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2017 AL Central Preview - Chicago White Sox

The White Sox enter 2017 in full rebuild mode after having dealt top players like Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for prospects during the offseason. Join the IBI's Jake Dungan as he kicks off his annual AL Central Preview series with a look at the South Siders.

The annual AL Central Previews are back for 2017 at IBI as Jake Dungan goes team by team and examines the strengths and weaknesses of each club heading into the new season as well as how competitive they will be in the divisional race.

The regular season is closer than we think, which means it's once again time for writers, analysts and fans alike to make their predictions for the upcoming campaign. The AL Central, on paper, already appears to be sewn up with many publications and projection models handing the defending American League champion Indians the crown, but there's still six months worth of baseball to be played before that's decided.

Join me as I take a deeper dive into the division going team by team to find out where exactly everyone stands heading into 2017 and whether there could be any surprises in the race.

Chicago White Sox

2016 Statistical Rankings
  Statistic Division Rank MLB Rank
Batting Average .257 4th 13th
Runs Scored 686 4th 20th
OPS .727 4th 21st
BABIP .304 3rd 9th
wRC+ 94 4th 19th
WAR 15.0 3rd 22nd
ERA 4.12 2nd 14th
Runs Against 715 3rd 16th
Strikeouts 1270 3rd 18th
FIP 4.27 3rd 16th
DRS -11 3rd 17th
UZR 1.0 3rd 15th

Key Offseason Additions

  • Derek Holland
  • Peter Bourjos
  • Cody Asche
  • Everth Cabrera
  • Geovanny Soto
  • Cory Luebke
  • Anthony Swarzak
  • Giovanni Soto

Key Offseason Subtractions

  • Chris Sale
  • Adam Eaton
  • Justin Morneau
  • Alex Avila
  • Austin Jackson
  • Brett Lawrie
  • J.B. Shuck
  • Matt Albers
  • Daniel Webb

After several years of trying to find out whether the White Sox were contenders with mixed results and no postseason appearances, they've officially hit the reset button this offseason selling off top assets in ace Chris Sale and center fielder Adam Eaton. They will also have a new skipper as bench coach Rick Renteria has assumed the helm for the 2017 season after Robin Ventura stepped down from the post after five years.

The good news for Pale Hose fans is that while they've lost their ace and center fielder, they've gotten a king's ransom worth of prospects such as top talents Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito now stockpiled in their farm system and close being able to help the big league club. As for their hopes of contention this season, they have an uphill battle ahead of them.

Strengths

Last season, Chicago's offense rated below average in most major statistical categories and even with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana leading the charge, the pitching staff was still middle-of-the-pack at best in the major leagues. All together, the Sox finished with the fifth worst run differential in the league at -29.

They still have Quintana, Carlos Rodon, new arrival Derek Holland and some talented young pitchers working their way up to the South Side, so their starting rotation could still be the leading factor in however competitive they can be, but Sale's shoes are going to be tough to fill on that mound.

So the biggest strength of the White Sox heading into 2017 may just be the remaining assets they have left to deal to continue to fortify their farm system. Guys like Quintana, slugger Jose Abreu, third baseman Todd Frazier and outfielder Melky Cabrera could also fetch a nice return at the deadline.

Weaknesses

Offense is probably the Sox most vulnerable area on their roster as they finished in the bottom tier of baseball's rankings last year in runs scored, team OPS and team WAR. Even with their newly-acquired slugger Todd Frazier mashing 40 homers and 98 RBI's and star first baseman Jose Abreu continuing to put up All-Star caliber numbers with 25 homers and 100 RBI's, Chicago still ended up with the fourth best offense in the division ahead of only Kansas City.

Either they'll need to retain Abreu and Frazier and figure out how build a complementary lineup around them or they can deal them for another prospect haul and start completely from scratch, which may need to happen anyway in order to improve defensively.

After rating below average defensively as a team last year and now having lost their best fielding player in Adam Eaton, trying to become more athletic could also be a part of the rebuilding plan. They've already shed two of their biggest defensive liabilities in second baseman Brett Lawrie (-4 DRS, -5.5 UZR) and outfielder J.B. Shuck (-13 DRS, -9.4 UZR), but they still have Melky Cabrera (-5 DRS, -7.1 UZR) and Jose Abreu (-5 DRS, -5.0 UZR) manning positions on the diamond.

Wild Cards

What the White Sox brass will likely be watching for most in 2017 is how their young players perform at the big league level, whether they break camp with the big league squad or work their way up later in the season.

A guy like Tim Anderson made a nice first impression last year batting .283 with nine homers and 30 RBI's in 99 games and by all accounts looks to be the shortstop of the future on the South Side. Can he continue to live up to that in his sophomore season? Additionally, new manager Rick Renteria could have some new toys to play with at some point this season in third baseman Yoan Moncada and starters such as Lucas Giolito acquired via trade.

Despite just recently pulling the trigger on a rebuild effort, general manager Rick Hahn may already be able to start putting some of the puzzle pieces together for his next winning ballclub.

Conclusion

The harsh reality for White Sox fans is that 2017 looks to be more of the same as far as cellar-dwelling baseball in the division. However, there is a youth movement already underway that has only been strengthened by the team's offseason dealings. In all likelihood, Pale Hose faithful will get a good, long look at several of their team's top prospects this season and could potentially have more added to the fold. However, that would come at the price of one or more of Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, Jose Abreu and/or Melky Cabrera. If they stay the course with this rebuild they'll be back in contention soon, but with more of their top assets potentially going on the trading block it's likely going to get worse before it gets better.

2016 Final Record:     78-84, 4th in AL Central

PECOTA Projection:  74-88, 4th in AL Central

My Projection:            70-92, 5th in AL Central

Jake Dungan is the Managing Editor for IBI and a podcast host on the Smoke Signals Network. Email him at jdungan@indiansbaseballinsider.com or follow him on Twitter @JakeDBaseball.


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