The Chicago White Sox are one of the most intriguing teams to evaluate ahead of the 2023 MLB season. Following their first division title in 13 years in 2021, the White Sox played to a disappointing 81-81 record in 2022. Still, with names like Tim Anderson, Dylan Cease and Luis Robert, Chicago has a talented roster and a chance to make some noise in a winnable AL Central.
With a new manager and a number of offseason moves that the team likely sees as improvements from last year, the White Sox are primed for a bounceback year in 2023. In order to return to playoff contention though, the White Sox need to find answers to some of their biggest problems from last season.
3. How will team respond to Pedro Grifol?
Entering 2023, the White Sox are onto their fourth manager in the last eight seasons, hiring longtime Kansas City Royals assistant Pedro Grifol as bench boss.
Year two of the Tony La Russa experiment failed to replicate its on-field successes from 2021. Health issues and a lack of connecting with players led to the hall-of-fame manager announcing his retirement on October 3 last year.
La Russa's old-school tough-love mentality toward players didn't mesh well with Chicago's young core. With Grifol though, the White Sox are looking for a manager that can have those tough conversations with a player while still managing to keep a positive player-manager relationship.
During spring training, Grifol has preached an “attention to detail” mentality to his players. Sometimes having talent isn't enough, and a guy like Grifol who started his coaching career at the minor league level surely knows that.
A manager can sometimes make the difference between a team being good and a team being great. With a roster full of potential all-stars, Pedro Grifol has a chance to right the ship and get the most out of his roster.
2. Who can be relied on in the starting rotation?
On paper, the White Sox carry one of the more talented starting rotations in the majors. Led by strikeout machine Dylan Cease, Chicago's projected rotation contains Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, and newest entry Mike Clevinger.
Cease is the undeniable ace of the staff heading into Opening Day. In 2022, en route to a second-place finish in AL Cy Young Award voting, Cease made 32 starts and finished in the top five in all of Major League Baseball in strikeouts (fifth), strikeouts per nine innings (fourth) and ERA (third). He also ranked fifth in the American League in pitcher WAR according to FanGraphs.
Despite the talent that the names bring behind Cease, a lot of them are looking to bounce back from disappointing 2022 seasons.
Lance Lynn missed the first two months of the season due to injury, then struggled to establish himself out of the gate. He carried a 6.42 ERA through his first nine starts but looked like his old self in the final 12 starts of his season, collecting a 2.43 ERA in nine quality starts.
Giolito had his worst season statistically since 2018, making just 11 quality starts out of 30 and pitching to a 4.90 ERA.
Kopech and Clevinger are the wild cards in the rotation. Kopech showed flashes of brilliance in his 25 starts last season, but his strikeout numbers dropped drastically from 2021 (13.4 K/9 in 2021, 7.9 in 2022).
Clevinger comes over from the San Diego Padres on a one-year deal with a mutual option in 2024. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball from 2017-2020, posting a 2.96 ERA and a double-digit K/9 in 82 starts. He missed all of 2021 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in November 2020 and looked like a shell of himself in 22 starts last season.
There is a boatload of talent in this rotation, but it's no guarantee that the names will live up to the hype of years past. If Giolito and Clevinger can regain their form and Kopech continues to develop as a starter, though, the White Sox have a chance of boasting one of the best rotations in the bigs in 2023.
1. Can Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert stay healthy?
When on the field, Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert are one of the most talented duos in baseball.
After a breakout rookie season in 2019 and a Silver Slugger-winning campaign in the shortened 2020 season, Jiménez has endured long-term injuries in each of the last two years. Still, in 505 at-bats across 2021 and 2022, Jiménez slashed .275/.335/.473 with 26 home runs and 22 doubles.
As for Robert, a slew of ailments, including a bought with blurred vision and a sprained wrist allowed him to play in just 166 games over the last two seasons. Similar to Jiménez, Robert didn't miss a beat when he played, collecting 66 extra-base hits and an .830 OPS.
Eloy Jiménez gives Chicago the power it needs in the middle of its lineup, while Robert is a true five-tool player that managers dream of having at their disposal. If the White Sox want to get back to the playoffs, they need both of these guys to be in the lineup on a daily basis, starting on Opening Day.