It’s hard to pinpoint just what has kept the White Sox from building sustained success, despite an overall good player development model.
Think about it. Even when Chicago has been at its worst since catching fire en route to winning the World Series in 2005, they’ve still managed to have exciting young players. For example, though they lost 99 games in 2013, Chris Sale continued to break out as a starter. 2018 was a 100-loss season, but star shortstop Tim Anderson kept blossoming.
Long story short, the reasons the White Sox have continually underperformed could probably fill a volume of Baseball America. Injuries are a big part of the problem. So is an octogenarian owner who re-hired an aging Tony La Russa as manager over three decades after firing him.
Thus, the Chicago White Sox have two paths in 2023. They’ll either stumble into winning the AL Central or level out at mediocre.
Greatest Addition: Andrew Benintendi. The White Sox signed him to a five-year, $75 million deal in the offseason and Benintendi took a subtle shot at his former team the Yankees in his introductory press conference. And that’s when Chicago’s three-game visit to the Bronx in early June became a rivalry series.
Granted, Benintendi is a good contact hitter with an equally strong glove. He should start the season as Chicago’s Opening Day left fielder and leadoff man. $15 million a year is a lot for him, but far from a gross overpay.
But to say the Yankees wronged him in free agency negotiations is almost comical. He was acquired from the Royals at the trade deadline and put up middling numbers in 33 games before a broken hand ended his season. Count on Benintendi getting a loud Bronx welcome in June, regardless of where either team is in the standings.
Greatest Loss: Jose Abreu, who hit a career-low 15 home runs in 2022 despite batting a respectable .304. That didn’t stop the Houston Astros. They gave the 36-year-old former MVP a three-year deal in free agency.
The White Sox were never going to retain Abreu, but he’ll still be missed. He averaged 27 home runs a year in nine seasons with Chicago and was also durable, averaging over 140 games a year. It doesn’t matter how good an addition or fit Andrew Benintendi is. Replacing Abreu’s power in the lineup will be a tough task.
Greatest Strength: Oddly enough, player development. We even touched on this at the beginning. No matter how much the White Sox underperform or underachieve in a given year, they usually have at least one exciting young player on the team. The latest example this season could be Cuban outfielder Oscar Colas, who played in Japan for three years before defecting. He signed with the White Sox last year.
Now 24, Colas hit .314 with 23 home runs across three levels of the minors in 2022. He’s batting .391 in spring training and could very well be in the Opening Day lineup. Throw in a strong throwing arm, and Colas has every chance to be the catalyst of Chicago’s future success. Now, the rest of the team just needs to follow suit.
Greatest Weakness: Injuries. The White Sox have just not been able to stay healthy over the years, yet another reason why they haven’t been regular contenders. The two key examples of the team’s injuries run amok are outfielders Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez. They have seven years’ combined MLB experience between them and have only appeared in a combined 538 games.
This wouldn’t be such a big deal except Robert and Jimenez are each 25 and 26 years old and no ordinary youngsters. They’re both international free agents who signed long-term extensions before playing a single MLB game. Not exactly money well spent.
Robert has three years and $37 million remaining on his deal, plus two years and $40 million in club options. Jimenez has two years and $22.5 million plus two years and $35 million in options left on his. Both players need to turn in excellent seasons this year not only for the White Sox to have a shot, but not to be written off as busts.
Can the White Sox be a winner in 2023? It’s hard to say because the talent is there in Chicago. The White Sox ranked fifth in MLB in batting average last season, but 18th or worse in OPS, home runs, and runs scored. The pitching staff was middling at best. Injuries and Tony La Russa’s awful in-game decisions really were the team’s downfall after winning 93 games in 2021.
The AL Central is also a bad enough division that the White Sox can absolutely make a run at first place and maintain it. Maybe everyone stays healthy and first-year manager Pedro Grifol rallies the clubhouse together. Perhaps he makes such an impression that the White Sox not only stun the Yankees in the Bronx, but the upstart Mets when they visit Queens in July.
One way or another, even if Chicago doesn’t make the playoffs in 2023, they certainly won’t be worse than they were in ’22.
Follow ESNY on Twitter @elitesportsny