TCS Morning 5: Now it's time for an outfielder

1. It's not like the White Sox only have one hole left. It'll be a minor victory if Tyler Saladino stays over a .600 OPS in full-season play, Adam LaRoche is very likely toast, and needs a platoon partner even if he isn't. Erik Johnson doesn't seem very good, we know John Danks is not. Their bullpen is fine, but is not an imitation of the Royals super pen that is currently the vogue. There is plenty they could do to improve the team.

We're just talking about a right fielder. A clearly actionable problem where the current option has limited upside and there are huge upgrades available. It's a reasonable line in the sand to draw to determine whether or not the White Sox are serious about 2016, and since Rick Hahn is stumping a party line of taking advantage of this current core, he's being pretty open about this positional need.

Or at least open by his standards.

Without coming right out and saying it directly, Hahn admitted Chicago is on the prowl for an outfielder.

’It would seem so,’ Hahn said.
— Bruce Levine

Given where this offseason started, with the Sox being able to patch the countless holes in their lineup seeming like the type of pipe dream we write about theoretically to keep things interesting, rather than something that would ever happen, it is amazing to be this close to a team that can be dreamed on as a playoff contender.

If this seems like an unfair turn of events to Avisail, who despite getting warned throughout the season that his power production was unsatisfactory, got the vote of confidence at the end of the season, there is that DH slot that will provide plate appearances for various bad White Sox position players. It's not like they'll have money to do any better at that slot.

2. Levine has missed the mark, or perhaps just mischaracterized the White Sox direction in his earlier attempts to pin them down this offseason, but his estimation that the Sox are trying to maintain a payroll in the neighborhood of $120 million jives with other beat reporters consistent prediction that the Sox would be unlikely to reach out for a big-time free agent.

The White Sox already have $118 million in commitments just from signing platoon catchers and trading for guys still in arbitration, so even though they have $28.75 million of LaRoche and Danks coming off the books after 2016, they could argue that raises to Sale, Quintana, Abreu, Robertson, and whatever Todd Frazier's final arbitration figure ends up at could eat a lot of that, and a $20 million per year deal to Justin Upton would push them to historically high payrolls for the team. This could be/is definitely the reason Hahn says the Sox will need to "get creative" to bring in an outfield upgrade.

Creative would be finding a way to secure a meaningful outfield upgrade without trading Tim Anderson. The Todd Frazier trade was creative, but it's creativity necessitated by thriftiness, or perhaps it's better said to be stubbornness. 

I could play the card that MLB owners' protection of their profit lines while offloading operational costs to the public, and then selling sob stories about needing support from customers to fund winners in the brutal MLB marketplace that they themselves created, is completely grotesque and constantly threatens to ruin the experience of watching amazing athletes play my favorite sport.

But, the White Sox position here is potentially so obstinate that I don't have to. It's commendable they are being aggressive and not submitting their fans to a hard rebuild just so they can save money while building a contender, but the flip side to that is....they can't save money while building a contender. They don't have the prospect depth or youth to be winning their division with a middle-of-the-road payroll, and acting like jumping up to $140 million--which would've been No. 10 in Opening Day payrolls last year--is some sort of giant leap for a team that wants to go to the playoffs is dishonest/deluded/naive? Who knows--who cares; it's not going to work.*

The wrong lesson to take from the Cubs or Astros is that hard rebuilds are required for team-building, but the underlying logic to that approach is that there is not much purpose in occupying the middle ground between tanking and trying full-bore to win a World Series, and that is a lesson worth listening to.

*I will admit that just hoping Rick Hahn is an elite GM and can patch the entire roster together on the cheap has worked far better than I hoped, but everyone has limits.

3. Well, let's just try to squeeze out some positivity out of this situation.

Alexei Ramirez's release makes a bit more sense if the White Sox budget for the offseason was "basically nothing" all along, even if $9 million for one year of Ramirez is fair value. Shading optimistic on Saladino's ability to provide the range to be an effective shortstop, shading pessimistic on Ramirez's decline being particularly sharp, and hoping that Frazier's presence, and Micah Johnson's absence, will just make it a flat-out easier job than in years past, the Sox could break even defensively. If you're going to take a bath offensively, better at shortstop where there are about five guys who can hit, than in right field, where most of the league--except the team that employs Avisail Garcia--can mash.

One of the reasons I shy away from projection systems, is that their tendency to regress every extreme result to the middle, which results in rosier expectations for players who are simply not major league quality. Saladino's minor league numbers are sort of a crazy mishmash of impressive power that disappeared, huge walk rates that don't figure to translate to MLB due to the lack of power, and generally not any kind of patter that would be worth mapping out. All of this is to say that I don't really have any faith in Steamer saying he could be a 80 wRC+ guy in 2016, but if he was, well, that would be very acceptable.

4. Read David Haugh's account of his trip to find Minnie Minoso's house in Cuba. He finds the place quite easily, and encounters reverent family members, but his piece is tinged with a lingering sense of doubt. Haugh seems underwhelmed by the amount of visible Minoso memorabilia and tributes he encounters, and even while talking to a Cuban baseball historian--one who has played a part in reopening the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in which Minoso is an inductee--Haugh remains concerned about the outlook for keeping Minoso's legacy alive and vital.

It's where his death leaves us. Minoso himself and his impossibly warm presence is gone, which is a grim reminder that memories and stories of him will fade as well. It would be an easier truth to face if we knew we had wrung out every opportunity to honor his legacy, what he faced and what he overcame to be one of baseball great integrators, but we didn't, so it's not.

5. Things are looking surprisingly good for Tim Raines in Hall of Fame voting per Ryan Thibs' public ballot. Through 61 ballots Thibs has collected, Raines is sitting just above 75%. Last year his showing on public ballots (60%) was five percent better than his final number, but this is just the type of big momentum push on his ninth appearance on the ballot to feel good about his final run.