With Opening Day less than two weeks away for all Major League teams, the time is growing short for managers to assess and finalize their rosters. General managers all around MLB are looking for ways to tweak their teams, seeing what they might be able to add in the next two weeks. The 99-day lockout did not help matters any, and now it has become a mad dash to Opening Day. Some free agents remain unsigned, and there is still talk of possible trades involving some impact players.
The Chicago White Sox enter the 2022 season as solid favorites to win the American League Central division. After all, they won 93 games in 2021, and return all of their key position players. They anticipate that some of their young players will take steps forward and be better than they were last year. General manager Rick Hahn has built a solid bullpen and Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease look formidable at the top of the rotation. Yet, many Sox fans will tell you that Rick Hahn still has work to do if the Sox are to contend for a World Series.
Making the Playoffs is Not Enough
The White Sox are on pace for the best decade in the history of the franchise. By winning the Central last season, the South Siders qualified for the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time since division play began. Hahn has put together a solid core of players, and the team looks to be competitive for a few more years. They have exciting young players like Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez, as well as solid veterans Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, and Tim Anderson. Third baseman Yoan Moncada is a star in the making if he can find some consistency in his game.
After many years of futility, one might expect White Sox fans to be happy with the latest incarnation of their team. The 2022 team is the consensus pick to win the Central, and there is a buzz around the South Side. The rebuild is over and the window of contention is open. However, there is still a great deal of concern in White Sox Nation, as fans assess the team’s chances for a deep October run. The White Sox may be a classic example of how success can spoil a good thing. The fans want more, and just making the playoffs will not be good enough this year. Sox fans are expecting the team to make some noise in October.
What Are the White Sox Missing?
While the Sox have six solid hitters in their lineup, they do have a couple of question marks. The two biggest areas of concern are in right field and at second base. The Sox could also use an MLB-quality backup catcher, but that is a topic for a different day. During the shortened offseason, there were free agents available who could have addressed their two most pressing needs. However, Hahn stood pat in right field and signed veteran Josh Harrison to presumably be the starting second baseman. The current plan appears to have youngster Andrew Vaughn play right field, while another young player, Gavin Sheets bat in the designated hitter spot. Sox fans still have concerns about all three spots.
In addition, the rotation does not appear to be incredibly deep. While Lynn, Giolito, and Cease should be solid, there are question marks in the rest of the rotation. Michael Kopech is penciled in as the fourth starter, while Dallas Keuchel and Reynaldo Lopez are in the mix for the fifth spot. Kopech may or may not wind up being a special MLB starter, but is no sure thing. Keuchel is coming off a miserable second half, while Lopez is trying to get back to the form of 2019 when he was a solid starter. The fact that the Sox have just three reliable starters is cause for concern on the South Side. Contending teams can never have too much starting pitching, and the Sox are no exception.
How Do the Sox Fill the Holes?
It is difficult to determine exactly how Hahn assesses his current roster. While fans have their opinions, Hahn appears to be satisfied with what he has at this point. Nonetheless, he is an intelligent man, so it is hard to believe that he is planning on sitting back and letting the season play out. In fact, at this moment, the Sox are rumored to be in on a possible trade for A’s starter Sean Manaea. However, they are just one of several teams looking at acquiring the lefthander, so it seems unlikely. Beyond Manaea, it appears that the White Sox will not be making any significant moves before the season starts.
Perhaps Hahn is playing a waiting game and is not simply standing pat. Manager Tony La Russa will no doubt do some mixing and matching as the season goes forward. Super utility man Leury Garcia will likely play some right field and second base, offering a little filler to the hole. Recently acquired veteran starter Vince Velasquez will likely be used to eat up some inning early in the season. Perhaps young slugger Micker Adolfo will make the expanded roster and have a chance to show what he can do at the MLB level. Of course, these are all stopgap measures not like to ease the collective fears of the South Side faithful.
The Search For Meaningful Solutions
Stopgap measures are not a good plan for a team looking to play deep into October. We suspect that Hahn will be keeping a close eye on his team in the early going. He also will no doubt be watching other teams closely, particularly teams not expected to contend in 2022. It is highly likely that Hahn will be active at the trade deadline, as he was in 2021. Hopefully, though, any players Hahn might acquire this year will perform better than the Sox in 2021. The deal for Craig Kimbrel was an unmitigated disaster, while Cesar Hernandez evidently left his bat and Gold Glove in Cleveland. White Sox fans will demand that Hahn do better this year.
So, what exactly does “better” look like? As the season unfolds, we will all get a good idea of how things are going at second base, right field, behind the plate, and in the rotation. Is Josh Harrison getting the job done at second base? How is Vaughn handling right field, and is he hitting as many fans expect him to hit? Who is the backup catcher, and is Grandal able to stay healthy? How are the starting pitchers doing, especially the fourth and fifth starters? Will the Sox have to deal with any serious injuries?
These are questions that Hahn and the rest of the front office must address throughout the season, especially as the deadline approaches. If need be, he must be willing to pull the trigger on a trade that will give the Sox what they need for the playoffs. He may have to convince Jerry Reinsdorf to open up the wallet and pay to get what they need. The window is not guaranteed to be open for long, and the Sox need to approach 2022 as a win-now season. If that means trading away prospects for the right player, Hahn must make the move. To do anything less would be one more gut punch to a fan base that has endured much, but is running out of patience. The time is now, Rick.
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