TCS Morning 5: Signs of actual free agency

1. After the curious departure of their GM, a disappointing 2015 that included a deadline sell-off, the Tigers are somehow still being the Tigers of the past five seasons: they're effing going for it. Jon Heyman reported they reached a deal with right-hander Jordan Zimmermann in the neighborhood of five years and roughly $110 million.

It's not a great move--Zimmermann will be 30 in May and is coming off a down year where his stuff and velocity took a step back--but it's an aggressive one. It's a move that says the Tigers will continue to chase playoff berths while they still have productive years left from Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander (And J.D. Martinez factors in here now too, as does all that money they're giving Anibal Sanchez).

They're right to do so. The Tigers did very well acquiring near-MLB ready help during their sell-off, and besides the defending champion Royals--who will again be fighting a war against free agent attrition--the other AL Central contenders are neither juggernauts nor deep-pocketed enough to paper over their flaws. The Indians have a great young rotation, Twins have a great young lineup, the White Sox have five very good players, but the division is wide open if the Royals elite defense wears down or gets picked apart in the free market.

So, the question becomes, do the White Sox see the same thing?

2. Relatedly, it's important not to ascribe purpose to the timing of offseason moves. Different signings and trades take different lengths of time to develop often for wholly independent reasons. I'd like to think I'm on the leaderboard for most cynical about the Sox likely lack of aggression or activity in building a competitor for 2016, but I don't think a low-cost catching platoon was the top offseason priority.

First-hand, Avila has looked increasingly worn-down and worn-out, and Hawk doesn't rave about the hits he's taken behind the plate for no reason. That anecdotal evidence doesn't look good beside a statistical record that shows quickly fading power (.096 ISO in 2015, after in the .140s the previous two years and a .211 peak), and a declining ability to stay on the field (67 games in 2015).

But...someone was going to give the man a major league deal. He's historically been a good receiver--though that's also been subject to recent decline--and is a career 105 wRC+ left-handed bat. The White Sox aren't out of their gourd stashing this guy as a opposite-handed backup to a defensive specialist like Tyler Flowers, and ragging on this deal requires a lot more context. Is this 10% or more of the entire offseason budget? Is this reflective of narrow-minded White Sox focus of just plinking off low-cost detritus from rivals they admire? Maybe, probably not, but if so, we can rant and rave in time.

3. On Wednesday afternoon, long after the cream of the White Sox blogging crop had declared themselves to be on a four-day weekend, Rick Hahn said some real obvious stuff on a media conference call. Here's the money quote from Scott Merkin's piece.

So if Opening Day were today, then I think [Erik] Johnson is penciled in to that spot in the rotation right now. In all probability, once we get closer to spring, there will be some competition for him to earn that spot. But if we were strictly looking at today, then I would think Johnson has the inside track on filling Samardzija’s innings.
— Rick Hahn

Let's assume Hahn didn't actually mean 214 innings for Erik Johnson in 2015, though he probably doesn't have the same ability to briskly get shelled and still last for eight innings like Samardzija did, so if Johnson actually reached 214 it would probably be because he's doing amazingly well.

Hahn basically laid out the depth chart for the final spot (assuming John Danks is in), as Johnson solidly in, with Frankie Montas and Carson Fulmer with an invitation to come and take it from him. Since Montas best profiles as a super reliever, and Fulmer finished last season making three-inning starts in High-A, Johnson is very solidly in. This is probably less newsworthy than the implication that Montas remains next in line rather than explicitly slated for the pen, and that a rapid ascent for Fulmer is a closer scenario than say, a really good injury recovery from Chris Beck.

4. Let's air a professional disagreement to make a larger point.

Nelson is putting a out a lot of qualifiers on this, because it's obviously a fringe outcome. May turns 24 in January and just had a sort of lost season in Double-A due to a midseason collision leading him to miss six weeks with concussion symptoms. He has a ton of speed, but still is not sure bet to stick in center, and will develop gap power if things break right for him, so there's a lot of pressure on his bat to make a ton of contact and hit for average. I'd give Trayce an equal or better shot of making Eaton expendable.

Which is the problem with the system at this moment as far as position prospects. Now that Alexei is just gone on his own terms, there's nothing in the pipeline that makes anyone in the big club expendable at any conceivable date. Eaton--just as an outfielder with on-base skills, let alone a centerfielder--and Abreu--someone with plus hit and power tools at the same time, or even just average at one and plus in the other--are essentially unicorns in the organization. That's probably true for a lot of organization's stars, but we don't have a visual on the next offensive core, or really any pieces beyond Anderson. That is where our stance that the Sox need to pursue the playoffs hard right now or completely rebuild (which would stink, but would at least be a plan) comes from.

5. But in the meantime, congrats Jose Abreu!