Zach Duke was added for 3-years and $15 million, and Adam LaRoche joins the White Sox for 2-years, $25 million. Yes, these are mid-level free agents that address areas of need. The lineup needed patience and power, a left-handed bat, and there was room at 1B/DH. The bullpen was very bad last year, and there are very few internal options when it comes to lefty relievers in particular, so Duke makes sense there. But both of these signings have a lot in common, and I think they make a strong statement about where the front office thinks the team is.
Given that the White Sox' first round pick is protected, I was very interested to see whether the organization was willing to surrender their second rounder to sign a free agent who had declined a qualifying offer. They still could, obviously, but they haven't yet - neither Duke nor LaRoche implicated draft pick compensation. Similarly, while 3-years is long for a reliever, neither signing goes beyond the 2017 season.
I think both players should be solid throughout the length of their short deals. I am not expecting anything phenomenal - and, frankly, if they can manage to maintain their production from 2014, the White Sox are coming out ahead of the game and should not complain at all. Both players have the potential to be terrible - relievers are volatile, injuries are always a possibility, LaRoche is aging into his late 30s, etc. etc. But, as silly as it sounds, they only cost money. No draft picks, no PAs or innings taken away from real prospects who need them. Nothing else. The White Sox have also positioned themselves where they can afford to take risks with money - using this money doesn't prevent them from making any other moves they'd like to or would make but-for having committed the dollars to LaRoche and Duke. Even with the ~$17.5 million added for next year for these two players, the White Sox would still rank 28th in salary in the majors, and would still have something like $40-50 million to spare given their recent payrolls.
So, I don't really see a down side to these signings.
The important thing to me, though, beyond what LaRoche and Duke provide or don't provide on the field, is where the White Sox think they are competitively. We have always known - given the mentality of ownership, etc. - that they weren't going to rebuild until the rebuild was forced upon them. We also knew that they would try to accelerate the rebuild as much as possible. 2014 was year one, and given that Quintana consolidated his gains, Eaton and Abreu were everything we could have possibly hoped for, and so forth, it went quite well. So do they think they're going to compete in 2015?
These additions tell me that the White Sox think, "Actually, maybe yes! We may not need to wait until 2016 to be a playoff team again."
Next season, with good luck - health and sustained performance from their stars, steps forward from young players like Avisail Garcia and at least one of the middle infield prospects, etc. - they are in a position to compete for the division. If Duke and LaRoche do what they're capable of then it only makes the 2015 squad that much better, replacing a lot of the PAs that went to Konerko's .572 OPS, or the Surkamp/Veal nightmare.
Conversely, if they have some bad luck and fall out of it, they have compromised absolutely zero resources or future assets that they will want for 2016. The White Sox already have a new, young, cost-controlled core already. They're currently supplementing it in a way that improves their chances for 2015. There are still a lot of areas of need, but it's been fascinating to watch a team build this way. Whether it will work is an open question, but I can see the logic - and I am a lot more convinced that they can pull off their "No, it's not a rebuild" rebuild thing the way that they have than when they started doing it.
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