In some ways, the 2021 season was a success for the Chicago White Sox. They notched a second straight winning season and a second straight trip to the playoffs. As well, the Sox claimed their first division title since 2008. As well, their 93 wins this season is the most since their championship season of 2005.
However, in other regards the season was a disappointment. After the abbreviated 2020 season, the White Sox notably parted ways with manager Rick Renteria despite his guiding them to the expanded playoffs. They replaced him, with some level of dismay among fans and observers, with Tony La Russa, who's now 77 years of age. Under La Russa, the White Sox actually saw their win percentage decline relative to Renteria's final year in 2020, and, as with Renteria, they won only a single playoff game en route to being bounced in the first round. Assuming La Russa returns for 2022 -- he's indicated he wishes to do just that -- then the pressure to return to the postseason and make a significantly deeper run will be great.
It's against that backdrop that the White Sox, who were recently eliminated by the Astros in the ALDS, begin their 2021-22 offseason.
1. Re-sign Rodón
Carlos Rodón's successful reclamation in 2021 was one of the best stories in baseball. Coming off major shoulder problems followed by Tommy John surgery, Rodón was non-tendered by the White Sox and then re-signed to a one-year, $3 million "prove it" contract for 2021. And prove it he did. In 132 ⅔ innings during the regular season, Rodón pitched to a 2.37 ERA and a 5.14 K/BB ratio. He pitched a no-hitter and made the All-Star team, and he's likely headed for a top 10 finish in the AL Cy Young balloting. He's also likely headed for a substantial payday in free agency.
The incumbent White Sox should be at the front of the line of those willing to pay Rodón the going rates. Yes, he'll probably always be an injury risk, but he leveled up in 2021 in terms of both results and stuff and did so in a sustainable way. Rodón will also still be on the right side of age 30 when he signs his next contract. His upside in the rotation is something the Sox need to keep around during their current window of contention, and ownership should be willing to meet his asking price.
2. Find help at right field and second base
Now is not the time to be satisfied with the roster status quo. The Sox in 2021 achieved some success, yes, but they were greatly aided by the galling weakness of the remaining teams in the AL Central. As well, the Sox didn't exactly shine when faced with stiffer competition. Counting the loss to the Astros in the ALDS, Chicago this season was 28-32 against teams with winning or .500 records. That alone should be ample impetus to add pieces.
Specifically, the White Sox should look for upgrades at second base and right field. In right, Andrew Vaughn still has quite a bit of promise as a hitter, but he's badly stretched defensively. He needs to be installed as the Sox's primary DH in 2022, and the Sox need to look outside the organization for the new regular right fielder.
Intriguing potential solutions on the free agent market include Starling Marte, Nick Castellanos (player option), Michael Conforto, former Sock Avisail Garcia (player option), Kyle Schwarber and Adam Duvall. Schwarber becomes even more intriguing once you consider Chicago's need for left-handed pop in the lineup.
On the second base front, deadline acquisition César Hernández has a highly reasonable $6 million club option for 2022, but he may not be an adequate every-day second baseman for a team with designs on the World Series. He's a switch-hitter with very balanced platoon splits, which means he's a useful roster piece. However, a splash for, say, Chris Taylor would be an upgrade, and also possible is getting in the market for one of the premium shortstops available is a worthy consideration. That would require a position change for Tim Anderson or the incoming shortstop, but that's not untenable.
3. Consider moving Kopech into rotation
The rotation will be in sound shape assuming they re-up with Rodón. He'd join Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease and Dallas Keuchel. Lest that seem like a full house, Keuchel's disastrous 2021 season raises concerns going into his age-34 campaign.
Thus, a potential opportunity for Kopech. He was almost exclusively a starter in the minors, and he made a handful of starts this season after a lengthy absence. He has the big fastball and sharp slider, and further cultivation of his curve and or changeup will give him a third/fourth offering. Perhaps additional ramp-up is in order, but an offseason devoted to preparing for rotation duty should hasten that process. The best way to maximize Kopech's value is to install him in a starter's role. Doing so raises the performance ceiling of the rotation. Yes, he'd leave a void in the bullpen, but relievers are easier to acquire or find internally than starting pitchers are.
More broadly, two of three prescriptions above entail additional payroll investments, but that's precisely what team like the White Sox should be doing. They have a championship core, but weaknesses at the margins are hindering their efforts to take the next step. Addressing those is worth whatever it costs.