What a difference four new guys make.
That’s a story that might be written sooner rather than later about the White Sox, who added Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion, Nomar Mazara and Luis Robert via free agency, trades and, in the rookie Robert’s case, a $50 million contract ensuring his place in the lineup from Day 1.
Gone are Yonder Alonso, Daniel Palka and Yolmer Sanchez, Opening Day starters in 2019. James McCann, an All-Star catcher last year, is a significant piece of depth behind Grandal. Adam Engel, a Gold Glove candidate two seasons ago, is a fourth outfielder.
Back are baseball’s batting-average leader, Tim Anderson; the American League’s RBI leader, Jose Abreu; the team’s best all-around player and potential MVP candidate, Yoan Moncada; the AL’s rookie home-run, RBI and total-bases leader, Eloy Jimenez; and Leury Garcia, who had career highs in every offensive category in his seventh season.
The Sox will try to track down the AL Central champion Twins, who hit a record 307 homers in 2019 and added Josh Donaldson. And the South Siders have been getting some attention. A recent MLB.com story listed their lineup as the seventh-best in baseball, noting it has seven regulars (all but Anderson and Garcia) projected by Steamer to post wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) at above average — Jimenez (122), Encarnacion (122), Grandal (119), Abreu (117), Moncada (115), Robert (110) and Mazara (106).
The offense needed an infusion — the Sox ranked 13th among 15 AL teams in runs, homers and slugging percentage, 11th in OPS+ and 10th in on-base percentage in 2019.
By the looks of things, they got it.
“From the first day I got here,” said Mazara, who came from the Rangers in a trade for outfield prospect Steele Walker, “just seeing all these guys, all the talent, looking around, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I haven’t seen this many talented players, young guys and veteran guys.’ ”
The Sox know what they got in Encarnacion, 37, the majors’ home-run leader since 2012, and Grandal, 31, the MLB walks and on-base percentage leader and National League home-run leader among catchers, and they’ll see what they have in Robert, 22, who has been explosive in summer camp. They’re not sure what Mazara, 25, who hit 20, 20, 20 and 19 homers in four seasons, will do.
Mazara is sure of what he’s seeing around him.
“I’m always with [fellow outfielders] Eloy and Robert and looking at those guys, and I’m like, ‘I’ve never seen something like that, wow,’ ’’ Mazara said. “The Rangers had talent, but seeing Robert and Eloy and all these guys, I was impressed. We were really looking forward to playing a full season, but we’re going to play a short season, and it is going to be fun for this team, the stuff we are going to be able to do out there.”
First-year hitting coach Frank Menechino sees strength in numbers, the kind of depth that should insulate the lineup from prolonged team slumps.
“We’re going to score runs,” Menechino said. “And I think we’re going to have guys not feeling like they have to do it all. One through nine can do damage, one through nine can score runs. Me, as a hitting coach, if I have three guys that are hot, I’m ecstatic.”
It’s a blend of youth (Anderson, Moncada, Jimenez, Mazara, Robert) and veterans (Abreu, Encarnacion, Grandal). It has an adequate lefty-righty mix with three switch hitters — Moncada, Grandal and Garcia — and the left-handed-hitting Mazara.
“This is a pretty potent lineup,” said left-hander Carlos Rodon, who has worked against it in intrasquad games this month. “It’s not an easy one to face. It’s probably one of the best lineups we’ve had in a while. I think it’s a lineup that’s going to do a lot of damage.”