Sox offseason: 9 free-agent options for right field originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Look around the diamond and up and down the lineup of the Chicago White Sox team that just made a disappointingly quick exit from the postseason, and there aren't many places to make a change.
The front office purposefully built a long-term contender, locking in young, promising players at their respective positions. One clunker of a playoff series won't force Rick Hahn to blow things up.
But that doesn't mean there aren't areas to address, and right field could certainly be one of the places where Hahn & Co. look to make an offseason splash, as was the subject of the latest White Sox Talk Podcast.
Of course, the White Sox aren't without internal candidates to fill the position at least to start the 2022 season. Andrew Vaughn would figure to be the top choice already in the team's employ after he impressively filled in for the injured Eloy Jiménez in left field this past season. Vaughn flashed plenty of versatility, playing 18 games in right, and as his bat continues to develop, he would figure to be a valuable long-term member of the South Side lineup, as he showed flashes of being during his rookie season.
Adam Engel might be most valuable as a fourth outfielder, but the impressive combination of defense and offense he's shown, when healthy, over the past two seasons would make him a candidate for playing time in right, too.
But if the White Sox want to compete with their fellow contenders in the arms race in the American League, they'll need to bulk up their already talented roster. So here's a look at nine options slated to hit the free-agent market who could fit the bill of strengthening a White Sox team looking to make a World Series run in 2022.
The 29-year-old Castellanos has been on White Sox fans' free-agent wish list before, and he could be near the top of it this winter after a career year with the Cincinnati Reds. He posted personal bests with a .309 batting average, a .362 on-base percentage and a .576 slugging percentage, hitting 34 home runs and racking up 100 RBIs.
The offensive production is off the charts, and he's got a history of mashing the ball against the White Sox from his days as a division rival with the Detroit Tigers. He's driven in 61 runs against South Side pitching, the most against a single opponent in his career.
It's easy to argue that Castellanos would be a fit in any contender's lineup, and the White Sox are no exception. The Scott Boras client can opt out of his current deal this winter and would likely get a payday bigger than the $16 million one he's due from the Reds for 2022.
Long a Crosstown rival, Bryant coming back to Chicago has its allure, obviously, as he swings a historically productive bat and can play all over the field. The White Sox could surely utilize that versatility most in right field, where he's logged 109 games in his career, including 39 last year with the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants.
Much like Castellanos, dropping Bryant, a former MVP, into the middle of an already scary lineup would do the job of bulking the White Sox up for an extended playoff run in 2022. He would also bring the experience of 44 postseason games, including that World Series win in 2016.
But Bryant, another Boras client, might not be keen to return to the Windy City, even to the other side of town, after an emotional departure from the North Side. Being on the West Coast, closer to home in Las Vegas, might be more appealing for the 29-year-old right now.
The left-handed-hitting Conforto was terrific during the shortened 2020 campaign, beefing up his potential free agency with a .927 OPS. But the numbers took a dip in 2021, the full-season power that produced 33 homers in 2019 falling to just 14 dingers in 125 games this past season with the New York Mets. The OPS that was so good last year dropped to .729.
Of course, that doesn't mean that the 28-year-old, another Boras client, can't be pegged for a bright future, as he's done plenty of producing to this point in his major league career. But he might not get White Sox fans jazzed like his more established counterparts in this winter's free-agent class. Just twice in six full-length seasons has he played more than 125 games.
Taylor, who just staged some eye-popping heroics for the Los Angeles Dodgers during the postseason, isn't exactly a right fielder. It's not that he couldn't be an answer in right — or second base, for that matter — it's just that he's best suited to be an answer all over the field. Much like Leury García, who White Sox fans know well as a valuable piece that can play multiple positions, Taylor, who made the National League All-Star team in 2021, is perhaps an even better version.
That's a very big positive, of course, and adding Taylor to the mix would be huge for the White Sox, as they'd get a guy who played six positions this past season — eight of them in right field — and showed off his knack for coming up with some big hits, hitting three home runs in an elimination game. While a career .779 OPS might not scream monster offseason splash, Taylor has a world of playoff experience, with 62 postseason games under his belt and three trips to the World Series in the last five years.
Here's another guy who's no right fielder, having never played the position in his major league career. But the 33-year-old Marte has a couple Gold Gloves on his mantle and could be a creative solution to the White Sox' right-field woes.
What wouldn't take much thought at all is how impactful he could be in the game's other facets. Marte had a career year in 2021, slashing .308/.381/.456 splitting time between the Miami Marlins and Oakland Athletics. He was a midseason shot in the arm for the A's and stole a whopping 47 bags on the season.
Given his age and limited power — just 12 homers and 55 RBIs in 2021 — he's not exactly another Luis Robert. But he is a Gold Glove winner, he is a speed threat on the bases, and he does have the ability to make a team go. Not a bad set of skills to find a place for, regardless of his lack of experience in right field.
He just smacked the third pitch of the World Series for a home run, but the current Atlanta Brave will be better known to White Sox fans for his time spent mashing as a Kansas City Royal and a one-time Cub.
It's true that Soler exploded as what seemed like one of the game's biggest power threats with a bonkers 2019 season in Kansas City, hitting an AL-best 48 homers and racking up a .922 OPS. His numbers dipped, though, this season, to just 27 homers — 14 of those, though, came in the 55 games he played after a midseason trade to the Braves. Before that deal, he was woeful at the plate, hitting just .192 for the Royals.
Pederson's name has been linked to the White Sox in various offseason and in-season rumors for years, it seems. He's playing alongside Soler in the World Series right now, gaining as much attention for his jewelry choices as he is for another batch of postseason heroics: three more homers to boost his career total to a dozen dingers in 76 career playoff games.
All that October experience and October success would figure to be a valuable commodity, as the Dodgers and now the Braves found out over the seven straight postseasons he's played in.
But Pederson's reputation as only a part-time player continues to follow him around, his career .832 OPS against right-handers dwarfing the pedestrian .610 mark he has in his career against lefties. He spat in the face of that narrative a bit in 2021 — .733 OPS against righties, .726 against lefties — but still seems questionable as a team's full-time right fielder.
Blackmon's got four All-Star appearances, a couple Silver Sluggers and a top-five MVP finish to his name, but it was bad timing for his worst season as a big leaguer. After posting a collective .880 OPS over the course of seven seasons, the 35-year-old had a mark of .761 during the 2021 season.
Playing his home games at Coors Field for his entire major league career, Blackmon amassed some glaring home-road splits, with a .967 OPS in 619 games in Denver and a .742 OPS in 650 games everywhere else. That's a red flag that's hard to miss for any non-Colorado Rockies team interested in employing Blackmon next season.
We're more than a half decade removed from the end of McCutchen's elite four-year run as one of the best players on the planet. But he's remained plenty useful since, and that includes in 2021, when he had a very nice year for the Philadelphia Phillies, hitting 27 homers, driving in 80 runs and walking 81 times.
No one would suggest that the 35-year-old is a long-term solution in right field on the South Side. But doesn't McCutchen seem like the kind of guy who could come up huge hitting at the bottom of the lineup for a team that wins the World Series? Only one team can sign Castellanos, only one can sign Bryant, only one can sign Conforto and so on. Consider McCutchen a very interesting potential consolation prize.