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MLB preview: The Chicago White Sox didn't do enough to contend in 2016

Drake LaRoche, you will be missed.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Before every Chicago White Sox fan in existence calls me a hypocrite, let me say that you could write the exact same headline and lede about the 2016 Detroit Tigers. I mean, I basically did already, and then SB Nation stamped a bow on it like I know what I'm talking about. Don't believe me? Replace "Chicago" with "Detroit" in the following paragraphs and see if it makes sense.

Baseball is a cruel mistress, and only one team gets to finish in first place. Barring some "you're on drugs, Rob, stop saying that" madness, the Chicago White Sox probably won't make the playoffs this season. Most fourth place teams don't make quantum leaps after only fixing half of their roster, especially when they outperformed their pythagorean expected win-loss record to get there.

However, that's exactly how Chicago's offseason played out. They acquired Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie to fix their infield, but left the outfield untouched until Austin Jackson said "Okay, fine" in his best whiny teenager voice to a one-year, $5 million contract. The front of their rotation is more frightening than your in-laws, but then there's John Danks wanting to Netflix and chill on day five. The bullpen is a bullpen, but not one that is going to carry a team a la the Kansas City Royals. You probably shouldn't let Josh Wilson face David Robertson with the bases loaded again, though.

Which is to say that Justin Upton -- and, by extension, owner Mike Ilitch -- is basically the difference between the Tigers and White Sox. Adding a four-win outfielder made one club a contender, while the other is probably looking to sell off spare parts at the trade deadline. The White Sox could be quite thorny as thorn-in-the-side clubs are, but probably won't unseat anyone from their playoff perch in 2016.

Team in a box

Manager: Robin Ventura (5th season)
2015 record: 76-86, 4th in AL Central
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
First series vs. Tigers: June 3-5 @ Comerica Park

Key additions: 3B Todd Frazier, 2B Brett Lawrie, CF Austin Jackson, C Alex Avila, C Dioner Navarro, SS Jimmy Rollins, SP Mat Latos

Key departures: SP Jeff Samardzija, SS Alexei Ramirez, 1B/DH Adam LaRoche, C Tyler Flowers, IF Conor Gillaspie, IF Gordon Beckham

What to know about the offense

As a "rookie" in 2014, Cuban slugger Jose Abreu looked like the second coming of Miguel Cabrera, hitting .317/.383/.581 with 36 home runs and 107 RBI. Many wondered if he could do it again, especially after his power dropped off in the second half. Abreu nearly repeated his counting stats from the year prior, but the rate numbers fell off, resulting in an .850 OPS. That was good enough to finish 12th among qualified AL hitters, but not enough to keep the Sox from finishing dead-last in the league with 622 runs scored.

To make matters worse, the Sox will be without Adam LaRoche, who unexpectedly retired after the team asked him to keep his son, Drake, at home a bit more often. The PR aftermath was ugly, while the baseball aftermath still has yet to be determined. LaRoche stumbled to a .634 OPS in 484 plate appearances last season, which seems like a low bar for Travis Ishikawa to clear, especially after a career spent in cavernous home ballparks. Joining Ishikawa and Abreu in the middle of the order is third baseman Todd Frazier, who hit a career-high 35 home runs last season. He was a victim of the Home Run Derby curse, however, compiling a .664 OPS in the second half.

The top of the order could also be quite potent, as it was for periods of 2015. Adam Eaton will move from center to left after the club signed Austin Jackson, and he continues to be a perfectly adequate leadoff hitter. It's possible that the defensive swap could actually add to the 3.6 WAR he compiled last year. Right fielder Melky Cabrera was horrible in the first half of 2015, but returned to form with a .782 OPS in the second half. His track record is a bit spotty, but he should bounce back to the positive side of the WAR ledger this season. Jackson still doesn't appear to be the all-world defender he once was (if you trust DRS more than UZR), but he should still be an upgrade over Eaton -- and, by extension, Avisail Garcia. Jackson's offensive numbers bounced back somewhat in 2015, and this will be the first season he's not being counted upon for production atop a team's lineup.

Then there's the rest of the lineup. Brett Lawrie will be an upgrade over any of the middle infielders the White Sox trotted up to the plate last year, but there's always a question of just how much Lawrie you're going to get. The 2015 season was the first time he topped the 140-game plateau, but that came with declines in both his walk and strikeout rates. His double play partner will be Jimmy Rollins, which sounds really exciting until you realize he was a replacement level player who hit .224 last season. Sadly, that's still an upgrade for the Sox, who saw their shortstops hit .243/.281/.250 in 2015.

