White Sox seek answers to multiple questions
Upcoming Winter Meetings should help clear up areas of need
CHICAGO -- As the Winter Meetings approach, the White Sox appear to still have a few more questions than answers regarding the roster makeup for 2014.
Will they supplement the catching tandem of Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley prior to the start of Spring Training?
Does the everyday lineup basically stay the same as '13, aside from the significant addition of Jose Abreu?
How important is another veteran arm in the bullpen alongside Matt Lindstrom and a talented young relief crew?
Some of these questions could be answered next week in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort, although they might not be answered in the grandiose fashion that White Sox fans envision. In reality, the White Sox have been facilitating change since they moved Matt Thornton to Boston before the 2013 All-Star break.
"Obviously, it has been quiet on the player acquisition front since we signed Abreu, but that should not take away from the fact that it was a major acquisition that we expect to have a significant impact for an extended period of time," said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn to MLB.com via email. "As we discussed at the time of each of last summer's acquisitions and again at the Abreu press conference, we know we have a variety of areas in which we need to improve.
"However, our goal is to find what we believe are longer-term solutions -- like Avisail Garcia and Abreu -- as opposed to forcing an inferior fit into place. This means that in some of these areas of need, it might take a little longer than we would like in order to get the right guy."
Pitching stands as the strongest suit for a team trying to bounce back from a disappointing 99-loss season, a showing that prompted Hahn's early work for this next season and beyond. That particular depth, with six potential starters for five rotation spots, didn't stop the White Sox from checking in on Josh Johnson before he signed with the Padres.
An offense that scored an American League-low 598 runs last season already has been upgraded with the addition of Abreu via a six-year, $68 million deal. Strengthening an already solid area such as pitching that certainly will drive the team in '14 is never out of the question in the White Sox thinking, meaning another veteran starter still could be on their list.
"Listen, it's no mystery: Our pitching staff has to be strong in order for our team to win," White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. "We've known that for the last 12 years. I have high expectations."
The bullpen features closer Addison Reed, Nate Jones and Lindstrom at the core, with rookies Jake Petricka and Daniel Webb getting an early push to this season through September work. Donnie Veal and Charlie Leesman currently are penciled in as the left-handed relievers, but the White Sox will be on the lookout for a veteran southpaw to help offset the loss of experienced pitchers such as Thornton and right-hander Jesse Crain.
Paul Konerko's decision to play one more season gives the White Sox their valuable leader and face of the franchise but also leaves them just one bench spot. It gives Leury Garcia an advantage for that final opening, with an increased need for speed and added versatility beyond a bench featuring Konerko, Jeff Keppinger and a second catcher.
Flowers' one-year, $950,000 deal to avoid arbitration, announced Monday, and Hector Gimenez returning on a Minor League deal leaves the White Sox catching situation looking very similar to 2013 with the full-season addition of Phegley into the mix. The White Sox have faith in this trio, but they are still studying this position in a search that could extend to the Dec. 12 Rule 5 Draft.
"Both players have more to offer than what they showed in 2013 and could conceivably be long-term solutions behind the plate," said Hahn of Flowers and Phegley, adding that Gimenez "can also play a role on a good Major League club.
"However, we have made no secret of the fact that we need to get more out of that position than we got in 2013, so we continue to evaluate both our internal and external options for improvement."
All of these plans could change via trade movement, with basically everyone but Chris Sale, Avisail Garcia and Abreu available for the right deal. It's hard to have untouchables among a group that lost 99 games.
With the White Sox payroll expected to be somewhere in the mid-to-high $80 million range, they still have some room to spend. Their expressed goal has not wavered from building a strong core for the future while contending in '14, and while the White Sox don't figure to be done, their heaviest present lifting very well could be behind them.
"There is nothing magical about getting something done at the Winter Meetings," Hahn said. "We don't get any extra wins based upon the timing of when in the offseason a player is acquired. That said, we do generally see activity pick up at the Meetings, so there certainly is a chance that things get completed next week."