The White Sox continue to explore new ground as an organization. They have emerged on the other side of Hitting Rock Bottom (2013), Admitting You Have A Problem (2013 Trade Deadline and Offseason), and are now ending Phase One of the Rapid Rebuild. They now have a new, good core around which to build (Sale, Abreu, Quintana, Eaton, and Alexei) and a ton of free agent money to do so. I recommend reading James' article on this topic first, but I wanted to poke around and see what else the White Sox could actually do with their newfound wealth.
At last year's deadline, I criticized Rick Hahn in his handling of the Jake Peavy and Alex Rios trades, as everything I read (and frankly, the results) indicated he only wanted to trade with teams who would take on 100% of Rios and Peavy's remaining money. Salary dumping is only a virtue if it actually frees up cash to be used on better things. I have since come around on the Jake Peavy swap purely as an on-the-field move. Peavy is a flawed player, for one. Second, though I still don't think that Avisail Garcia will develop into an impact bat, he could still be pretty good.* Third, the White Sox also got Francellis Montas, who is looking more and more like a good pitching prospect.
*Garcia's track record indicates a horrible control of the strike zone, typically striking out five times for every walk he draws. The other worry is that he looks to be filling out and losing footspeed really quickly as he ages into his mid-20s. The good news is that 1) He no longer has to be The Impact Bat of the Future. Abreu and Eaton have immediately stepped in to be the two best offensive players on the team, and Gillaspie and Alexei Ramirez have improved their production to fill in capably as supporting bats. Avisail can just relax and focus on his development; and 2) In an injury-shortened campaign, he has managed a 7.8 BB%. The average MLB hitter has a 7.7 BB% this year. Garcia does not need to be an elite hitter. If he can manage a decent AVG - decent OBP - decent SLG line and post something to the tune of a 105-115 OPS+ then he's a valuable asset while he's in his team control years. I can envision a roster where Avisail hits 5th and is roughly the 4th or 5th best hitter on the team (when you adjust for position) and is a feature in a generally good lineup.
The Alex Rios trade is never going to be more than a salary dump. I don't care how many positions he plays - if Leury Garcia cannot OPS higher than .500 he is unplayable other than as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. A winning team only carries players like that in September when the rosters expand, and even then you can argue that he isn't worth a 40-man spot, and it looks even worse in the AL.
But, we have seen flickers of the White Sox actually leveraging that freed up cash into something meaningful already. The organization outbid everyone else for Jose Abreu, and I'm pretty sure that was a good move. In that sense, I am happy to consider Jose Abreu as the real return for Alex Rios. Given the way the contracts were structured, the money freed up for Rios approximately covers the first two years of Abreu's salary.
There were reasons to dump Gordon Beckham and Alejandro de Aza beyond money - although that was a huge part of it. Beckham and de Aza are perfectly serviceable as bench players when they are owed something between $500,000 and $2 million a year. But as their arbitration years advanced, they were set to be paid something like $10 million between the two of them next year. That's another $10 million that can be leveraged into something else.
Other players are set to come off the books - $4 million committed to Lindstrom this year is free next year, as is $2.5 million for Konerko, and Dunn's salary will clear. That leaves the White Sox with only $46.5 million in player payroll for 2015. (Data courtesy of Baseball Prospectus' Cot's Contracts). Once you sprinkle in the players who will be making the minimum and some modest arbitration bumps (albeit, some of those are to players where there's a small chance they will just be let go, like Viciedo and Belisario), you're look at about $55 million at most in current commitments.
The 2014 Chicago White Sox cost $90 million, which is the lowest the team has fielded since the 2005 edition. Since then they have run payrolls out as high as $127 million and $118 million when they have attempted to make a playoff push, and have only dipped just below $100 million a couple of times since the World Series win. With revenues and player contracts generally increasing all over baseball over the past few years, one has to imagine the White Sox could easily add $30-35 million for next year, and it's not inconceivable that they could take on as much as $70 million. Whether the players to match those kinds of outlays are out there is a different story, but they've spent that kind of money before.
So what's available?
As James pointed out, I like the idea of Melky Cabrera - I think he's a good fit for the offense - a switch hitter with contact ability who will not need to move to 1B/DH for the foreseeable future. I also agree with James that Tyler Flowers has played well enough such that the White Sox should not make any sizable investment to upgrade the position. But, now that Adrian Nieto has been successfully stashed on the major league roster, he can be sent to Charlotte next year to get every day at bats, and a legitimate backup catcher could be brought in for 2015. Geovany Soto could be decent Flowers Insurance should he be willing to do a cheap, short deal to rebuild his value.