On a positive note, Chicago's catching tandem of Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro could be surprisingly effective. Avila is the stronger defender of the two, though Tigers fans are well aware of his offensive shortcomings. Meanwhile, Navarro is a switch-hitter with a career .775 OPS against left-handed pitching. He was adequate against right-handed pitching as recently as 2014, but framed pitches about as well as Bryan Holaday (which is to say not well at all). Avila was even worse in 2015, but has a history of above average framing numbers.

What to know about the pitching staff

It's a bit shocking that Chris Sale hasn't won a Cy Young Award already. He has finished in the top six in voting in each of the past four seasons, and is fourth among MLB pitchers with 21.1 fWAR during that stretch. Sale led the American League with 274 strikeouts last season, and his 32.1 percent strikeout rate was second only to some guy named Kershaw. We're even past the "When will Chris Sale's elbow explode?" questions at this point, leaving the rest of the American League to basically just cower in fear until his career is over.

Once you're done with Sale, fellow lefthanders Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon await (fun times, right?). Quintana is probably the most overlooked pitcher in baseball because of his 33-34 career record, but he has a 3.40 ERA over the past three seasons, all of which were 200-inning campaigns. Rodon, on the other hand, had an up-and-down rookie season in 2015. He posted a 2.66 ERA over his first nine starts, then a 7.16 ERA in the next nine. Much of his inconsistency will be blamed on his high walk rate, but Rodon demonstrated command issues in both the good and bad stretches. If he reins in the walks even a little bit, he will be another dominant piece ready to terrorize the AL Central.

While Jeff Samardzija struggled for large stretches in his lone season on the South Side, the White Sox will likely miss his durability at some point this season. In Samardzija's place this season will be Mat Latos, an enigmatic righthander who allowed a 4.95 ERA in 116 1/3 combined innings for three clubs last year. It was a far fall from grace for Latos, who spent the previous four seasons as a pillar of the Cincinnati Reds' rotation. The White Sox -- who have a strong history of keeping pitchers healthy -- are hoping for something closer to his 3.72 FIP this year. Veteran John Danks will round out the rotation, a statement White Sox fans have begrudgingly acknowledged in each of the past five seasons. The 31-year-old lefty is in the final year of his contract, which has paid him $65 million for just 2.7 WAR.

The White Sox guaranteed $61 million to relievers David Robertson and Zach Duke prior to the 2015 season, but so far that appears to be money well spent. The Sox bullpen allowed a 3.67 ERA and 3.82 FIP last season, massive improvements over the season prior. Robertson called his 2015 season "terrible" despite the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career. Duke wasn't quite as good, walking nearly five batters per nine innings, but he still managed a 3.41 ERA. Dan Jennings and Jake Petricka were both useful in middle relief last year, and top prospect Carson Fulmer may join the pen if the Sox are in a playoff race late in the season.

Do they have prospects?

Well, they used to. The White Sox have never been known for the depth of their minor league system, but their farm became even thinner after Trayce Thompson, Micah Johnson, and Frankie Montas departed in the Todd Frazier deal. Couple those departures with the graduation of a few top prospects -- Carlos Rodon and Carlos Sanchez were both top 10 prospects last year -- and you see why Baseball Prospectus slotted them 20th in their organizational rankings.

There are a few interesting names here, though. Shortstop Tim Anderson has breezed through the minor leagues, and hit .312/.350/.429 at Double-A Birmingham last year. If all goes well, he could join the Sox after the Super Two deadline this year. Carson Fulmer, the team's top draft pick in 2015, may follow the same fast track to the majors that Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon did, though he's off to a slower start so far. Righthander Spencer Adams posted solid numbers in Single-A ball last season, and could be a solid mid-rotation piece. Micker Adolfo and Jhoandro Alfaro are miles from the big leagues, but have awesome names so they're worth a mention.


The White Sox have a long way to go if they are to leap into contention for 2016, but there's a smidgen of chance it could happen if everything breaks right. They made a few key upgrades during the offseason, and negatives from 2015 like LaRoche, Samardzija, and Garcia are either marginalized or completely gone. If you squint, you can see a dream season.

However, they're still depending on bounce-back seasons from guys who might not bounce back, which could put even more of a load on offensive stalwarts Abreu and Frazier. Their lack of depth is also a major issue, particularly if any of their starting pitchers hit the disabled list. Many of their depth pieces were sent packing in exchange for Frazier, and their top prospects are probably a year away from making a real impact. That's not a great recipe for 2016, and it could once again leave the Sox in the bottom half of the AL Central standings.