Hahn discusses plans for White Sox outfield, Vaughn and more at GM Meetings

November 9th, 2022

AJ Pollock will not be playing left field for the 2023 White Sox.

General manager Rick Hahn confirmed Pollock declined his $13 million player option, receiving a $5 million buyout and becoming a free agent. As for the future White Sox outfield configuration? It’s too early to set any sort of lineup, with the Hot Stove operating on a low simmer as the offseason is just getting underway.

A healthy Luis Robert in center field makes the White Sox outfield stronger without making a move, as the five-tool talent and 2020 Gold Glove winner played just 98 games during a disappointing 81-81 campaign for the South Siders. Andrew Vaughn, one of the more polished young hitters in the game, made 44 appearances in left field last year and 95 appearances in ’21 with only 57 games and 254 plate appearances on his Minor League resume.

Hahn spoke at the Pedro Grifol managerial hire press conference about some individuals playing out of position in ‘22 and how they would like to move away from that issue. He addressed the same topic to reporters Tuesday at the General Managers Meetings in Las Vegas.

“Vaughn is a first baseman. That’s how he was drafted,” said Hahn of the 24-year-old who was selected third overall in the 2019 Draft. “Does it mean he’s going to be our first baseman next year? Not necessarily.

“He wasn’t either of the past two seasons. But in the end, his best defensive position is first base and perhaps ultimately when the time comes and he settles into that position, you are asking a lot less of him and perhaps that even increases his offensive production as a result.”

With 17 home runs and 76 RBIs, Vaughn held the ’22 White Sox lead in both categories to go with a slash line of .271/.321/.429. He struggled mightily in September ’21, going 4-for-42 with no extra-base hits, but Vaughn admitted during the last week of Spring Training to being a bit run down after moving to left field and learning about the position on the fly.

Work was put in this past offseason based on the knowledge Vaughn gained, but he once again slowed down in September/October with a .200/.250/.330 slash line over 28 games with three homers and 15 RBIs.

Hahn admitted Tuesday that Vaughn was worn down a little bit once again by the greater physical toll placed upon him in the outfield and playing through some leg issues that won’t linger into ’23 but were exacerbated in the outfield. A great deal has been asked of Vaughn the last two years, and as Hahn pointed out, he’s performed quite well when considering his lack of experience, his age and playing out of position.

A Vaughn move to first base, coupled with the ongoing plan of keeping Eloy Jiménez primarily at designated hitter, could mean the end of a historic White Sox run for José Abreu. The free-agent first baseman, who turns 36 on Jan. 29, is coming off another stellar season in his ninth with Chicago, although his power numbers dropped with 15 homers and 75 RBIs.

Having someone at first the White Sox believe in, such as Vaughn, is a plus for the team. But Hahn stressed he would never disrespect what Abreu meant to the organization and the high esteem with which he always will be held.

“It doesn’t take away from the fact what José has accomplished over the years for us and his importance in the clubhouse and the fact if he’s not with us next year, he’ll be missed,” Hahn said.

Oscar Colas, the No. 2 White Sox prospect and No. 95 overall, per MLB Pipeline, could be that needed left-handed bat in right field to help balance the ’23 lineup. The White Sox have other in-house outfield options such as left-handed-hitting Gavin Sheets, could look to free agency or could travel the trade route, which Hahn surmised would be the more likely path when asked Tuesday.

“Doesn’t mean we are closing off any avenues. We’ll look at things,” Hahn said. “We are committed to a handful of guys already based on the contracts we’ve given in the past. It doesn’t mean they necessarily all are going to be here come Opening Day, but there’s a reason we gave these guys the money we did.

“We believe in their upside. Getting them back to the level that they performed in the past is a priority for next year.”