Given Matt Davidson's struggles, I wouldn't mind the White Sox finding a right-handed complement to Conor Gillaspie, allowing Gillaspie to sit against tougher lefties and bounce between 3B and 1B as needed. Chase Headley may have played himself into being affordable. A solid glove at third base, and a true switch hitter, Headley would give the roster flexibility it hasn't had for a while. You would also be leveraging an organizational strength - keeping players healthy - into getting more value out of a brittle player. He has shown huge signs of decline in the past few years, but he will be 31 next year, not 35 or something, and some of those may just be the result of some combination of the following: a) Yeah, 2012 is gone forever, but that's okay because that was an insane year; b) PetCo; and c) injuries that may now be behind him.
Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez obviously have their virtues, but that seems like more risk than the White Sox need to take on at the prices they will command. We also do not know whether Hanley is willing to move off of shortstop without being very unhappy about it. And defensive metrics aside, I am not confident that Sandoval will stay at 3B for much longer.
Colby Rasmus is an intriguing option. Given how young he was when he reached the majors, he is reaching free agency despite only celebrating his 28th birthday last month. He's been a controversial player after a fashion, with an outspoken father who has strong opinions about his swing that has rubbed some people the wrong way. He has had ups and downs at the plate, but has also flashed All Star caliber production. With Adam Eaton locking down CF, Rasmus would be more than capable in a corner, and even a long-term commitment would only begin to scrape his mid-30s.
As far as the pitching goes, there are a lot of vacancies to fill. Sale, Quintana, Petricka, and Putnam look like positive assets to varying degrees moving forward. Danks looks like he will be sitting at the back of the rotation for better or for worse due to that contract. Carlos Rodon is knocking on the door. Javy Guerra should probably get another shot to be a low-leverage reliever next year, and Scott Carroll could actually be a good long reliever. But obviously, help is needed.
The big names are Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields. I like them in that order purely on pitching ability, although I think Shields occupies that ugly spot on the venn diagram where price and ability overlap unfavorably. Expensive enough to be really, really not worth it. In addition to the names floated by James in his article, I think there's a chance the Blue Jays opt for Brandon Morrow's $1 million buyout instead of his $10 million option for next season. There's a chance Don Cooper and Herm Schneider can still extract some value out of what was once a very exciting prospect who just turned 30.
As far as bullpen options, you obviously want to keep your bullpen spending to a minimum. But arms that I think are worth checking out are Luke Gregerson, Andrew Bailey, Luke Hochevar, and old favorite, Neal Cotts.
Feel free to poke around and see if there are any names that don't turn your stomach!
So the White Sox have plenty of options, but...
For all that the team's best players are all in their prime right now and every year that the team isn't competing is another year of their prime "wasted", most of these guys should still be good in 2016 as well. If only a few pieces are the right fit this offseason, you don't need to spend money just because you have it. It might be wisest to add where value is good to shore up weaknesses on the roster, and continue to consolidate for 2016. If you do that, you can hope to be lucky and compete in 2015 anyway, while still maintaining an upward trajectory for a legitimate championship-caliber team in 2016.
As Rick Hahn said, it's not clear whether they will push their chips in on one or two huge investments, or sprinkle it around for depth, patching holes with mid-tiered free agents. I think I prefer the former strategy with the right player, as elite players have more margin for error should they decline than merely average ones, but obviously it stings more if you get it wrong entirely. The other argument in favor of big stars is that they are more efficient uses of roster spots, and you can dig around on the scrap heap and on the margins to find a supporting cast. Fortunately, the White Sox already have their stars, and can realistically say they're just looking to build around them at this point.
Another key: The White Sox are currently sitting at the 8th pick overall in the 2015 draft, but there are a lot of teams bunched up around them. Depending on what happens in the next few weeks, the White Sox may or may not have their 1st round pick protected should they sign a player who declines a qualifying offer. I think there's a chance that fewer mid-level FAs will decline the QO this year, given the experience of Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew, to name a few, but the high end guys will absolutely still do it. If the White Sox don't have a Top 10 pick, they would surrender it to sign such a player. If they do have a Top 10 pick, it would be their second-rounder instead.
Also - this article does not address the potential for trades, which is something that will be discussed by us and explored by the front office in the coming months.
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