CARLSBAD, Calif. — The Chicago White Sox have work to do this winter.
And though it doesn't take someone with access to the front office's most secretive files to guess what areas of the roster Rick Hahn & Co. will be addressing in the coming months, the offseason could play out in a number of ways.
After trading Nick Madrigal and declining the option on César Hernández, there's a pretty gaping hole at second base.
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Thanks to the versatility flashed by young sluggers Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets, not to mention Adam Engel's perhaps best role as a fourth outfielder, right field is a place Hahn could find an upgrade for the lineup.
With Ryan Tepera gone to free agency, Michael Kopech moving to the rotation and Craig Kimbrel being openly discussed as a trade candidate, the bullpen is depleted.
The results turned in by Zack Collins and Seby Zavala backing up Yasmani Grandal could put a No. 2 catcher on Hahn's shopping list.
And of course, fans still stinging from the White Sox' quick playoff exit are pointing at a rotation that didn't perform and calling for a starting-pitching shake-up.
Hahn was asked about all of it Tuesday at the GM meetings in Southern California. Here are his comments on how the White Sox' front office is approaching all of those positions this winter.
"We have potential internal options in Danny Mendick and Romy González. That said, we're going to survey that market, trade or free-agent, and see if there is a way to get better," Hahn said. "We haven't closed the door on perhaps bringing back César at some point. Leury (García) got some starts down the stretch. He's a free agent and we continue to have contact with (him), and we’ll see what the next couple weeks or months hold.
"There is an argument it's an area we can get better with an everyday option, but we can put players like González and Mendick in roles where we can move them around and have greater value."
Certainly fans with former South Side infielder Marcus Semien at the tops of their wish lists won't react well to Mendick and González being the first two names out of Hahn's mouth, but hold on for just a second.
First off, Hahn makes it a policy of not talking about any specific free agents, so not mentioning Semien — or anyone else — doesn't mean that the White Sox' top choices are solely internal. And it seems highly unlikely either Mendick or González will be the team's starting second baseman come next spring.
What might be most interesting in these specific comments is Hahn's alluding to versatility and the decision to go get a traditional everyday guy or bring in someone who can play multiple positions. He brought it up in regards to Mendick and González, but two current free-agent options, García and Chris Taylor, are known for their versatility and could be solutions at second base or all over the diamond, making secondary options for second potentially important.
"We'll see how the offseason goes," Hahn said. "We believe in the futures of Vaughn and Sheets, and we had Adam Engel — who knock on wood will be healthier over the course of the 2022 season — who are all viable options in right field.
"If we find a way where we're potentially stronger in that spot, then we still have the DH spot for potentially Vaughn and Sheets to get ABs. We're going to remain flexible."
Flexibility is nothing new in the offseason approach for this White Sox front office, but the specific positional flexibility of Vaughn and Sheets could act as a sort of safety net for Hahn & Co. when it comes to right field.
The White Sox have been known to target individual players and be aggressive in their pursuits of those individuals. Think Grandal two offseasons ago or Liam Hendriks last winter.
Maybe there's someone on the free-agent market, or a potential trade target, who excites the White Sox enough for them to bring in a new right fielder. If they get him, Vaughn and Sheets can take their talents to the DH spot or wherever else they're needed. If the White Sox can't convert or don't find the kind of solution they want this winter, they can move forward with Vaughn and Sheets as part of that right-field mix.
Both, and especially Vaughn, showed the ability to play all over the field and wowed by playing a solid left field when pressed into duty subbing for Eloy Jiménez, so it's not a bad outcome, even if right field is one of the few areas on the roster the White Sox could utilize for offensive upgrades.
"Good thing it's Nov. 9."
That was Hahn's reply when presented with the fact that there could be a mass exodus from the relief corps. Tepera and Evan Marshall are free agents. Kopech is going to the rotation, and the White Sox admittedly don't know yet what they're going to do with Garrett Crochet. And Hahn spent a large percentage of his time Tuesday talking about Kimbrel, mentioning the team might be better off trading him.
"We have a good sense of what our needs are, and we're going to address them as the opportunities present themselves," Hahn continued, speaking more generally after being asked about the 'pen. "I could say X is the most important thing we have to do all offseason, but we all know based on how certain markets move, trade and free agents, that opportunity might not present itself till late January, even if it is our No. 1 priority. So yes, pitching is important to us, starting and relief.
"We're looking (at) about 1,450 innings to fill (over the course of the season). We're going to find the best guys to fill as many innings as we can, starter or reliever."
Despite the generalities, there's little doubt that Hahn has a lot of work to do in the bullpen, from a sheer numbers standpoint, and there will be a ton of focus on what he does with Kimbrel. If Kimbrel gets dealt and Crochet goes the way of Kopech and starts getting prepped for a long-term starter's role in 2022, the South Side relief corps is basically left with Hendriks, Aaron Bummer and Reynaldo López.
Those moves could come via free agency, as the White Sox have landed relievers like Hendriks, David Robertson, Kelvin Herrera and Steve Cishek that way in the past. Or it could come via trade, how the White Sox acquired guys like Kimbrel, Tepera, Alex Colomé, Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan in recent seasons.
"Certainly there's room for improvement from both Seby and Zack," Hahn said. "A lot was asked of them, especially after Yaz went down, so some of their development might have been rushed. But we think both of them can be even stronger defensively than what they displayed this year.
"You obviously hope your primary catcher, especially someone as important as Yaz is to us, is able to answer the bell as frequently as possible. But as he gets older, and we hopefully keep him strong for an extra month (of postseason play), having someone in that backup role that we can feel confident in is important. I think a lot of our pitchers over the course of the year grew more and more confident with Seby and Zack, which is good, and look forward to seeing how they show up in camp.
"Any way to get better is a target. ... That's not the first target, let's say. ... But (it's) an area where we can potentially get better. We'll explore it. Will it happen? Hard to say."
That's some candid talk from the GM right there that this is not close to being at the top of their winter shopping list.
But it's easy to see that adding some dependability behind the plate, even in a backup capacity, would be attractive. That attribute alone is what spurred plenty of talk about Jonathan Lucroy potentially making the team out of spring training.
The White Sox got to see a lot of both Collins and Zavala during the season, prioritizing the defensive abilities of Zavala after Grandal returned from his lengthy injury recovery. But they went with Collins' bat on the playoff roster, no shock, really, considering their intent to lean on Grandal as their everyday postseason catcher.
"If there is a way for us to get better and provide quality alternatives for those 1,450 innings and insulate the rotation, we'll explore it," Hahn said. "We'll run it down."
Of course, the situation with the rotation is a tricky one, and it's no surprise that there are probably a number of ways in which the White Sox could approach it this offseason.
A vocal segment of White Sox Twitter has its own preferences, arguing that significant upgrades to the starting staff would prevent a repeat of the disappointing playoff performance against the Houston Astros. That, of course, is ignoring that the White Sox boasted the American League's best rotation during the regular season, something Hahn talked about last week.
But the White Sox could very well be without Carlos Rodón in 2022, even though Hahn reiterated they'd like to find a way to bring him back. They have to figure out the best way to break Kopech into a starting role, which could necessitate more depth. And if they do want to make any additions, including a Rodón reunion, they'll have to break up the currently locked in starting five of Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, Dallas Keuchel and Kopech.
So that's a lot of variables and a lot of potential outcomes to think about. No wonder Hahn didn't go into too many specifics on that front.
"Getting the pitching staff deeper and stronger is a priority," Hahn said. "There's different ways of going about doing it. We're going to explore them all."