In '16, White Sox remain in win-now mode
Additions of Frazier, Lawrie, Avila and Navarro show commitment to contend
CHICAGO -- There was a little bit of doubt as to the direction of the White Sox when the offseason began.
Would they rebuild, maybe even going as far as trading valuable core pieces such as Chris Sale or Jose Quintana? Or would they once again target upgrades on the improved path toward the postseason?
After adding catchers Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro through free agency, and reliever Tommy Kahnle, second baseman Brett Lawrie and third baseman Todd Frazier via trade, it's once again clear the White Sox are committed to winning now.
"The White Sox are still active, they want to win," said reliever Nate Jones, who agreed to a three-year, $8 million extension with the club the week before Christmas, which includes two club options and a mutual option. "You can tell we're hungry for that and that's always great to see.
"They're trying to add offense at second and third base with Frazier and Lawrie, and the more offense, the merrier, as we say. It's very exciting to see and very exciting that we're in the winning attitude and the winning mode."
Questions still exist even in that winning mode. Here's a look at five major ones heading into 2016.
1. What's next?
It's a fair question to ask, considering general manager Rick Hahn said the White Sox weren't done after the Frazier trade. There's been a great deal of buzz concerning the high-impact outfielders left via free agency, namely Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon, and the White Sox continue to look for upgrades on offense.
But the team is just as concerned with run prevention, so further deals in free agency or through trade could hit any area. They don't seem inclined to go after a player who will cost them Draft pick compensation or give up a core player such as Quintana or top prospect Tim Anderson.
2. Already in the mix?
If no other significant moves are made in the upcoming weeks, are the White Sox already positioned as playoff contenders? A recent Twitter poll showed fans who responded believe the answer is decidedly "no." Then again, those same fans simply might be encouraged by the moves already made and are wanting for more.
This team was in a similar position last offseason, and the predictions of grandeur were frankly a bit too much on all fronts for a team that won 63 and 73 games, respectively, in the previous two years. Getting off to a good start will be key for this revamped group, regardless of future moves, as will players who struggled last year coming back to their career norms.
3. Will Ventura manage beyond 2016?
Robin Ventura's first team at the helm in '12 stood atop the American League Central for 117 days, before a late-season fade dropped it out of contention. Since then, Ventura has been at the center of criticism for the White Sox shortcomings.
Those naysayers grew especially loud last season when the team fell well short of lofty expectations, spending only one day above .500. Ventura is in the final year of an extension, and with the team making moves to improve, the pressure will be on Ventura in his fifth season. He'll have one-time Cubs manager Rick Renteria as the newest addition to his staff as bench coach, but Ventura, as an individual, is ready to embrace the challenge.
4. Strong up the middle?
There will be a new shortstop on the South Side for the first time since Alexei Ramirez took over the position in '09. So, who is likely to take over this important infield spot?
Well, there's an outside shot it actually could be Ramirez, whose $10 million option was declined by the White Sox but still could come back on a lesser deal. Ultimately, this job belongs to Anderson, but he may not be ready at the outset of '16. Tyler Saladino and Carlos Sanchez appear to be the leading candidates, with Saladino's defense giving him the advantage.
5. Don't call it a comeback … Not yet
Adam LaRoche couldn't have envisioned a worse White Sox debut than what he produced in '15. LaRoche spoke at the end of the season about his determination to figure out the designated hitter spot, and he'll be counted on for that turnaround.
Melky Cabrera and Adam Eaton both had big comebacks within the '15 campaign after slow starts, so a more steady campaign from both will help the offense. The same holds true with Avisail Garcia, a five-tool talent who completed his first full season in the Majors but needs to show better plate discipline.
Bonus: You can put it on the board ... but who's next?
It was reported at the start of the offseason that Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, the White Sox iconic television play-by-play announcer, will only work road games in 2016. Nothing has been confirmed by the team since, and it will be interesting to see who is brought in to handle the 81 home games.