By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — As the 2016 season approaches, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn is contemplating a newly restored but still incomplete lineup. On Friday night, one of his potential free-agent targets came off the board when outfielder Yoenis Cespedes agreed to a three-year deal with the Mets.
Does that make Hahn and Co. more prone to trade the team’s top prospects today than they were when Cespedes was still available? Because a left-handed slugger would still be the ideal addition to a potentially explosive batting order.
The White Sox were in on Cespedes all the way. That was the situation until the $75 million over three years and the Cespedes’ desire to resume his career in New York became apparent. Moving forward, the White Sox can look at free agent Dexter Fowler as a different type of run producer or continue discussions with the Rockies on a trade for Carlos Gonzales or Charlie Blackmon.
The White Sox would lose the compensatory draft pick they received for Jeff Samardzija signing with the Giants if they sign Fowler, as the Cubs offered a qualifying one-year deal to him. The White Sox’s first-round pick is protected due to their finishing in the bottom 10 teams in the standings in 2015.
Last season, Fowler scored 104 runs, an important number because it reflects quality on-base percentage and/or a player amassing a lot of extra-base hits. In the case of Fowler, he produced an on-base percentage of .346 and set a career high with 17 homers while also stealing 20 bases.
If the White Sox were to add Fowler, he may kick Adam Eaton out of the lead-off spot, and there’s also the possibility he’d take over for Eaton in center field. Both would be great table setters for a lineup, and both had so-so 2015 seasons in defensive metrics.
Eaton has a career .355 on-base percentage, while Fowler has a career .363 mark. They could fill the one-two slots in the lineup in some either order.
If they don’t go the Fowler route, the White Sox must consider moving one of their top minor league players for one more big bat, because adding another offensive player is crucial to completing the overhaul the club needed after another disappointing season. The only comment from the team’s top officials recently was that they are always “exploring multiple avenues to improve.”
Chicago has already traded five farm system players to acquire infielders Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie this offseason. Will the White Sox be willing to move either right-hander Carson Fulmer or shortstop Tim Anderson for a slugger?
These young players are listed as the top two minor league prospects in the White Sox’s system. Fulmer was the club’s first-round pick in the June amateur draft last season. He’s a power pitcher and has the scouts believing he could be in the major leagues in mid-to-late 2016.
Anderson’s also on the fast track. He makes hard contact and has the ability to use his speed (49 steals in 2015) to change games. He’s still an unfinished product on defense, and the consensus is a full year at Triple-A and playing 135 games there would complete his minor league resume.
How far the White Sox will go to add more power depends on the way Hahn, executive vice president Ken Williams and owner Jerry Reinsdorf look at the future. Reinsdorf wants to win one more World Series for the fan base. The White Sox are looking at a two-year window right now, with players like Frazier and Lawrie set to become free agents after the 2017 season.
The team’s young pitchers are for the most part are under favorable contract control for the next four years. They’re the strength of the franchise. The pitching is superb but not deep, so the time to win is now.
Gonzalez represents the left-handed power bat (40 home runs in 2015) missing in the lineup. Blackmon is a different player, with speed (43 steals last year) and less home run pop.
Of course, it’s buyer beware on the Coors Field numbers that Rockies player produce and how they’ll fare away from the thin air for an entire season. Gonzalez hit .299 at home and .243 on the road last season, with 24 of his homer coming at Coors Field. Blackmon was impacted even more greatly, hitting. 331 at Coors and .238 on the road.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.