By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) — Restoring the RBI production from the left side of the plate will be a priority for the White Sox in the offseason.READ MORE: Caught On Video: Man Steals Car, Crashes It Moments Later In Back Of The Yards
The obvious place to start would be the free agent market. Three positions should remain open to change and a possible upgrade: left field, third base and designated hitter.
The DH spot is wide open with the retirement of Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn’s tenure (and likely career) ending after he was dealt to Oakland. Despite his end-of-the-season incident with Sox ace Chris Sale when he was with the Tigers, Victor Martinez is the crown jewel of free-agent hitters.
Martinez had a stellar season at age 35. He was second in the majors in batting average (.335), ninth in homers (32) and ninth in RBIs (103). Being a switch hitter who hits .300-plus from both sides of the plate makes Martinez an ideal candidate for the DH position.
Money-wise, Martinez would fit into White Sox general manager Rick Hahn’s offseason budget. The White Sox should have close to $30 million of flexible money if they just match the $90 million payroll they started the 2014 season at. Even playing at age 36, Martinez will be looking at three years and at least $45 million in his next contract.
A Tigers source told me he thought that Detroit would do whatever it could to bring Martinez back in 2015 and beyond. Martinez brings the reputation of a leader who transcends the typical cultural American-Latin splits by communicating and assisting all 24 teammates on and off the field.
This type of leader would be even more important for an evolving White Sox locker room that must fill a void left behind by Konerko’s retirement. Martinez’s incident with Sale over the alleged sign stealing in September would soon be forgotten if the White Sox choose to go in this direction.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Lows In The Upper Teens, Possible Snow Showers Over The Weekend
Personally, I was admonished by a White Sox executive for writing in a September article that the team would be making a priority of signing Martinez. Nonetheless, no one working in the upper tier of decision-makers would deny that Martinez would be a quality addition to any 2015 team. Taking away a division rival’s hitting star would be the cherry on top of the sundae for the South Side group.
Another player who would fit nicely into the young White Sox lineup would be Melky Cabrera, the Blue Jays left fielder who recorded 16 home runs and 73 RBIs in 2014. Cabrera had a fine year, scoring 81 runs while striking out just once in every 10 at-bats, and he had a .351 on-base percentage. His range and overall defense would be a big bonus if the White Sox decide to make Dayan Viciedo a DH or available in a trade. Cabrera, who will be 32 next season, made $7.5 million in 2014.
For you speculators, the Pablo Sandoval free agent stakes may be fun to watch from a Chicago perspective. Both the White Sox and Cubs might want to kick the tires on this player. A switch hitter, Sandoval has been trapped in the mindset of line drives rather than long balls. This is the survival mode most power hitters must embrace in the cavernous confines of the Giants’ AT&T Park.
After six years of hitting in the huge ballparks in the NL West, a change of pace might add 12 to 15 home runs per season to the third baseman’s hitting line (remember that U.S Cellular Field is a friendly home run park in most years). Sandoval has made significant improvement on defense as well. He made a career-low 11 errors this season.
Others to watch as the White Sox consider their options will include Adam LaRoche and Kendrys Morales. LaRoche, a superior first baseman to Morales, is a bit long of tooth, as like Martinez he will be moving in on 36 next season. LaRoche has averaged 25 home runs and 90 RBIs since 2008.
Morales has power from both sides but is a full-time DH. He has limited mobility since breaking the same foot in consecutive seasons.
The White Sox could also add left-handed pop with a trade. Alexei Ramirez could bring back a strong bat or starting pitching candidates. You can also add Viciedo to that list. Seattle, which has had interest in Viciedo for a couple of years, has pitching to spare and a glut of left-handed hitters in their system.MORE NEWS: View Live Radar
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.