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Series preview: Chicago White Sox' big offseason a flop so far

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Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates technically face the White Sox in two consecutive upcoming series, one two-gamer in Pittsburgh and another in Chicago. This post previews both.

POSITION PLAYERS

.243/.297/.355. -1.3 fWAR, last in the American League. Yeeesh. The White Sox' two best hitters this season have been Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche, and fortunately for the Pirates, only one of them will get to play Monday and Tuesday, since there won't be a DH in PNC Park. (Perhaps the White Sox will have LaRoche sit and spare him the boos.) Abreu hasn't been quite as good as he was when he took the league by storm last year, but he's still a formidable power threat. LaRoche has hit for a low average, but has a .348 OBP and eight home runs.

Other than those two guys and young corner outfielder Avisail Garcia, the White Sox' position players have been massively disappointing. Melky Cabrera is the worst culprit -- his three-year deal has resulted in a .240/.278/.277 line so far. Alexei Ramirez, Tyler Flowers, Conor Gillaspie and Adam Eaton haven't helped, either, and neither has much of anyone on the White Sox' bench. More on the Sox' position players later.

PITCHING

4.14 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 3.75 xFIP. 7.0 fWAR, sixth in the American League. The quality of the White Sox' pitching staff has so far been masked by an awful team defense (last in baseball in defensive efficiency), and to judge their pitchers on their ERA wouldn't do them justice. Still, though, they White Sox' pitchers are nothing the Bucs can't handle, especially since they won't face Chris Sale this week.

Monday's starter is Carlos Rodon, the third overall pick in last year's draft. He's tremendously exciting, with good velocity for a lefty and a tremendous slider.

Rodon's inexperience still shows, though, in the 24 walks he's allowed in 40 2/3 innings this year. He's also basically a two-pitch guy at this point.

The Bucs face another young lefty, Jose Quintana, on Tuesday. Quintana's stuff isn't as good as Rodon's, but he's quietly been a reliable mid-rotation type for the past several years. On Wednesday, the White Sox will send John Danks, who has improved his strikeout and walk numbers after a poor 2014 season but whose fly ball rate has increased, making his starts in homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field a struggle. Thursday's starter is Jeff Samardzija, who's been mediocre in his first (and perhaps only) season on the South Side. Samardzija's peripherals are mostly intact, however, and of course he's historically dominated Pirates hitters, holding them to a .580 OPS for his career.

Closer David Robertson has been everything the White Sox were likely hoping for when they signed him to a gargantuan contract last offseason, and young-ish righties Zach Putnam and Daniel Webb could give the Pirates trouble as well. Zach Duke seems to have remembered he's Zach Duke this season, however, and Hector Noesi (who I assume the Pirates won't face unless there's a blowout or an extra-inning game) is a bad pitcher even by long-reliever standards. The Sox bullpen does have one wild card in Junior Guerra (who isn't the same guy as Javy Guerra, who also pitched for them this year). Guerra, a 30-year-old journeyman who has pitched in U.S. independent ball as well as in Mexico, Venezuela and Italy (!), signed a minor-league deal with the White Sox last offseason and posted great strikeout rates in the minors. He made his big-league debut last weekend.

OUTLOOK

The White Sox' 28-33 record likely isn't what they expected heading into the season, but it's actually better than they deserve -- 3rd order winning percentage indicates they're something like a 24-37 team, and their -53 run differential beats only the Phillies, Brewers and Red Sox.

Particularly compared to the Padres' splashy offseason, I liked the White Sox' attention-grabbing moves last winter -- with a core of Abreu, Sale, Quintana and Rodon already in place, the White Sox clearly had talent, and Going For It seemed ambitious but reasonable. Plainly, though, their plan isn't working. Abreu, Sale and Quintana have held up their end of the bargain, and Rodon might be about to. So have new additions LaRoche and Robertson. Samardzija hasn't, although much of that is the fault of the White Sox' defense.

The Sox' complementary position players are to blame, and I'm not sure the White Sox should have seen that coming.

Name 2014 fWAR 2015 fWAR
Ramirez 3.0 -0.7
Eaton 2.9 -0.2
Cabrera 2.4 -0.8
Flowers 1.6 -0.4
Gillaspie 1.4 -0.2

These players did, of course, have flaws of which the White Sox should have been aware. Before the season, Cabrera was an inconsistent player with a PED past. Ramirez hated walking like cats hate baths. Eaton had a .359 BABIP last year. And so on. But with the possible exception of Cabrera, the White Sox didn't need these guys to be stars. They just needed them to complement a terrific rotation, a solid bullpen, and Abreu. They haven't done that, either offensively or defensively, and the White Sox remain stuck in neutral.