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November 15, 2013

Fantasy Team Preview

Chicago White Sox

by Mike Gianella and Craig Goldstein

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When I think of the White Sox fantasy landscape, I tend to think more of The Badlands than I do the Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia, children). Fear not though; there’s reason for hope on the South Side. Thanks mainly to Cuban import Jose Dariel Abreu, the Pale Hose have a little extra thump, and could see even more added if Paul Konerko returns. Free agency could well play a part in this too, as some have hinted that Abreu isn’t the only big-ticket item that Chicago will buy, but until we know how that shakes out, this is what the team looks like:

Projected Lineup

  1. CF Alejandro De Aza
  2. 2B Gordon Beckham
  3. DH Adam Dunn
  4. 1B Jose Dariel Abreu
  5. LF Dayan Viciedo
  6. RF Avisail Garcia
  7. SS Alexei Ramirez
  8. 3B Jeff Keppinger
  9. C Tyler Flowers

It’s not pretty, but it’s better than it used to be, and that’s without the possibility of Konerko returning. There are no fantasy stars here, at least not any known products, but Abreu is seemingly the guy to own. Dunn has power—which is in rare supply—but while much was made of his effort to go the other way in the second half (and he did raise his average), it resulted in a bit of a power outage, which is not what you want from a power only player. People continue to like Gordon Beckham for no apparent reason. De Aza is a solid play in deeper leagues but probably no more than a fifth outfielder in shallower leagues. He can get some runs because he’ll steal some bases without damaging you elsewhere. Garcia is a wildcard here as he’s filled with tools but is raw as all get-out. I like to gamble on these types but I wouldn’t expect more than fifth outfielder quality from him. The catcher situation is one to avoid, as is the hot corner on the south side. Viciedo can be a deep league play, but keep your expectations closer to 20 home runs rather than 25, with mediocre everything else. Ramirez has fallen off drastically from when he first came over, but given the dearth of shortstop options in deeper leagues, he’s a low-end option.

Projected Bench

The bench is pretty much as exciting as the actual lineup and that’s not a good thing. Leury Garcia can run, but doesn’t hit for much pop and hasn’t shown the ability to hit in the big leagues. Gillaspie is replacement level in real life and can be ignored in fantasy. Even if Danks gets run as an injury replacement, he’s more of an across the board won’t-kill-you type than he is an adds-anything-to-your-team type.

There are a couple of players not on this list that at least deserve mention though. Marcus Semien is probably good enough to wrest the shortstop position from Ramirez at some point in the season, most likely with Ramirez getting shipped to another team. Semien provides a strong approach at the plate with solid pop, and would be worth looking at as a mid-season pickup. The other player is Carlos Sanchez, who, despite a brutal year at Triple-A, was rushed through the system in 2012 and still retains promise. He’s more of a scrappy guy than anything, but could produce a solid batting average. He’s less of an in-season pickup option than Semien, but is a name to know.

Projected Rotation

When it comes to impact, the list starts and ends with Chris Sale, who is a Cy Young caliber player and deserves to be one of the first ten pitchers off the board. Aside from being lefty heavy, the rest of the rotation is rather interesting. Quintana has exceeded all expectations after jumping straight from Double-A in 2012. Despite the solid surface stats at the time, his 5.3 K/9 held him back when it came to fantasy value. He bumped that an impressive two strikeouts per nine innings though, registering a 7.4 K/9 in 2013 and planting himself squarely on the fantasy radar. He’s nothing special, but 200 innings of a mid-3.00s ERA and something in the range of seven K/9 is a solid fifth fantasy starter. Danks hasn’t produced an ERA under 4.00 since 2010 or more than 6.0 K/9 2011. Add to that his general lack of innings and he’s someone to avoid. Perhaps he’s worth it as a flier at the end of the draft, but it has been uglier than most people outside of Chicago realize for Danks. Santiago might not end up in the rotation, though it would take a couple of free agents to bump him. If you like risks, he’s worth a look, as his walks absolutely killed his WHIP (1.40 in ‘13) but he strikes out a decent number (21%). Johnson made his debut last year and my expectation is that they’ll bring in competition for the fifth starter’s spot, meaning he can be safely ignored until we know he’s actually going to rack up some innings. He’s a solid prospect whose debut peripherals weren’t representative of the type of pitcher he is. Don’t let 28 big-league innings fool you. If he gets the playing time, he’s probably the third best pitcher in this rotation.

Projected Closer Candidates

There’s a solid chance that Santiago spends some time in the bullpen, and if that’s the case he might be a good candidate for holds, but other than him it’s just the above two guys. Reed has been mentioned as a trade candidate, in which case it’s likely that closing duties would fall to Jones. If you’re in a holds league, don’t overlook a guy like Jones, who should be the Sox eighth inning guy. People seem to be down on Reed, but he notched 40 saves with a decent 1.11 WHIP in 2013. Sure the ERA wasn’t great, but he’s pitching in a homer-friendly ballpark and spread over 71 1/3 innings, it’s not going to hurt nearly that much. Saves are what you’re chasing, even if they’re ugly. Don’t knock Reed too hard for the inflated ERA.

