a 99-loss season in 2013, landed a potential impact arm through the First-Year Player Draft in North Carolina State's Carlos Rodon and now has added 45 seasons' big league experience in Samardzija, Robertson, LaRoche, Cabrera and Duke, who average 31 years in age.
Hahn's operating belief was that a front of the rotation including Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, along with a lineup that had Adam Eaton in the leadoff spot and Abreu as the No. 3 hitter, provided the framework for a contending team. He just needed to complete the house around that framework, and he's done enough to get the attention of the Tigers, Royals and Indians, who were the top teams in the AL Central a year ago.
A slightly better hitter left-handed than right-handed, Cabrera is known as a tough out. He had only 24 more strikeouts than walks a year ago, and figures to hit between Eaton and Abreu for White Sox manager Robin Ventura. Like the addition of the left-handed-hitting LaRoche, who projects into the cleanup spot, he'll make Abreu more dangerous than he was in his AL Rookie of the Year Award season.
Abreu finished fourth in the AL with 107 RBIs. But he was tied for 36th in at-bats with runners in scoring position, as the White Sox No. 2 hitters (most often Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez) compiled a woeful .279 on-base percentage. That dynamic figures to have shifted dramatically.
It will be interesting to hear what Hahn has to say about his team now. You'd figure he's done with his Hot Stove heavy lifting, but you never know.
A right-handed-hitting third baseman to share time with Conor Gillaspie would be useful. Ditto more help in the bullpen and on the bench. But those are minor items. His primary focus now has to be to figure out how to keep the rotation of Sale, Samardzija, Quintana and Rodon together for the foreseeable future, and the better he makes the 2015 team, the harder it's going to be for Samardzija to walk away after one season.