CHICAGO -- The World Series champion Royals defeated the White Sox in 12 of 19 games, which is the bad news for the South Siders, along with the team not making the playoffs for a seventh straight season.
Nine of those 12 setbacks were by two runs or fewer, showing in some ways that the White Sox aren't that far removed from the best, although it certainly looked to the contrary during a disappointing '15 campaign. Now the Hot Stove job for general manager Rick Hahn and his staff is figuring out the best way for the team to take the next significant step.
Free agents/options: The Jeff Samardzija /White Sox coupling did not work in '15, but the club still will make a qualifying offer to the right-handed hurler. Samardzija is set to test the open market and will turn down that offer, eventually leaving the club with a compensatory Draft pick.
Alexei Ramirez becomes a more interesting decision. The veteran shortstop is coming off of a tough season, but would like to stay with the White Sox, the only team he has known since coming to Major League Baseball from Cuba before the 2008 season. The team on Wednesday decided not to exercise a $10 million option or a $1 million buyout for '16 on Ramirez. With top prospect Tim Anderson not quite big league-ready at shortstop, the team could discuss with Ramirez a lower-cost, multiyear deal. Reliever Matt Albers, infielder Gordon Beckham and catcher Geovany Soto also are set to hit free agency.
Needs: If the White Sox go with Carlos Sanchez, Micah Johnson and/or Tyler Saladino at second base, then third base and catcher seem to be their primary targets. Tyler Flowers will return behind the plate, but whether he returns as a starter has yet to be determined. The White Sox have Erik Johnson to slot in behind their rotation's front three and in front of John Danks, but figure to look for a second-tier type of free agent to fill out the starting five.
Potential targets: Don't look for the White Sox to get involved in the bidding for free agents such as David Price or Yoenis Cespedes. They certainly have spent when the player fit their short-term and long-term plan, see Abreu or the offer made to Masahiro Tanaka as examples, but loading up on big-ticket players has not been their style. A free agent such as Matt Wieters could be interesting behind the plate, and the team also has had interest in Houston's Jason Castro. Trades seem to be more likely than major free-agent splashes.
Trade assets: Quintana's name frequently gets brought up in the "you have to give up something excellent to get something excellent in return" scenario. But the White Sox seem more inclined to trade some of their younger Minor League hurlers as opposed to breaking down their Major League strong suit.
Trayce Thompson's emergence basically gives the outfielder/designated hitter situation an extra player, although the team doesn't seem ready to give up on Avisail Garcia after one full season and would have a tough time trading Adam LaRoche with $13 million owed for '16 after a highly disappointing '15 showing. The question to be answered is whether the White Sox have enough young talent to package for a front-line player.
Financial situation: The White Sox have about $84 million committed to nine players for '16, with Sale, Quintana, Abreu, Eaton and Robertson locked down to long-term deals. The team's upcoming budget hasn't been discussed and usually isn't discussed publicly, but it is expected to have some room to maneuver for improvements.
Bottom line: It's a difficult offseason to figure out for the White Sox. They should be better simply due to the plethora of new players entering '15 having a season playing together, so don't look for wholesale changes again.