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White Sox have many free agent outfield options

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The Chicago White Sox have been able to fill their glaring holes this offseason with the addition of two catchers and a second baseman through free agency and trading for an all-star third baseman. Now the team looks to fill another hole in the outfield.

The White Sox need another power bat in the lineup but they also need another defender in the outfield as the team’s outfield defense didn’t consist of a starting player with higher than a -2 Defensive Runs Saved rating according to fangraphs.com.

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With the current free agent market of outfielders consisting of Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon, Dexter Fowler, Gerardo Parra and Denard Span, the White Sox have a handful of different players they could sign to fill a need in the outfield. Although the team has Melky Cabrera signed until 2017, they could perhaps move him to play DH as it appears they will look to trade Adam LaRoche.

Avisail Garcia might be the opening day starter in right field for the White Sox in 2016 but he will need to improve his defense for next season. Garcia had a DRS of -11 according to fangraphs. When assessing Garcia’s outfield skills with the eye test, he looked atrocious at times for the White Sox in right field in 2015.

The White Sox have been rumored to be interested in all-star left fielder and World Series Champion Alex Gordon this past week. The team has also been rumored to have met with the agent of all-star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. If these are any indication of the White Sox understanding the need for an upgrade in the outfield, this franchise could sign its first player to a contract of more than $100 million.

With many options in the free agent market, who should the White Sox target? Should the team sign a young power hitter with a limited defensive skill-set in Upton? Or should they sign a player with a fantastic outfield arm and a proven power hitter but an inability to get on base consistently in Cespedes?

Should the White Sox sign a defensive-minded outfielder in Gordon but deal with the risk that his best offensive days could be behind him?

If the White Sox are looking to improve upon their home run total in 2016, they might want to go after signing Cespedes. The team finished last in the American League last season in total home runs with 136.

They figure to exceed that total in 2016 with the additions of Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie, but there’s still room for improvement. With Cespedes, the White Sox will not only improve their offense, but they will have a reliable arm in left field.

With a fanbase that is looking for a reason to be excited about 2016, trading for Frazier could be a start in the right direction but signing Cespedes could increase ticket sales for next season. Cespedes would also help to solidify the offense as he did when he was traded to the New York Mets before the trading deadline this past July.

With the Mets, Cespedes hit .287 with 17 home runs in 57 games and helped guide the team to its first playoff appearance since 2006. Cespedes began his major league career with the Oakland Athletics in 2012 and played for the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers before being dealt to the Mets.

The case against signing Cespedes is not only his high strikeout total, but in comparison with Gordon and Upton, his on-base percentage is low. Cespedes owns a career .319 OBP and has averaged 143 strikeouts over four seasons.

Although his OBP is low, he has been able to hit more than 22 home runs in each of his four major league seasons. Cespedes had a career-high 35 home runs for the Tigers and Mets last season.

On defense, Cespedes has been a solid outfielder and last season he had an 11 DRS rating as an outfielder according to fangraphs. His DRS rating was 15 as a left fielder for both the Tigers and Mets in 2015. The White Sox could certainly use an upgrade at defense in the corner outfield. However, Cespedes wouldn’t necessarily be the best upgrade at left field defensively for the White Sox.

Oct 28, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon (4) hits a RBI double against the New York Mets in the 8th inning in game two of the 2015 World Series at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

That distinction could belong to Gordon, who posted 27 DRS rating according to fangraphs in 156 games played in left field for the Royals in 2014. Gordon, who was hampered by a groin injury last season for the Royals, appeared in just 101 games in ’15. The 31-year old all-star posted a 7 DRS, one of his lowest ratings since 2010.

With the White Sox being rumored to having interest in Gordon, he could very well fill a need in terms of providing a stable left-handed bat to the team’s lineup. There are going to be concerns about how durable Gordon can be over the duration of his next contract as his age and recent groin injury could cause some White Sox fans to become pessimistic.

Gordon is most likely going to command an annual salary in the range of $18-20 million per year, as will Cespedes. But is Gordon a better option for the White Sox? If judging by Gordon’s career .348 OBP, the answer could be yes. Gordon is a gold-glove winner and so is Cespedes, but the White Sox truly need more players that can get on base.

If the White Sox want to focus on age and on-base percentage, they might need to take a look at Upton. The 28-year old all-star has a career .358 OBP, but is prone to having high strikeouts as he amassed 158 strikeouts at the plate last season for the San Diego Padres. Upton had a career-high 171 strikeouts with the Atlanta Braves in 2011.

Sep 7, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres left fielder Justin Upton (10) is congratulated after scoring during the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Although Upton’s strikeouts are alarmingly high, he does have power which is needed for the White Sox. Upton hit 26 home runs for the Padres in 2015 and hit a career-high 31 home runs in 2011 for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

His home run total could increase if he’s signed by the White Sox as their home ballpark, U.S. Cellular Field, is very hitter-friendly in the summer. Despite Upton’s good offensive abilitities, the White Sox might shy away from signing him over Cespedes or Gordon as he won’t provide a better defensive option than those two players. In 146 games played in left field for the Padres, Upton posted an 8 DRS.

The White Sox will also need to be aware of draft pick compensation when evaluating what free agent outfielder to sign. Its not a given the team will sign any of these players mentioned, but out of the all the players listed, Cespedes and Span are the only players who wouldn’t require the White Sox to forfeit an unprotected draft pick if they were to sign him.

With the team trading three players for Frazier last week, it appears the best option to restock the farm system would be to sign Cespedes.

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