Highs, lows: Abreu soars, pen a headache

CHICAGO -- When putting all the pieces together, a shaky first half for the Chicago White Sox still had more positives than negatives when considering the bigger picture.

Jose Abreu was definitely the brightest light for the White Sox over the opening three-plus months, but there were other positives, as well, mostly on the offensive side.

While deficiencies still remain, and were largely responsible for a first-half record that was six games under .500 at 45-51, the team has proven that the roster rebuild that began last season has the chance to turn the White Sox into a contender again in far less time than some predicted.

With that, let's review what went right in the first half of the 2014 season and what didn't go exactly as planned.


The rebuild: Things got off to an intriguing start last season when the White Sox managed to flip Jake Peavy for a long-term answer in the outfield in Avisail Garcia. While an injury robbed Garcia of most of the 2014 season, offseason additions such as Abreu and Adam Eaton have shown that the retooling of the roster is headed in the right direction, although more additions are necessary.

Abreu: The six-year, $68 million investment in Abreu this past winter has been nothing short of a bargain so far. Abreu is much more than baseball's home run leader at the midway point with 29. His foul-pole-to-foul-pole approach at the plate suggests a multi-dimensional hitting approach that can avoid long slumps, while his strong work ethic is the perfect example for a clubhouse that is turning to youth. Abreu isn't just the next generation of White Sox run producers, he is the next generation of baseball's offensive stars.

Eaton: If turning Peavy into Garcia last season was impressive, getting Eaton essentially for Hector Santiago has been general manager Rick Hahn's best trade of the past year. A firecracker at the top of the order, Eaton has flashed speed along with an ability to get on base. Add that to some steady defense in center field and the White Sox now have a leadoff man that much of the league can envy. First-half leg issues are a concern, but Eaton seems to have gotten past that speed bump.

Alexei Ramirez: Ever since Ramirez signed a contract extension before the 2011 season he seemed to plateau, not necessarily getting any worse but not getting better, either. Well, he has skyrocketed this season, essentially ascending to a point that the White Sox figured he would have been climbing to for the past three years. His production has dipped since June, but he has shown that offensively, as well as defensively, he has plenty left in the tank. It is making his current contract, potentially through 2016, look very team friendly again.

John Danks: Two years removed from shoulder surgery, the veteran has finally started to look like his old self. Since making some minor adjustments to his mechanics in mid-May, the left-hander has posted a 2.69 ERA over his past 10 starts. With a changeup he can count on again, Danks has solidified a dynamic trio of left-handers at the top of the rotation along with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.


The bullpen: Trading former closer Addison Reed for third baseman Matt Davidson has yet to yield the White Sox anything but a headache in the late innings. Nate Jones' back injury didn't do the team any favors, either. Davidson might be one of the home run leaders at the Triple-A level with 17, but other deficiencies in his game have prevented him from being called up. Meanwhile, the White Sox still haven't found a dependable closer, going from Matt Lindstrom to Ronald Belisario to a bevy of candidates who have played hot potato with the job in recent weeks. With their roles now up in the air, the relief corps has looked lost. Lindstrom could return at some point in August, with Jones' return unknown.

Back end of the rotation: The White Sox took a flier on Felipe Paulino this winter, and what seemed to be a calculated gamble when they put Erik Johnson in the rotation out of spring training. Neither move worked, and the club has been scrambling to fill those spots ever since. The best starting option to fill one of those spots so far has been Hector Noesi, a struggling reliever who was cut from two teams this year only to reinvent himself as a starter. If the next wave of the rebuild needs a main target, this area of the roster would be a fine choice.

Catcher: Sacrificing power for plate coverage appeared to be just the answer Tyler Flowers needed when the season started. Flowers had a .357 batting average as of May 3, but it has been all downhill from there. He has done a solid job of handling the pitching staff, but at some point the White Sox are going to need some consistent offense from their catcher. Adrian Nieto has been a nice find as the backup catcher, but he is too green to take over the everyday job. Josh Phegley is having a solid season at Triple-A and remains an option.

Defense: One of the best defenses in 2012 became one of the worst in 2013 and this year, the White Sox expected to settle somewhere in the middle of those two performances. Instead, 2014 has been more like last year. Ramirez and Eaton have improved things at shortstop and center field, respectively, but the White Sox are still 27th among the 30 teams in baseball with a .982 fielding percentage, and their 66 errors are 26th. They are particularly vulnerable at the corner outfield spots with Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza.

The trade market: It remains to be seen if the White Sox have enough assets to make any deals of significance at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, which sits just two weeks away. With a number of second base prospects in the system, Gordon Beckham could be used as trade bait, but Beckham alone in a deal might not get the White Sox the kind of impact player that can fit into the team's young core like they are looking for. Viciedo remains a possibility to be traded, and it isn't even out of the question that Adam Dunn could be moved to a contender that needs some left-handed power down the stretch.