Hot Stove Possibilities

  • Rumored Needs: Left Handed Hitters, Prospects/Rebuilding
  • Rumored Trade Chips: Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, Alejandro de Aza, pitching.

Now that Chicago has won the Abreu sweepstakes they could stand pat for the rest of the winter. If the team does dive into the free agent pool, it will most likely be to sign a catcher to replace the underperforming tandem of Flowers and Phegley. Paul Konerko might come back on a one-year-deal at a reduced salary to provide depth as a part timer player or as a fallback if Abreu doesn’t look ready in Spring Training. Curtis Granderson has also been linked to the club due to his Chicago roots.

On the trade front, Beckham is one of the only names being floated out there this winter for the Sox. Chicago might move a pitcher for a left-handed bat, which would give them excess on offense. This makes Beckham, Ramirez, or de Aza possibly expendable. With Marcus Semien and Micah Johnson waiting in the wings at the keystone, Beckham is the most likely to be moved if the White Sox decide they’re ready to move on.

Positional Battles to Watch

Third Base: Conor Gillaspie vs. Jeff Keppinger
Keppinger was signed by the White Sox to a three-year, $12 million contract last offseason in a deal that was praised by many as savvy and a sabermetrically oriented bargain. But instead of producing like he did in 2012, Keppinger was a total bust. Conor Gillaspie rushed in to fill the void and was…barely adequate, posting underwhelming offensive numbers to go with so-so defense. I have Keppinger listed as the projected starter, but this assumes his shoulder is good to go on Opening Day. Keppinger had issues with his shoulder for most of 2013, and there is some speculation that this was the underlying reason for his poor performance. Both players are AL-only options, with Gillaspie’s power making him a slightly more interesting play. The questions surrounding the job and the lack of certainly make both single-digit bids or later round spec plays even in AL-only, and I wouldn’t classify either player as a sleeper.

Catcher: Tyler Flowers vs. Josh Phegley
Flowers and Phegley epitomize the dilemma one league, mono format owners in two catcher leagues have when trying to decide how to construct a roster. In theory, plate appearances trump zeros in deep league formats. However, in practice carrying a nearly empty .200 batting average over even 250-300 plate appearances is a significant drag on your team and you would likely be better off acquiring a scrub that doesn’t play. Based on last year’s moderate power, Flowers is the guy you want to bid $1-3 on in your auction whether he is starting or not. Phegley may not have earned another chance but even if he does somehow wrest the job away from Flowers, Phegley didn’t offer enough power in 2012 to make him worth more than a $1 flier in AL-only.

Player to Target: Alexei Ramirez
Ramirez gets filed under “better in real life than fantasy” quite often because of his defense, but despite his poor on-base skills Ramirez’s stolen bases make him plenty valuable, even in mixed formats. A popular myth among mixed leaguers is that stolen bases grow on trees, but this is a myth from the days of the late 1990s, when home runs were prolific and stolen bases were harder to come by. Unless you’re talking about a one-dimensional outfield rabbit like Juan Pierre, players who run provide plenty of value, even in mixed. You don’t want a team of Ramirez’s, but then you don’t want a team of one-dimensional sluggers with no speed either. Ramirez is a solid late round get in standard mixed and a buy at $15 and under in AL-only.

Player to Avoid: John Danks
I doubt many people outside of deeper leagues are going to grab him anyway, but sometimes there is a cute tendency to try to take a pitcher the year after he returns from an injury. Avoid this tendency with Danks. His velocity was down significantly last year, and while it did pick up somewhat as the year went along, Danks had trouble adjusting to working with less heat. His home run rate spiked and his whiff rate dropped. There might be a slight bounce back coming, but avoid paying for Danks like it’s 2010 again.

Deep Sleeper: Micah Johnson
Johnson is behind Beckham and Semien on the depth chart at second base for Chicago, but if Beckham does get moved he only has the unproven Semien to beat out for the job. The only reason Johnson is mentioned here at all is because he’s a speed demon. He stole 87 bases in the minors last year, and while the bat isn’t anything noteworthy, speed like this in fantasy makes you stand up and take notice. Johnson is extremely unlikely to start the year in the majors seeing as he spent most of 2013 in A-ball, but his advanced age for the low minors (23) means the club could push him fast if Johnson comes out of the gate on fire. Johnson probably does nothing in the majors this year and is merely a name to store away, but a thin big leagues roster means opportunity could come knocking sooner than expected for Johnson.

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here
Craig Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

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