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The Chicago White Sox completed their transition from rebuilder to contender last season. Though their return to the postseason was cut short in disappointing fashion against the A's in the Wild Card Series, the team enters 2021 with one of the best cores in the sport.

The White Sox added Lance Lynn, Adam Eaton, Liam Hendriks and Carlos Rodon this winter, and compared to the rest of the AL Central, they had one of the best offseasons. Their biggest offseason move, and the one that made the most headlines was their decision to fire Rick Renteria and hire 76-year-old Tony La Russa, a Hall of Fame manager, but someone who hasn't managed since 2011. This move was spearheaded by White Sox owner and friend of La Russa, Jerry Reinsdorf. Anyways, we'll talk further about the head-scratching La Russa hiring among other key points in a moment. 

It's time to preview the upcoming season for the White Sox.

Win total projection, odds

  • 2021 SportsLine projection: 86-76
  • World Series odds (via William Hill Sportsbook): +1000
  • 2020 Record: 35-25 (second in AL Central, lost in AL Wild Card Series)

Projected Lineup

  1. SS Tim Anderson
  2. RF Adam Eaton
  3. C Yasmani Grandal
  4. 1B Jose Abreu
  5. LF Eloy Jimenez
  6. 3B Yoan Moncada
  7. CF Luis Robert
  8. DH Zack Collins
  9. 2B Nick Madrigal

Bench: C Jonathan Lucroy, INF Danny Mendick, INF/OF Leury Garcia, OF Adam Engel

For success in 2021, and especially for a longer postseason run, the White Sox will need offensive contributions from their core. That means strong seasons from Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert.

Moncada had a down 2020 season, but he has the potential to rebound back to a solid hitter and third baseman. Anderson finished in the top-10 for AL MVP voting last year and picked up his first Silver Slugger award. Jimenez was elite last season, recording an impressive follow-up (140 OPS+) to his stellar rookie campaign in 2019. Robert finished as runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year last season, but experienced a sluggish September showing, resulting in making some adjustments in his setup and approach at the plate this offseason to avoid another bad slump.

As for the rest of the lineup, Eaton has a concerning injury history and he's entering his age-32 season, but he'll be a solid everyday right fielder and can consistently reach base when he stays healthy. The 2020 AL MVP Abreu will look to continue to pace this Sox offense in 2021. Grandal and Madrigal both posted solid numbers in 2020. The 26-year-old Collins only played nine big-league games last year, but he could make the 26-man roster as DH unless top prospect Andrew Vaughn shows he's ready for his MLB debut this spring (and the White Sox are OK with starting his service-time clock).

Projected rotation, bullpen

  1. RHP Lucas Giolito
  2. LHP Dallas Keuchel
  3. RHP Lance Lynn
  4. RHP Dylan Cease
  5. LHP Carlos Rodon

Bullpen: CL Liam Hendriks, Aaron Bummer, Evan Marshall, Garrett Crochet, Codi Heuer, Matt Foster, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech

The White Sox's top trio in the rotation is fantastic. The concerns begin to arise when you look past the flashy names for the No. 1, 2, and 3 spots. Heading into the 2021 season, rotation depth (along with overall depth) is shaky for Chicago. An injury to Giolito, Keuchel or Lynn could seriously damage the White Sox's playoff chances.

Here are three key issues to watch in Chicago in 2021.

1. Lingering rotation concerns

As we just discussed, there are a few questions regarding the White Sox rotation, including whether some of their younger pitchers can reach and to maintain consistency on the mound. Strong performances from young pitchers Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech would be crucial in the White Sox's 2021 postseason (it won't be an expanded 16-team field) hunt.

The variance of performance is high for Cease, whose projected to slate in behind the top three. Cease is just 25, however, and could be gearing up to settle into more consistency at the big-league level in 2021. The young right-hander pitched to a 4.01 ERA and 1.44 WHIP with 44 strikeouts and 34 walks over 58 1/3 innings in 2020. This offseason, Cease worked with White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz to correct mechanical flaws in his lower body and overall command issues. So far, he's looked strong on the mound during Cactus League play. Katz also worked with Giolito to help him turn his MLB career around after the 2018 season.

Then, the unknowns for the remaining potential starters only grow from there. Rodon is fine, but he's battled injuries over the past two seasons and only made 11 appearances (nine starts) as a result. Lopez (career-worst 12.4 percent walk rate in 2020) and Kopech (missed last two seasons due to Tommy John and 2020 opt out) are likely heading to start the season in the bullpen, but could work their way into the rotation since White Sox manager Tony La Russa has said the fourth and fifth spots will be determined via spring training performances. Kopech was one of the key centerpieces in the Chris Sale trade that essentially kicked off the White Sox's rebuild in 2016.

2. Tony La Russa's re-introduction

This offseason, the White Sox fired AL Manager of the Year finalist Rick Renteria before announcing the puzzling hiring of Tony La Russa as the new skipper. It was weird. Everyone thought it was weird.

At first, the biggest concern became the question of how will this 76-year-old formerly retired manager would mesh with an outspoken, fun and bold, young White Sox group? A White Sox group that was vocal in their support for social justice issues, such as the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. The concerns were valid, especially since La Russa went on record multiple times questioning former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick's sincerity during his peaceful protest against police brutality. The issue was brought up during his introductory press conference. Here's what La Russa said:

I know in 2016, when the first issue occurred, my initial instincts were all about respecting the flag and the anthem and what America stands for. A lot has gone on in a very healthy way since 2016, and not only do I respect but I applaud the awareness that has come into not just society but especially in sports. If you talk about baseball, specifically, I applaud and support the fact they are now addressing, identifying the injustices, especially on the racial side. As long as it's peacefully protested and sincere.

And what I'm learning more and more, like with the Players Alliance and especially with the White Sox, when your protests actually have action-oriented results, the way you are going to impact, make things better, I'm all for it.

There is not a racist bone in my body. I do not like injustice, and I would support exactly what I mentioned. Anything peacefully done and sincerely thought of and especially with an action at the end of it will not be a problem.

After he was hired, news then broke that White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf knew about La Russa's recent DUI arrest (his second) and hired him anyway. 

White Sox fans can only hope that La Russa approaches this team and baseball overall in 2021 with a renewed perspective and respect for the way players handle themselves on and off the diamond nowadays. It's a good sign that players, like Tim Anderson, seem on board with the hire now and ready to move forward on the same page.

3. Can they dethrone the Twins?

The White Sox are built to be one of the best teams in the American League, but will this be the year they dethrone the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central? Minnesota has taken home the division crown the last two seasons, but the club didn't necessarily act super aggressive (especially on the pitching front) in its offseason. Considering the Twins are in the middle of an 18-game postseason losing streak --  the longest postseason losing streak in the history of North American pro sports -- you would've thought they'd be out there in the discussions for top free-agent pitchers.

But, alas, they'll now have to deal with their decisions in this upcoming season where the White Sox could very well push their way into a first-place finish. The White Sox were close to taking advantage of the abbreviated 2020 season as they led the division for much of the year but they faltered getting to the finish line and went 3-9 in their last 12 games, losing home-field advantage for the playoffs in the process. A stronger finish during this year's full 162-game season could be the deciding factor for this White Sox club to take home their first division title since 2008.