Like most everyone else, Adam Eaton has been pleasantly blown away by the significant additions made by the White Sox this offseason: Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Zach Duke, Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera. Eaton expected upgrades, but not like this.
“I don’t think anybody did,” the Sox leadoff man said. “I’m definitely pumped.”
The addition that hits closest to home for Eaton, on the field anyway, is Cabrera, who will play left field alongside Eaton in center and bat second behind him in the lineup.
Eaton couldn’t be more encouraged to have a good-contact, high-average switch-hitter in the 2-hole.
“You bring in Melky and the big thing, as they talked about, is he doesn’t strike out a lot,” Eaton said. “We need that. We need guys who put pressure on guys. On the basepaths, and he also plays a very good defensive left field which we’ll also need. So it’s a good fit.”
These were general manager Rick Hahn first words about Cabrera as a Sox, in the team press release announcing Cabrera’s signing: “Melky provides us with a professional hitter, who reaches base on a consistent basis.”
Cabrera, who hits equally well from both sides of the plate, is an aggressive hitter who doesn’t walk a lot but he owned the 12th-lowest strikeout rate in the majors in 2014. He struck out 67 times in 621 plate appearances last season, when he batted .301 with a .358 on-base percentage. His career on-base mark is .339.
In 2014, the 2-hole in manager Robin Ventura’s lineups (shared mostly by Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez and Marcus Semien) produced a .237 average and a weak .279 on-base percentage punctuated by 131 strikeouts. Whereas old-school thinkers viewed the ideal No. 2 hitter as one who could bunt, hit behind the runner and slap the ball around, modern statistical analysts build compelling cases that a team’s best hitter should bat second. Whatever the case, the Sox suffered last season from poor execution from the guy who often hit in front of Jose Abreu, who led the majors in slugging percentage.
With Abreu batting third and LaRoche fourth (Adam Dunn had 221 at-bats and Dayan Viciedo 145 in the cleanup spot last season), the Sox should get better contact throughout the lineup, and their Eaton-Cabrera-Abreu-LaRoche setup in the top four spots looks considerably better. Here’s how the lineup potentially sets up, compared to last year on Opening Day:
Eaton CF Eaton CF
Cabrera LF Semien 2B
Abreu 1B Gillaspie 3B
LaRoche DH Abreu 1B
Garcia RF Dunn DH
Gillaspie 3B Garcia RF
Ramirez SS De Aza LF
Flowers C Ramirez SS
Sanchez/Johnson/Bonifacio 2B Flowers C
Sitting at the top of that looks good to Eaton, who batted .300 with a .362 on-base percentage his first season as the Sox leadoff man.
“Even before the Samardzija and Robertson news, just getting LaRoche and a lefthander in the bullpen [Duke] was big,” Eaton said. “We were excited about those two and what they will bring to the locker room and the bullpen, that veteran presence. Samardzija and Robertson go ‘boom-boom [within hours of each other on Dec. 8] and you get so excited, and you can see how excited Chicago is.
“Then the Cubs sign [Jon] Lester, and that fuels the fire for us to make big moves, and then [Saturday] night comes the Melky move. To see those guys have a plan, put it in motion and see it play out is impressive.’’
“I haven’t been around that long but you always expect the front office to try to get better, to get better, to get better. But that many moves, everyone is shocked. You set out to do things, and when you don’t do them it’s ‘we didn’t have the right tools’ or ‘the market wasn’t there there and this and that.’ But there were no excuses this year. We just went out and got the guys we needed to get. And it shows confidence in us, the guys who were there.”
The Sox also signed free-agent super utility type Emilio Bonifacio, a switch-hitter who can cover three outfield spots, second base, shortstop and and third base. They traded for lefty reliever Dan Jennings, claimed left-handed hitting catcher Rob Brantly off waivers and picked up a few more pieces (outfielders Tony Campana and J.B. Shuck, lefty reliever Onelki Garcia) who could compete for jobs on an Opening Day roster that will look markedly different from last year’s — it’s quite possible 16 players on the 2014 list won’t be on it when the Sox open in Kansas City on April 6. After finishing 73-99 last season, the Sox now look equipped to compete for the postseason.
“It’s going to be a fun year,” Eaton said. “The whole organization is excited.”