As incredible as the offseason roster additions were by the Chicago White Sox front office, one area that wasn't addressed as well was team defense.
It remains one of the club’s bigger question marks, along with how the bullpen handles the innings in front of new closer David Robertson.
That’s not to say there weren’t any upgrades in the field, it’s just that none jumped off the page like the addition of Jeff Samardzija to the rotation, the acquisition of Robertson for the bullpen and the arrival of Melky Cabrera for lineup continuity out of the No. 2 spot.
Cabrera, though, does represent a defensive upgrade in left field. Nobody is going to confuse him with a Gold Glover, but the simple move from Dayan Viciedo to Cabrera in left means that the outfield defense just improved.
Cabrera’s plus arm also gives the White Sox solid throwers in the outfield from Cabrera to Adam Eaton in center field and Avisail Garcia in right. The jury is still out on Garcia’s overall defense in right field.
Fleet of foot for a big man, Garcia is still a work in progress when it comes to routes and reaction time on hard hit balls.
The biggest defensive concern for the White Sox, though, resides on the infield. The infield corner defense of Conor Gillaspie at third base and Jose Abreu at first ranked in the bottom half of baseball. As a big man, Abreu’s range never will be great, but his footwork and his ability to dig balls out of the dirt are slowly moving in the right direction.
The White Sox are also expected to see a defensive upgrade from Gillaspie after the long offseason, but his battle with plantar fasciitis restricted his movement. Gillaspie said it was a non-issue, and manager Robin Ventura added the foot problem is now behind him.
Defense also brings the battle for the second base job into closer examination. Both Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez played well in the battle for the job, and Johnson is believed to be the likely candidate to start at second on Monday at Kansas City.
Sanchez, though, actually plays better defense. With both players making the Opening Day roster, the winner of the only spring battle remains unknown.
Can the White Sox afford to have three average to below-average defenders on its four-man infield?
That lone plus defender on the infield would be shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who vaulted himself into Gold Glove contention last year by bouncing back from a troubled 2013. Ramirez did not with the award, but finished among the top three finalists.
Also finishing as a Gold Glove finalist last year was Eaton, who will now be the anchor in center for a long time after signing a five-year, $23.5 million extension that includes two team option years that could take the deal to 2021.
If defense is an issue once the season starts, the White Sox do have options, although each of them would probably mean an offensive downgrade.
Even if Johnson wins the second base job, Sanchez could also replace him there even if his offense doesn’t project to be as dynamic. Gordon Beckham could be used at third as a defensive upgrade at third, although he was a shortstop in college and a second baseman during most of his time with the White Sox so his repetitions at third have been limited.
The final defensive upgrade could come by playing Geovany Soto over Tyler Flowers at catcher, although at the age of 32, the risk of injury is always present if Soto ends up in heavy rotation. Soto is solid against the opponents' running game.
One change on defense that wouldn't affect offense would be to have Adam LaRoche play more first base over Abreu, wth Abreu taking more days in LaRoche's designated hitter spot. But the White Sox are wise in getting Abreu as many days on defense as possible since he isn't going to get better by watching, and they don't want to be dealing with his defensive shortcomings in two years when LaRoche's contract expires.
While the pitching mound certainly resembles an island, no pitcher can work alone. An improved White Sox pitching staff is going to need a solid defense behind it to deliver the results that are expected.