By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) — The White Sox made some bold moves in the winter of 2013. Some have been spectacular successes, while others have failed. Such is the lot of a club that needed to get younger and better in many positions after losing 99 games last season.
Let’s start with what most likely was the most impact producing signing of the year. Jose Abreu has 29 home runs and 78 RBIs at the break. That $68 million seems like a sweetheart deal for the most electric hitter this side of Mike Trout. The Sox now have the power hitter to build their offense around for the next six years.
The second-best move was more costly. Adam Eaton has been the energizer bunny of the team since coming to the Sox for lefty Hector Santiago, who was flipped to the Angels, where he has struggled in the first half of 2014, including a minor league assignment. Meanwhile, Eaton has been the go-go of the Sox offense when he is not running into walls and dealing with consistent leg injuries. The fans have yet to see the best out of Eaton due to the fact he must protect his legs and cut back on stolen base attempts. The depth of the bullpen and rotation has sorely missed Santiago regardless of his failures elsewhere.
The Matt Davidson-for-Addison Reed deal has had a domino effect on the White Sox that they have never been able shake. Although the thinking was sound in trying to acquire a power-hitting third baseman for the future, Reed’s absence in the closer’s role has altered the entire season for the club. Injuries to Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom have been determining factors of a failed bullpen, but the lack of depth with the loss of Reed and Santiago has regulated the team to also-ran status.
Starting pitching has been a mix of good and bad. Left-handed ace Chris Sale continues to be among the top five pitchers in the game. Sale hits the break with an 8-1 record and an ERA that is a shade over 2.00. The record would probably be the best in baseball if not for missing five weeks with a forearm strain.
Jose Quintana has stepped up his game. He can now be considered a No. 2 on a contending team going forward. His propensity for going deeper in games and not whining about a lack of run support has made him a more finished product.
The John Danks story has been one of the better under-reported situations in baseball. Danks signed a $65 million contract before the 2012 season as a power pitching young lefty. He has returned in 2014 as a pitcher who uses deception, location and guile to get hitters out. After dealing with a shoulder operation that had only been done successfully one other time, Danks — under the expert guidance of pitching coach Don Cooper — has been a consistent performer for the last two months.
The failures for the other fourth and fifth starters have been a sad part of the first half White Sox story. Although Cooper has had some marginal success with retread Hector Noesi, the rest has been a downer with unproven youngsters, retread veterans and emergency arms all failing to get the team over the hump.
A good story at shortstop centered around Alexei Ramirez, who was the best player at his position in the American League in the first half. Third baseman Conor Gillaspie hit over .300 for the first 90 games and improved his defense, which was below average last season.
The outfield was nothing to brag about in the first half. After a hot start, Dayan Viciedo fell back into his old habit of being too pull happy at the plate. The bullpen has some promise but has had to pitch way too often to develop at a comfortable pace for the organization. Manager Robin Ventura needs to establish the roles of Zach Putnam, Jake Petricka and Daniel Webb in the second half. The team needs to know if any of these young pitchers can be counted on for important roles in the future.
As for Ventura and his staff, they have done a decent job with an incomplete ball club. Ventura is still learning some of the nuances of late-game management. That includes using pinch runners and defensive replacements.
General manager Rick Hahn’s trades or lack of player movement will determine if this club finishes near .500 or 10 games below.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.