The White Sox hired Tony La Russa because they believe he’s the right person to help them win a World Series. Soon, it should be noted. At 76, they pretty clearly didn’t hire him to be the manager for the next decade.
The White Sox have a very good ballclub. The 2020 ChiSox won games at a 95-win clip, and that clip will get you into the postseason pretty much every year. They have a young core of All-Star and rising All-Star-type players, the type of players who can absolutely be surrounded with the type of support needed to win a World Series. It’s easy to see Tim Anderson or Lucas Giolito hoisting the championship trophy.
So, now that owner Jerry Reinsdorf has his manager, what’s next?
Let’s start with the players who could be leaving. Alex Colomé has been brilliant as the White Sox closer the past two years, converting 42 of 46 save chances, with a 2.27 ERA. He’s a free agent. So is James McCann, who shared catching duties with Yasmani Grandal this season and was outstanding at the plate, posting a .360 on-base percentage and 144 OPS+.
Those two will need to be brought back or replaced. And, although there are not any true superstars on the free-agent market this offseason, there are opportunities for upgrades. With all the financial uncertainty after a year of lost ballpark revenues, the free-agent market figures to evolve slowly. Which means a team like the White Sox, a club that’s clearly all-in, can strike quickly by targeting free-agent fits. They have payroll space.
So what should they do? Here are ideas.
Sign Liam Hendriks
He’s been one of the best closers in baseball the past two years, and if the Sox don’t bring back Colome, they’ll have to bring in at least one reliable late-inning veteran reliever. Hendriks is the best on the market, and they can probably get him for a couple of years, if the AAV is high enough. A two-year deal isn’t a risky deal, even this year.
If not Hendricks, there are several other relief options on the free-agent market with closing experience: Trevor Rosenthal, Blake Treinen, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon, to name a few.
Sign Yadier Molina
This actually makes a lot of sense, even outside of the nostalgia factor of reuniting La Russa with Molina, one of his all-time favorite players and a key piece to his 2006 and 2011 World Series champion teams. The Cardinals mainstay proved in the shortened 2020 season that he has both enough competitive fire and ability to contribute for at least another year or two. His days of starting 120 games behind the plate might be gone, at 38 years old, but he certainly can split starting duties with Grandal, like McCann did in 2020.
And here’s something to consider, too: Molina’s said he wants to finish his career with the Cardinals, but it doesn’t look like the Cardinals are super interested in competing in 2021. They just declined a $12.5 million option on Kolten Wong, a Gold Glove second baseman who will be high on many teams’ free-agent wish list this offseason.
Nobody expects Molina to get a repeat of his $20 million-per-year deal going forward, but it’s fair to wonder how much money the Cardinals are actually willing to pay Molina to come back. It’s also fair to wonder whether the hyper-competitive Molina actually wants to come back after watching the team cut ties with Wong, who is still a productive player.
Replace Nomar Mazara in right field
The White Sox might be better with pretty much anybody else out there. Mazara is only entering his Age 26 season, but he’s not a good defensive right fielder and his offense was non-existent in 2020. Yes, of course, we should be wary the small(ish) sample sizes of the 2020 season, but he hit just one home run in 149 plate appearances, to go with a .228 batting average and measly .584 OPS.
If the Sox really want to make a splash, they should give George Springer a multiyear deal. Imagine a White Sox outfield with Springer in right, Luis Robert in center and Eloy Jimenez in left for the next three or four years. But, again, if not Springer, then just anybody else. Mazara is entering his third and final year of arbitration eligibility and, more than likely, he’ll be non-tendered.
Sign Adam Wainwright
Sorry, Cardinals fans. Wainright loves St. Louis as much as Molina does, but he’s not going to come back for a farewell tour on a non-competitive team. And Wainwright was outstanding in the 2020 season, posting a 3.15 ERA in 10 starts for the Cardinals. He still has the fire and ability to be a productive MLB hurler. And, you might ask, where does he fit in the White Sox rotation, which already has Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Dane Dunning, Dylan Cease and — returning after opting out of the 2020 campaign — Michael Kopech?
Do you know what you call a general manager who feels he has enough starting pitching depth in the offseason? You call him delusional.
Here’s another thing to consider: Selling La Russa’s managerial approach could make for a bumpy transition, with a young White Sox squad. It’s one of the prime — and legitimate — criticisms of the hire. What better way to smooth out that adjustment than by bringing in two players who understand why La Russa’s approach has worked in the past and can relate better to the youngsters than La Russa himself can? And you’re fooling yourself if you think those three — La Russa, Molina and Wainwright — haven’t at least thought about this.
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