This MLB handicapper notes that often a bottom-dwelling team one season can surprise & become a playoff club the next. Will the Chicago White Sox bet that team & go over their wins total of 81.5 on MLB odd?
The Pale Hose finished 73-89 in 2014, which obviously isn't very good but was a 10-win improvement over 2013. The two biggest bright spots last year where Cuban rookie first baseman Jose Abreu and ace left-handed pitcher Chris Sale, who are on two of the most team-friendly deals in the majors. Abreu was the unanimous AL Rookie of the Year as he led all rookies in home runs (36), RBIs (107), hits (176), doubles (35), runs scored (80), OBP (.383), slugging percentage (.581) and OPS (.964). He was the fourth rookie to hit at least .300 with 30 dingers and 100 knocked in since the ROY Award was first given out in 1947. The other three: Albert Pujols (2001 Cardinals), Mike Piazza (1993 Dodgers) and Walt Dropo (1950 Red Sox). Abreu was the first rookie ever to finish in the top five of all three Triple Crown categories and was the first White Sox winner of the award since Ozzie Guillen in 1985.
Sale finished third in the AL Cy Young voting behind winner Corey Kluber of Cleveland and Seattle's Felix Hernandez. Sale was 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA and 208 strikeouts in just 174 innings. He missed about a month. He might be the most underpaid guy in MLB as he made just $3.5 million last year and is at $6 million in 2015.
Why Sox Are Better
Because Sale and Abreu are on such good deals and the White Sox were able to take the big-money contract of Adam Dunn off their books (traded late last season to Oakland), the team could be very financially aggressive in the offseason and GM Rick Hahn certainly was. On the free-agent market, he added slugging first baseman/DH Adam LaRoche, outfielder Melky Cabrera, set-up man Zach Duke and closer David Robertson. Hahn also traded for Oakland and former Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija even though he can become a free agent after this season.
LaRoche hit .259 with 26 homers and 92 RBIs last year for the Washington Nationals and his numbers could jump playing half his games in hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. He'll mostly DH but spell Abreu at first sometimes with Abreu at DH. Cabrera slides into left field. He hit .301 with 16 homers and 73 knocked in last year for Toronto. The Sox bullpen was a major problem area so Duke and Robertson solve that. Robertson was 4-5 with 39 saves and a 3.08 ERA with the Yankees. The White Sox's combined 36 saves were better than just five other major-league teams. The bullpen ERA was 4.28, which was 28th.
Chicago might be able to keep Samardzija around as he's from nearby Merrillville in Indiana and grew up rooting for the White Sox. Hahn didn't have to give up any of his top prospects to land Samardzija. The Sox now have a very strong top three of Sale, Samardzija and vastly underrated left-hander Jose Quintana (9-11, 3.32). Expect to see last year's No. 3 overall pick, lefty Carlos Rodon, in the rotation very soon if not even out of spring training. The club might let him begin the season in the minors for a few weeks just for service time reasons and future free agency. John Danks and Hector Noesi hold down the final two rotation spots right now and that's a bit shaky.
When planning your MLB picks, look for a breakout season from right fielder Avisail Garcia. The 23-year-old former top Tigers prospect was limited to 46 games in 2014 due to injury. Center fielder Adam Eaton is a great leadoff man but a bit brittle. He needs to stop running into walls. There aren't many better offensive shortstops than Chicago's Alexei Ramirez (.273, 15 HRs, 74 RBIs). Third baseman Conor Gillaspie (.282, seven HRs, 57 RBIs) had a career year in 2014. Was that a fluke? The second-base job is up for grabs in camp but the Sox added utility guy Emilio Bonifacio and brought back Gordon Beckham for depth there. One of those guys could become the regular at second, although the team is hoping young Carlos Sanchez wins the job. Catcher Tyler Flowers had 15 homers last year but doesn't hit for a high average and strikes out a lot.
The White Sox are given +700 MLB odds to win the pennant and +1600 to win the World Series.
MLB Free Picks: I'm not quite ready to say the Sox are going to win the pennant, but they are only likely to be third-favorites to win the AL Central when those odds are released, and I'd jump there. Ditto on 'over' those 81.5 wins at sportsbooks.