COMMENTARY | If the Chicago White Sox are going to compete in 2014, there needs to be a significant upgrade at the plate. Unfortunately, for general manager Rick Hahn, he is going to have to go outside the organization to get it.
The current composition of the White Sox roster simply does not have the weapons on it to win in the fiercely competitive AL Central. There are a few pieces in the minor leagues that will help next season like Marcus Semien, but, otherwise, Hahn's options for 2014 are few. And while he shed almost $27 million in payroll by trading Jake Peavy and Alex Rios, there will be a limit on what he can do this offseason.
That means that with the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers likely setting an exaggerated market for some of the premier free agents -- Jacoby Ellsbury and Robinson Cano, for example -- Hahn will have to get creative to fill rather large holes in the batting order.
Thankfully, there are at least two players set to become free agents that are realistic options to improve the White Sox.
James Loney is a steady, run-producing first baseman who would provide an offensive lift to both the first base and designated hitter (DH) spot in the lineup.
On the year, White Sox first basemen have a .256/.347/.414 slash line, 22 home runs and only 73 RBIs. Not exactly the type of run production one expects from a corner-infield position. Amazingly, the DH spot in the lineup has been worse. The collective slash line there is .211/.283/.370, and, worse yet, they have combined to hit 24 home runs and drive in a mere 76 runs.
It must be noted that majority of the at-bats for each group have been given to Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko. Now, Dunn is not going to hit for average, but his power numbers are down, which diminishes his value. Konerko, on the other hand, is nearing the end of his career and is playing like a shadow of his former self.
An upgrade is in order, and Loney shows no sign of slowing down. With the exception of some slight variances, each metric this season -- .300/.350/.425, 12 HRs, 68 RBIs, .776 OPS -- is right in line with his career totals. It is going to come down to adding cost-effective value to the batting order, and that is exactly what Loney will do.
To be sure, I do not have a seat in the GM's office, but a two-year/$8 million contract may be enough to entice him to come to the South Side. After all, he is making only $2 million this season.
Michael Morse would provide a nice two-year bridge so that Hahn can determine what kind of production he can expect to get from some of the talent in the minor leagues. Courtney Hawkins, for example, needs at least two more seasons before the White Sox will know for sure whether or not he can contribute as a member of the 25-man roster. Same goes for guys like Brandon Jacobs, Trayce Thompson and Jared Mitchell.
Now, Morse was a disappointment for the Seattle Mariners this year before getting dealt to the Baltimore Orioles in late-August. Combined, he is only hitting .218 with 13 home runs, 27 RBIs and an uncharacteristically low .660 OPS in 2013, but those numbers are not indicative of his overall value.
He is a nice right-handed option to work into platoons at first, in right and at DH. A lifetime .282 hitter, Morse has consistently delivered solid power numbers, as his career .192 IsoP (difference between slugging percentage and batting average) can attest to. After earning $6.75 million this season, he should expect to take a significant pay cut.
Entering play Wednesday, the White Sox ranked last in the AL in runs scored (559), doubles (220), RBIs (535), slugging (.376) and OPS (.679). Those statistics are enough to make even the most ardent fan cringe.
Loney and Morse will not both fit on the roster, but either one would improve the offense and give manager Robin Ventura some added flexibility when setting his lineup.
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