The Chicago White Sox made the first big splash at the 2014 Winter Meetings, acquiring starting pitcher, Jeff Samardzija from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for three players. Infielder Marcus Semien, pitcher Chris Bassitt, and a player to be named later are the cost of the White Sox's acquisition.
In a separate move, the White Sox signed former New York Yankees' closer, David Robertson to a four-year, $46 million contract. Robertson was widely viewed as the best remaining free agent relief pitcher available after Andrew Miller signed a four-year contract with Robertson's former team, the Yankees.
The two moves are significant upgrades for Chicago's starting rotation and bullpen. The White Sox already featured a strong one-two punch in their starting rotation with Cy Young candidate, Chris Sale and fellow left-hander, Jose Quintana. John Danks gives them three left handed starting pitchers in the rotation.
Samardzija was traded by the Chicago Cubs to Oakland at the trade deadline last summer for shortstop Addison Russell, who is regarded as one of the top prospects in the game. He is from the Chicago suburbs in Lake County, Indiana, and has one year remaining before he is eligible for free agency.
Samardzija pitched to a 2.99 ERA with a FIP of 3.20 in 219 innings between the Cubs and the A's. He ranked 15th among all major league pitchers with a 4.1 fWAR, making the White Sox the only team in the majors to feature three current starting pitchers with a WAR above 4.0. The White Sox's rotation ranked eighth out of 15 American League teams in 2014 in WAR, and ranked 12th in both ERA and FIP.
Bassitt was a surprise as a 25-year-old rookie in 2014, making five starts with a 3.77 ERA and a 3.27 FIP in 28 2/3 innings of work, limited by a broken hand. He made nine starts in the minor leagues, with an ERA of 2.08. Semien is a 24-year-old infield prospect who hit .242 in 85 plate appearances last season for the White Sox.
The fact that Chicago has spent a fair amount of capital on Samardzija with just a year of club control remaining is an indication that they are confident of extending the pitcher and that they believe they can contend in the 2015 season.
Robertson succeeded the legendary Mariano Rivera as the Yankees' closer, notching 39 saves with an ERA of 3.08, a FIP of 2.60, and striking out 13.43 batters per nine innings. The Yankees thought highly enough of Robertson to make him a qualifying offer of one year, $15.3 million, which he declined to seek a multi-year contract. Since the White Sox have the eighth pick in the first round of the draft in June, their pick is protected, and they will surrender a second round pick for signing Robertson.
The White Sox have not traditionally spend a lot of money on closers in recent years. They have been able to develop enough relief pitchers to fill the ninth inning role without resorting to free agency. In 2014, however, the closer's job was a revolving door. Jake Petricka led the team with just 14 saves after Ronald Belisario lost the job. He was non-tendered after the season and is currently a free agent.
Chicago finished 17 games behind Detroit in the American League's Central Division in 2014, so they have a lot of ground to make up. Earlier in the offseason, they signed former Washington Nationals' slugger, Adam LaRoche hit 26 home runs with 92 RBI in 140 games for Washington, with an on-base percentage of .362. He will pair up in the middle of the batting order with Jose Abreu, who was second only to Victor Martinez in the American League in wOBA and OPS.
The White Sox ranked eighth in the American League in runs scored in 2014. They ranked 14th in FIP, and 12th in team defense. Whether Chicago will be able to contend with their newest additions remains to be seen, but it is clear from their efforts that they believe it is possible in 2015.