To call Melky Cabrera a huge upgrade in left field you have to believe the White Sox actually had a Major League-caliber player stationed there last season. The South Siders just improved by at least three wins, and with all their other moves from this offseason, just turned into a .500 ball club. Welcome, AL Central, to the land of mediocrity—where everyone is good enough to win just enough to be uninspiring.
The 2014 White Sox had one of two options in left field: Alejandro De Aza who is typically a safe bet to swipe 20 bags and top double-digit home runs (his 17 homers in ’13 look fluky now) but was traded to the Orioles and played well down the stretch, which was probably irritating to see him rejuvenated in Baltimore; or the mostly right, sometimes left Dayan Viciedo who plays horrid defense, strikes out a lot, but has youth and the promise of 20 home runs to make you believe he’s valuable.
Cabrera will surpass the combination of those two by the end of April and even if he can’t play defense as well as De Aza, he has a strong arm and should keep runners honest. By the final year of this three-year deal, he’ll be more DH than actual outfielder, but that’s a problem to worry about down the road. Is it an overpay? Eh. 42-45 million over three years is the expected range, and that’s not really all that bad for what Cabrera provides. Look. If Nick Markakis received 4/45, then 3/42-45 for Melky is reasonable. He’s only 30. It’s not like he’ll limp around left with a replacement hip by year three.
He’ll just waddle there a bit.
Rejoice Chicago! The city of Nelson Algren has become baseball’s focal point this offseason, and it’s a good thing to see. With the Windy City now the home of Chris Sale, Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Jake Arrieta, Jose Quintana, and the strong-armed Cabrera, I look forward to the daily The Man with the Golden Arm references.1 In fact, I demand it. If Algren can’t get some love this season in Chicago by the beat writers, then things have gone horribly wrong. While it’s debatable whether the Cubs and White Sox actually did enough to be real contenders in the escalating Midwestern arms race, it’s difficult to argue that both teams aren’t making an honest go of it.
In the last three weeks, the White Sox have addressed their closer role with the signing of David Robertson, the black hole that was first base, a strong #2-3 starter with Samardzija, and now left field. I’m not as high on Adam LaRoche as some. I doubt he’ll be worth 12.5 million over two years, much less paying him 25 million total over that span, but he’ll be an upgrade defensively at first. Honestly, I think his best asset might just be the attitude he brings to the field. Don’t be surprised if the White Sox infielders start playing with a little more moxie thanks to the “Buck Commander’s” machismo.
Regardless, between LaRoche and Jose Abreu at first and DH, Samardzija, and Robertson, the Sox have added 7-8 wins at a minimum. Are they contenders? Why not. Their rotation is just as good as what the Tigers will be throwing out there when/if they ever decide to keep their good, young pitchers that aren’t rock star famous, the Royals haven’t re-signed James Shields (or found a replacement as he becomes too pricy) and with a few breaks the White Sox are in the 85 win territory.
In the Central, with every team capable of walloping on the other, that might just be enough.
- In college, I read a lot of Algren. Couldn’t get enough of him. For my senior thesis, I wrote this short story about a coffee junky that was such a blatant rip off of the dialogue between Frankie Machine and Sparrow from The Man with the Golden Arm that I should have paid Algren’s estate royalties. Except no one but my professors would read it. Sometimes I think A Walk on the Wild Side might be my favorite of his novels, and I try to come up with legitimate literary reasons why this is the case, and then I re-read a line like “The great, secret and special American guilt of owning nothing, nothing at all, in the one land where ownership and virtue are one,” and I feel so foolish for doubting Frankie. ↩