My “likely scenario” predictions from last season end up pretty close to reality. So it makes sense to try something similar to last year.
The White Sox had some bright spots in 2014 (Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Alexei Ramirez’s defense) and a lot of blackholes (every reliever but Zach Putnam, Dunn+Konerko, Conor Gillaspie’s glove, corner outfielders and second basemen). There was a lot of money spent this offseason to address most of the holes and the result is that there is a lot of optimism floating around the south side, probably the most in five years or so.
Best Case Scenario
I am the eternal pessimist, so this is always a tough paragraph to write. But the sky really is the limit here. Jose Quintana was quietly 10th in the majors in fWAR amongst qualified starters last season. Jeff Samardzija was 17th in the same category. They both had exactly the same ranks in FIP. In other words, based on last season the White Sox have 3 of the 17 best starters in baseball. The Dodgers and Nationals are the only other teams that can claim two. In other words the White Sox might have the best 1–3 in baseball. If Carlos Rodon comes up at some point and supplies 15 starts or so this could be the best rotation in baseball by a lot, and that is often the main way teams succeed in the postseason.
The bullpen is another big part of that and the White Sox did a lot to fix that this offseason. They added David Robertson and Zach Duke, both in the top 15 in fWAR last season. Zach Putnam was strong most of the season, but the rest of the bullpen is mostly mediocre talent to this point. It is always possible that someone emerges, and for this team to go all the way someone has to. Maybe it’s former blue-chip prospect Kyle Drabek. If Don Cooper works his magic like he did with Matt Thornton, and the three aforementioned relievers live up to recent performance this bullpen could be a very strong four deep.
Meanwhile Jose Abreu is already garnering respect as being one of the best hitters in baseball, and Adam Eaton looked really good when he stayed healthy for nearly the whole season. Assuming Abreu was no mirage and Eaton can stay healthy the whole season the Sox probably have elite players at those two positions. If Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche can at least keep up what they have done the lineup 1–4 will be one of the better groups in baseball. Avisail Garcia is the linchpin though. A breakout year at the plate for him would give the White Sox a strong and deep lineup. If Connor Gilaspie can show that the second half of last year was a mirage and not the first half he truly would make the Sox lineup unstoppable. Alexei Ramirez continues to give the White Sox solid defense and above average offense, Micah Johnson does some damage and Tyler Flowers improves by having his glasses all season.
The White Sox really could win the whole thing if everything goes their way.
Worst Case Scenario
The floor is definitely low. Chris Sale’s arm could finally fall off. Jeff Samardzija could struggle with a full year in the AL. Carlos Rodon might not make it to the majors this year. David Robertson and Zach Duke are perfect examples of the randomness of relievers. Pitchers figure out how to get Jose Abreu out. Adam Eaton runs into a wall on opening day and is never the same. Avisail Garcia can’t get the lightbulb to go off. And LaRoche and Melky start dropping off fast.
So much could go wrong. It all won’t, even in the worst case. And the Twins could really overachieve, but worst case scenario is probably 4th place. A fourth place finish might be enough for Ventura to lose his job, especially if some of the young guys don’t get better.
The White Sox are competitive, at least for a few months. Jose Abreu is a legit superstar and continues his dominance. Adam Eaton has a better season and is a bit healthier, but still gets banged up here and there. He turns into one of the best leadoff hitters in the league though. Either Melky Cabrera or Adam LaRoche live up to the hype, but not both. Melky is only 30, but it seems like he has been around forever. LaRoche has spent his entire career in the NL and that might hurt. He also hasn’t ever been a DH and he might spend most of the time there. So he seems more likely of a candidate to struggle. Micah Johnson looks OK but doesn’t win Rookie of the Year. Alexei Ramirez and Tyler Flowers continue to be what they are. Conor Gillaspie and Gordon Beckham hold things together at 3B but end up very below replacement level.
Chris Sale is one of the best starters in baseball yet again. Jose Quintana isn’t as good as least year, but makes the All-Star team anyway. Jeff Samardzija transitions nicely to the AL full-time but isn’t the 2nd ace people thought he could be. John Danks struggles but keeps his starter role. Hector Noesi is just OK but starts most of the season as well. Carlos Rodon is up by June 1st but is used in relief all season. He is the primary setup guy for David Robertson who does well. Zach Duke doesn’t meet expectations, but thanks to Rodon and strong stuff from Zach Putnam he is good enough by season’s end to be the lefty specialist. Kyle Drabek is the big surprise and puts together some quality innings in relief. The bullpen ends up being one of the five best in the AL.
Big picture-wise, the White Sox are in the race all season but the Indians are the hot team and take the division. And the White Sox just don’t have the horses to beat the Tigers out for the wild card spot. They still finish with 87ish wins and a lot of positives going into 2016.