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CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Reportedly reach agreement to sign RHP David Robertson to a four-year, $46 million deal. [12/8]

Whatever the White Sox’s record last year was—it was 73-89; they have places to look this up now—they were worse. They were statistically the worst team in the American League Central last season. They finished three games ahead of the Twins, but their run differential was 36 worse, and that part wasn’t a fluke; on second- and third-order winning percentage they were worse than any of the other four Midwestern AL teams.

So that’s the team that’s going to go for it.

Why the hell not?

It’s the second wild card effect, sure, but it’s also what the White Sox see ahead of them as they make their first real push to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2008. Detroit looks worse. Kansas City is owed a bounce off the Plexiglas that had them winning a fortune-filled 89. Cleveland is fine but not a team that would ever obstruct anybody else’s view of a window. Minnesota isn’t trying.

So while 17 games to make up for the division crown—and more if you think their record was lucky—is plenty, to rule out the White Sox would be silly. Especially silly on December 9th, with all the starting pitching free agents still in waiting and starting pitching an area of major need. Things could get real real, real fast in Chicago and not just on the North Side, on the heels of some of the worst seasons the city has seen in aggregate.

As for the guy they got, which would probably be an important thing to address in a transaction analysis, the latest was David Robertson. Unless the latest was Jeff Samardzija, whose acquisition from Oakland is, you now know, the latest. (A transaction analysis for that move is on the way.)

Signing for a reported four years and $46 million, Robertson is a longshot to have four good seasons, but he gives the White Sox instant credibility in their bullpen. He joins fellow multi-year free agent signee Zach Duke in a unit that ranked ahead of only another Robertson suitor—the Astros—in ERA and gave up the worst on-base percentage in the American League.

Like with Samardzija pushing everyone not named Chris Sale or maybe Jose Quintana down a spot and one bad starter out, the bullpen moves have a domino effect that will lead to some real improvement in a place of great need.

They also added Adam LaRoche to play designated hitter and may receive the services of last year’s No. 3 overall pick lefty Carlos Rodon at some point this season.

There are still more holes to fill to climb out of 73-89, however.

The White Sox were awful at three positions last year and while these moves weren’t at all misallocations of resources positionally—there really were that many holes—they still appear a bit short, absent some move to clean up the situations at these spots:

  • Left field: 0.1 WARP in 2014, primary culprit Alejandro de Aza (He gone)
  • Second base: -0.5 WARP in 2014, primary culprit Gordon Beckham (He gone)
  • Right field: -0.7 WARP in 2014 (worst in the AL), primary culprit Dayan Viciedo

Without a trade or a signing, the corners could be rough. Viciedo has never really shown much improvement after a semi-promising stretch in his first full season in 2012, and likely starter Avisail Garcia has had a few shots in the major leagues and will need to show something for the first time. Also, depending on who goes in the Samardzija deal, the middle infield could be a huge hole in need of addressing.

But where they turn to buy in those spots is certainly a more interesting thing for an engaged White Sox fan to watch than following an attempt to maximize the liquidation of Alexei Ramirez. Even if Rick Hahn has gone to the whip earlier than expected, this division’s vulnerability makes the instinct to dismiss this as an overpay fade in the first excitement in a while for this club.

As for Robertson, he did not quite reach the Jonathan Papelbon-level money that his camp was said to be seeking. The Phillies signee of the pre-2012 offseason made $50 million + 58, and the comparison looks less favorable for Robertson given salary inflation.

That makes sense. Teams may have learned a bit in this time period about the value of saves, and besides, Papelbon was better in Boston than Robertson was in New York. If you like ERA+, he had him 197-150; if you’re a FIPper, 2.67-2.74. He entered free agency off a better season than Robertson did too, albeit a year older.

But there might have been no better setting for Robertson than in Chicago. He’s on a team where he’ll be the undisputed closer as long as he can maintain some semblance of steadiness. The greatness of Dellin Betances’ 2014 combined with the pricey Andrew Miller acquisition might have amplified any poor early performance in New York. And while the Astros were pursuing and are also looking to make a jump, the White Sox have demonstrated more of a commitment to putting a winner on the field in the next four years—and in an easier division as well.

Now there’s more to do.