This normally would be your White Sox spring-training setup story, with pitchers and catchers reporting to camp in Glendale, Arizona, early next week. This is when we brush up on where the Sox left us in October and what questions must be answered in the weeks leading to Opening Day on March 31.
But these are not normal times. Players are locked out by owners, and they aren’t much closer to getting a new deal done than they were when the collective-bargaining agreement expired Dec. 1.
The Sox are holding a minicamp for prospects Feb. 21 and minor-league camp opens March 2, but when major-league camp will open is anyone’s guess. With four weeks likely needed for players to prepare for a season (six is the norm), there is still hope it starts on time.
For the Sox, there’s reason to be eager for spring training to get started. After a 93-win, division-title season and the sour taste of a quick exit from the postseason, the Sox are built for equal if not higher expectations with most of their 2021 roster intact.
But there will be areas of need to address and little time to do so via free agency and trades if and when a collective-bargaining deal gets done. Before the CBA expired, the Sox made one significant acquisition, signing free-agent reliever Kendall Graveman to a three-year contract. They also brought back Leury Garcia on a three-year deal.
Who’s gone: Second baseman Cesar Hernandez.
Who’s likely gone: Free-agent left-handed starter Carlos Rodon and free-agent right-handed reliever Ryan Tepera.
If the season were to begin today, how would the starting lineup look? Tim Anderson SS, Luis Robert CF, Jose Abreu 1B, Yasmani Grandal C, Eloy Jimenez LF, Yoan Moncada 3B, Gavin Sheets RF, Andrew Vaughn DH, Leury Garcia 2B.
Could Leury Garcia be the Opening Day second baseman? There aren’t many alternatives available on the market, but general manager Rick Hahn is open to trades and has Craig Kimbrel as a chip, so stay tuned. Signed to a three-year, $16.5 million deal in the offseason, Garcia is most valuable in his familiar all-purpose infield/outfield role, but he’s currently No. 1 on the Sox’ depth chart. Third baseman Jake Burger was introduced to second base last season and was told to keep working around the bag in the offseason, but probably only to expand his versatility. Vaughn, a first-rounder drafted as a first baseman, unexpectedly was converted to the outfield when Eloy Jimenez went down last spring. He held his own, so don’t rule anything out when it comes to the team’s defensive alignment. But second base is a higher premium position and more demanding than the outfield, and Burger has 42 plate appearances in the majors.
Is free-agent right fielder Michael Conforto a Sox target? An experienced left-handed hitter who plays good defense, Conforto checks a lot of boxes. But how much beyond the Sox’ all-time-high payroll is chairman Jerry Reinsdorf willing to go? Conforto could demand something such as four years and $90 million, which would be the biggest deal in club history. In-house options are the left-handed-hitting Gavin Sheets and right-handed-hitting Vaughn and Adam Engel. Sheets and Vaughn are entering their second seasons. Sheets, a first baseman who like Vaughn learned a new position last season, would be a risk defensively.
What does the rotation look like? Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech and Dallas Keuchel, with Reynaldo Lopez as a sixth man. The wild cards are the electric Kopech and Keuchel, who needs a turnaround in the last year of his contract. With Kopech on an innings limit in his first year starting in the majors, Lopez will be needed for more than just protection.
Unsure of when camp will open, pitchers have been throwing on their own at private facilities but without interaction and feedback from Sox pitching coaches and staff.
They’d all be reporting to spring training next week.