Chicago White Sox: A Really Early Look at 2022

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The Chicago White Sox saw their playoff run ended rather abruptly at the hand of the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series. If the series were a movie, the Sox would have been the Titanic while the Astros would have been the iceberg. The South Siders’ vaunted starting pitching wilted under the bright lights of October, while their hitting failed to produce with runners on base. The Sox were overmatched throughout the series, and their World Series dreams came crashing down to earth. So, with 2021 in the rear-view mirror, it is never too early to look ahead to 2022. We won’t say “Wait till next year,” as that has been copyrighted by the North Siders. Still, what else do Sox fans have to do than to look ahead and ponder the future?

Assessing Areas Of Need

The White Sox came up short in virtually of the game against the Astros. Objective fans would agree that the Astros outperformed the Pale Hose in every facet of the game. The rotation barely averaged three innings per start, a mediocre number even in the days of five-inning starters. The bullpen failed when it mattered most (mostly in Game Two), and failed to live up to its billing. Offensively, take away a couple of big innings in Game Three, and the bats were mainly silent. So, a roster upgrade is definitely in order if the Sox are to take the next step. Here is a look at who is expected to return, and where the biggest upgrades may be needed.

Starting Pitching

Going into the 2021 season, the rotation featured Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dallas Keuchel, Carlos Rodon, and Dylan Cease. All but Keuchel were solid during the regular season, and Lynn and Rodon were each, at different times, the frontrunner for the Cy Young Award. Giolito has an excellent second half, while Cease finished third in the AL in strikeouts. The Sox had a solid four starters for the majority of the season. Keuchel had his moments, but was abysmal in the second half, and did not make the playoff roster. That said, 2022 is sure to feature at least one change in this group, and perhaps two.

Lynn, Giolito, and Cease will be in the rotation next year, barring an unforeseen trade. Lynn signed a two-year extension this year, and Giolito and Cease are under contract for a few more years. This leaves two spots open at the moment, and filling them will be critical for Rick Hahn, and his staff. Here are some in-house choices: Keuchel, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez, and Garrett Crochet. Keuchel seems to be a long shot at best unless he steps up his game in spring training. Kopech could very well step into a starter’s role, although the Sox will need to stretch him out in Arizona.

Lopez pitched well out of the bullpen and in spot starts in 2021. He earned another look as a potential starter. Crochet threw the ball well over the course of the season, although he struggled against the Astros. Like Kopech, Crochet would need to be stretched, as he has been exclusively a reliever in his short MLB career. There is a possibility that Rodon returns to the South Side. Surely Scott Boras will be pushing for a mega-contract, but, with Rodon’s injury history, teams may be reluctant to invest a lot of money in him. This will be a situation for Sox fans to watch.

What About The Bullpen?

With precious few expectations, the bullpen was an unmitigated disaster in the ALDS. Yes, there were those moments when somebody like Ryan Tepera pitched well. Liam Hendriks threw well, although he never saw a save situation. Crochet was on again, off again. Aaron Bummer threw well in Game Three, helping the Sox grab their only win of the series. Craig Kimbrel was, well, he was South Side Kimbrel. So, where do the Sox go from here?

So, looking at next season, the starting point for the bullpen consists of Liam Hendriks and Aaron Bummer. Maybe they will re-sign Tepera, who pitched well after they acquired him at the deadline. He will likely not come cheap, as setup men are in high demand. Perhaps Crochet will return to the pen, along with Lopez. While Keuchel would not appear to be an ideal reliever, his salary makes him virtually untradeable. The Sox may also decide to keep Kopech in the pen for another year. In any case, Hahn has major work ahead of him if the Sox are to have a bullpen worthy of contending in 2022.

Right Field/Designated Hitter

These positions are intertwined mainly because they may both involve two specific players. They are also two positions that the Sox have failed to address successfully for a while now. In 2021, after the Adam Eaton experiment failed miserably, rookie Andrew Vaughn played a fair share of right field, as did fellow rookie Gavin Sheets. Utility-man Leury Garcia and fourth outfielder Adam Engel also played a few games there. However, Garcia and Engel both seem better-suited as backups, and Vaughn and Sheets both have higher upsides offensively.

Vaughn and Sheets also took turns being the designated hitter, with varying success. Sheets performed better in that role and Vaughn turned into an adequate outfielder. There is some question about Vaughn’s arm in right field, but he is clearly better defensively than Sheets. So, unless the White Sox spend big money on either a free agent right fielder or a DH, it would appear that fans may be stuck with Vaughn and Sheets primarily in those roles. This may seem a bit of a gamble since right field and DH both need to produce more runs. The Sox would be wise to consider a way to upgrade each of these for at least one season. These are two positions Sox fans will be watching very closely.

The Hole At Second Base

At the trade deadline, the White Sox made two deals that have created a high hole at second base for 2022. They traded starter Nick Madrigal to the Cubs for Kimbrel and added Cesar Hernandez in a deal from the Indians. The thought process reflected a win-now approach, as Hernandez had hit 18 home runs for the Indians. He also was a Gold Glove winner, so it looked like a good pickup for the South Siders. Besides, they had Garcia as a backup, so the Sox felt good about the position. Hernandez has a club option for 2022, so the White Sox felt that they had the position figure out until at least 2023.

A funny thing happened on the way to the World Series. Hernandez forgot how to hit, as he piled up a total of three home runs over the last two months. While his defense was solid overall, his hitting was an abomination to mankind. His ability to hit at an unacceptable level makes the loss of Madrigal tougher to swallow. However, that ship has sailed, as he will continue his career with the North Siders. For the Sox, though, these two trades have left a huge void at second base, with no reasonable in-house options. Hopefully, Hahn will look outside for an adequate replacement, one that can actually contribute to a deep playoff run in 2022.

Hahn Has His Work Cut Out For Him

With all that we have laid out, Hahn looks to have a very active offseason. He has done a solid job so far in rebuilding the White Sox into contenders. However, the work is far from done, as any Sox fan will tell you. If the South Siders are to go beyond the first round in 2022, they will need to add a starting pitcher and some bullpen arms. They will also need to evaluate right field and DH, and go outside the organization if they don’t like what they see. Finally, they most definitely need to upgrade the second base position, hopefully with a player who can actually hit at the major league level. If Hahn fills all of these holes, the White Sox can set the bar higher in 2022.

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Mike Fisk is a lifelong baseball fan. For him, there is nothing like being at a baseball game, with the sights, the sounds, the smells. Writing about baseball is a bonus!