At one point and time this offseason, it was almost a given that the Chicago White Sox were going to easily run away with the American League Central this year. Well, that's not quite the case anymore. After winning the AL Central for the first time since 2008 last year, the White Sox will enter the 2022 season with more competition for the top spot in the division, with the Minnesota Twins having made a huge offseason splash when they signed top free agent Carlos Correa. The rest of the division is a little further behind, but either way, the White Sox likely can't sleepwalk their way to a divisional repeat.
Now let's have a closer look at what may be in store for the White Sox in the season to come.
Win total projection, odds
- 2021 Record: 93-69 (first in AL Central, lost ALDS to Astros)
- 2022 SportsLine projection: 89-73
- World Series odds (via Caesars Sportsbook): +1200
- SS Tim Anderson
- CF Luis Robert
- 1B José Abreu
- 3B Yoán Moncada
- LF Eloy Jiménez
- C Yasmani Grandal
- DH Gavin Sheets
- 2B Josh Harrison
- RF Leury García
The White Sox have offense to spare. If they can stay healthy, that is. The lineup is young, dynamic and explosive when their best players aren't missing time with injury. The White Sox lineup can also be commended for their patient approach at the plate; last year, they finished with the fourth-most walks (586) in the league and third-best on-base percentage (.336).
The newly acquired Josh Harrison will take over at second base, a weak spot for the club last season. Harrison, 34, is coming off a 2021 campaign in which he batted .279/.341/.400 with eight home runs and nine stolen bases in 138 games for the A's and Nationals. He could find himself in the lineup every day, or the White Sox could decide to shift him to more of a utility role since he played every position except catcher and first base in 2021. Right field and DH are a bit questionable since the Sox will be hoping for breakout seasons from Adam Engel, Andrew Vaughn, and/or Gavin Sheets.
Bullpen: CL Liam Hendriks. SU Craig Kimbrel, SU Aaron Bummer, SU Joe Kelly, MID Kendall Graveman, MID Garrett Crochet, MID José Ruiz, MID Reynaldo López, MID Ryan Burr, LR Matt Foster, LR Vince Velasquez
Chicago is returning most of its rotation from last year, aside from Carlos Rodón, who signed a two-year deal with the San Francisco Giants in free agency. Even with the loss of Rodón -- which is a big one considering the lefty was an All-Star and finished fifth in AL Cy Young voting last year -- the White Sox still boast so much pitching depth. Right-hander Michael Kopech is expected to work his way back into the rotation this year after filling in at long relief last year. The White Sox bullpen is also stacked, with the club adding Joe Kelly and Kendall Graveman this offseason.
Here are three questions for the White Sox heading into the 2022 season.
1. Can the full lineup stay healthy?
The White Sox battled injuries all season long last year. It felt like every week was another tough loss to their stacked roster. Three of their top players missed huge chunks of the 2021 campaign; Eloy Jiménez played 55 games last year, Luis Robert played 68 and Yasmani Grandal played 93. José Abreu and Tim Anderson both hit the injured list for periods of time, as well. Nick Madrigal suffered a torn hamstring too, ending his season before he was sent to the Cubs in the Craig Kimbrel trade.
And while the Sox managed to overcome injuries last year, but it's going to be a lot tougher to be serious contenders if they face prologued absences from their top players. The Twins are nipping at their heels, and there's potential for a surprise push in the division from the Tigers, who signed Michael Pineda and Javier Báez this offseason.
Jiménez, who suffered a torn pectoral tendon in spring training last year that forced him to miss the first four months of the regular-season, told MLB Network that his personal goal this season is to stay healthy. "Stay healthy and help the team," he told MLB Network. "If I stay healthy, I know I can do a lot of things."
2. How will Kopech fare in the rotation?
In 2022, the best-case scenario for Michael Kopech would be the right-hander becoming a core piece of the White Sox rotation. The 25-year-old mostly pitched out of the bullpen last season in his first big-league action since 2018. After years of being heralded as a top prospect, Kopech joined the White Sox rotation in 2018 but after just four MLB starts, he suffered a torn UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery. He missed all of the 2019 season. Then, in 2020, Kopech chose to opt out of the abbreviated season. Because Kopech missed the entirety of the 2019 and 2020 seasons and tossed only 69 1/3 regular-season innings in 2021, the White Sox are sure to proceed with his reentry into the rotation with a cautious approach and likely a strict pitch count.
"It's always been my dream job to be a starting pitcher," Kopech told the Chicago Tribune earlier this month. "Obviously being a reliever in the big leagues is nothing to be upset about. I loved it last year. We have a great bullpen and a great starting staff. No complaints on my end. But being able to work my way back into the rotation hopefully, that's what I want."
The question is really, how will Kopech look in 2022? There's a huge upside for the young pitcher; there's that filthy slider and the walk numbers could improve once he's out of the bullpen. Kopech relies on his four-seam fastball and slider most of the time.
"For the most part, the biggest thing I took out of being in the bullpen is just being able to rise to the occasion or rise to the moment that you were called to be in," Kopech told the Tribune. "In a starting routine, you start and you have time to work up to that moment. As a reliever, you're thrown right into that moment. I think those big moments as a starter won't come as such a shock to me now that I've had the chance to work out of the bullpen."
3. Can they go further in October?
On paper, this team is set for a deep playoff run. However, that was also the case last year. The White Sox were up against a powerful Houston Astros offense in the ALDS, but the 1-2-3 of Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, and Carlos Rodón should have made the series more competitive.
The Astros outscored the White Sox 31-18, and won the series 3-1. At this point, the White Sox are far past the rebuilding point, their time is now. They're aiming for a lot more than first-round postseason exits. The last time the White Sox won a postseason series was when they won their 2005 World Series title. The question for the White Sox isn't really if they're built for a playoff run, they are, it's more a matter of can they get it done this year. The talent's there, and now it's just a matter of making it happen.