The White Sox will not market this season as "World Series or Bust," but that's the between-the-lines message the team's front office delivered during a stunning offseason. You don't recruit Tony La Russa, 76, back into the dugout after a decade away to replace a guy (Rick Renteria) who finished second in American League Manager of the Year voting unless you believe you have a team that can win the American League pennant.
The Sox had the best record in the AL with 14 games to play last September but faded after clinching a playoff spot and then lost their opening playoff series to Oakland.
La Russa, with his three World Series victories, was hired to give a young team more focus and discipline. A trade for Lance Lynn filled one rotation spot, and the free agent signing of Adam Eaton is supposed to upgrade right field.
The improvement of the young core, led by Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, and Yoan Moncada, should make the Sox the Central favorites. They'll need to upgrade another rotation spot and DH to become the AL's best team.
Opposing Scouts Size Up the White Sox
"They're a really exciting team for a baseball fan, with stars who express themselves and interesting guys like Nick Madrigal, who's small but has a super-high contact rate and never strikes out. Tim Anderson does strike out, but he hits his way on base, and he may be ready to take the next step as a power hitter, too. Luis Robert faded down the stretch, but his tools scream superstar. Jose Abreu's one of the best run producers of this era. I'm not as high on Adam Eaton, though; he doesn't have much left, he'll get on base but he doesn't have a whole lot of power and doesn't run like he used to. The trade for Lance Lynn was the type of trade you make when you're going for it. Now they've got two really solid pitchers at the top, and Dallas Keuchel's a good No. 3. Given Jerry Reinsdorf's age, he's very motivated and I imagine they'll continue to push to try to win. The Tony La Russa hire has been criticized, and Tony's very tied to Reinsdorf, so that’s another reason I think he'll continue to spend to win now."
Beyond the Box Score
Coaching change For the first time since 2002, Don Cooper will not be the White Sox pitching coach. Along with manager Rick Renteria, Cooper was dismissed. His replacement is Ethan Katz, who got his coaching start at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, where he worked with MLB starters Lucas Giolito (White Sox), Max Fried (Braves), and Jack Flaherty (Cardinals) as prep players. Katz made his way into professional coaching with the Angels. He also worked in the Mariners organization before serving as the Giants' assistant pitching coach last season. Giolito credits Katz with turning around his career after the 2018 season.
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Righting a wrong
One man is considered primarily responsible for Tony La Russa's return to managing — White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. For years, Reinsdorf said two of the biggest mistakes he made were elevating announcer Hawk Harrelson to GM and letting Harrelson replace La Russa with Jim Fregosi in 1986. Reinsdorf, who turned 85 in February, was determined to right that wrong by hiring La Russa.
Heading south After 16 seasons as the television voice of the Chicago Cubs, Len Kasper said he was ready for a challenge. But baseball fans on both sides of town were shocked when Kasper announced that challenge: He will move across town to work as the radio (and part-time TV) voice of the White Sox, teaming with Darrin Jackson. Kasper said one of his goals was to call a World Series game. Local radio announcers work the postseason while local TV guys do not. Kasper also plans a podcast with Sox TV voice Jason Benetti.
Comeback story The White Sox have their fingers crossed they'll be able to celebrate a story of triumph over adversity. Third baseman Jake Burger was the team's top draft pick in 2017 but missed the entire 2018 and 2019 seasons with injuries that began with a torn Achilles. Burger played part of last summer in a semi-pro league before joining the Sox summer camp. The team added him to its 40-man roster thanks to his powerful bat.
Eaton returns All eyes will be on Adam Eaton, who returned to the Sox after four seasons with the Washington Nationals. The Sox failed to find a productive replacement for Eaton after dealing him for Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning following the 2016 season. Although Eaton had some clubhouse issues during his first stay (mostly with Todd Frazier), a group of Sox veterans endorsed the signing.
SS Tim Anderson (R)
3B Yoan Moncada (S)
1B Jose Abreu (R)
LF Eloy Jimenez (R)
C Yasmani Grandal (S)
CF Luis Robert (R)
DH Andrew Vaughn (R)
RF Adam Eaton (L)
2B Nick Madrigal (R)
C Zack Collins (L)
INF Danny Mendick (R)
UTIL Leury Garcia (L)
OF Adam Engel (R)
RHP Lucas Giolito
LHP Dallas Keuchel
RHP Lance Lynn
RHP Dylan Cease
RHP Michael Kopech
RHP Liam Hendriks (C)
LHP Aaron Bummer
RHP Evan Marshall
RHP Matt Foster
RHP Codi Heuer
RHP Reynaldo Lopez
RHP Jimmy Cordero
LHP Garrett Crochet
2021 Prediction: 1st in AL Central
(Top photo courtesy of @WhiteSox)