CHICAGO -- How can one Major League Baseball season become a vast success but also finish as a true disappointment? Ask the 2020 White Sox, who experienced both emotions during this abbreviated 60-game campaign.
In their first season moving from a three-year rebuild to the planned start of contention, the White Sox finished 35-25 and tied with Cleveland for second place in the American League Central, one game behind the Twins. They were the first AL team to clinch a playoff spot and briefly had the best record in the AL as late as Sept. 17.
But a 3-10 finish after defeating the Twins to clinch -- including a three-game Wild Card Series loss to the A’s -- put a damper on the festivities. So where do the White Sox go from here?
Well, it’s fairly obvious this significant step forward was only the first move of what the White Sox hope is an extended championship journey.
“Take it one step at a time, and if it ends up happening, great. We know we can come back next year and do it all over again,” said White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal during an interview prior to the start of the postseason. “If it doesn’t, we got experience under our belt and then we can come back next year and do it all over again.”
“We can't change the results of what just happened, so the only thing is we've got to look forward, continue to get better, come with that same mindset next year,” said White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson following the Oakland series setback. “And hopefully things can turn in our favor and we continue to grow as a team, continue to get better.”
Here’s a look at five questions to be examined to help further that growth.
What’s the next step in the contention transformation?
It’s almost impossible to project how much the White Sox will spend after this unusual season with no fans in the stands unless you are actually one of the few in their front office privy to the budgetary plans. General manager Rick Hahn spoke about going over plans for next season after the team clinched, so it appears they will be aggressive in continuing to improve this crew.
The White Sox need at least one veteran starting pitcher to pair with Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel in front of talented young starters such as Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning. That veteran starter absence was noticeable in Game 3 of the Wild Card Series, when the White Sox employed eight pitchers who walked nine after Dunning faced just four hitters. Adding a front-line hurler such as Trevor Bauer represents the dream of many fans, but the White Sox really need a pitcher or two who can consistently give them innings.
Nomar Mazara had a slightly better finish with the bat over his last nine games, and the White Sox still have contractual control for another season. But there’s a good chance the White Sox look for a different option in right field.
Who will help from within?
Michael Kopech threw just one 2020 Cactus League inning but he topped 100 mph six times and presented a small sample size of what his post Tommy John mound work could look like. The right-handed hurler will return in ’21 after electing not to pitch in ’20, but he also has not pitched in a Major League game since Sept. 5, 2018.
First baseman Andrew Vaughn probably was asked about at the Trade Deadline this past season, but the No. 1 White Sox prospect per MLB Pipeline, remains pretty close to an untouchable. Vaughn represented a polished offensive presence during Spring Training, Summer Camp and at the team’s alternate training site in Schaumburg, Ill., but with his highest level of Minor League experience coming for Class A Advanced Winston-Salem in 2019, it would be a sizeable but not unforeseeable jump to begin ’21 with the White Sox. If James McCann departs via free agency, Zack Collins figures to move into the backup role behind Grandal.
Will Moncada return to form?
Yoán Moncada deserved AL Most Valuable Player consideration during his breakout 2019 campaign, only to fall back to a slash line of .225/.320/.385 in ‘20. The third baseman tested positive for COVID-19 during the intake process and admitted midway through the season to still feeling the effects of the illness. There were a few times even in September where Moncada was being checked on in the dugout after physically extending himself on the field.
How does Crochet fit?
No update had been provided by the White Sox concerning Garrett Crochet since their final game, with the southpaw leaving due to left forearm tightness in the second inning against the A’s. Assuming Crochet’s departure as more precautionary than purely injury-based, the White Sox have a decision to make with the 21-year-old southpaw: Should their No. 4 prospect start for a full season in the Minors or join the big league bullpen?
The team’s top pick in the 2020 Draft appeared in five regular-season games and pitched six innings after arriving from Schaumburg, but still had the second highest total of pitches at 100 mph or above in the Majors at 45. The White Sox view Crochet long-term as a starter, but Chris Sale was an All-Star starter for five seasons with the White Sox after one full year in the bullpen and coming up to pitch in the bullpen the same 2010 season he was drafted. So anything is possible.
Will Colomé be the closer?
It’s difficult to describe Alex Colomé’s ninth inning effectiveness beyond his ability to consistently protect a ninth inning lead. The right-hander is 2-1 with a 1.51 ERA, 42 saves and a .157 opponents average against in 46 saves opportunities since joining the White Sox in 2019. He has converted 22 of his 24 saves at Guaranteed Rate Field since ’19, with a 1.13 ERA and .138 opponents average.
Colomé is a free agent, and the White Sox have left-hander Aaron Bummer as a potential replacement -- or a healthy Crochet, for that matter. The White Sox could really be bold and pursue a closer such as Liam Hendriks, a fellow 32-year-old free agent, as a talented young bullpen needs a reliable finish.