1. Investing big on a top-level outfielder during the heart of their competitive window is still the best move for the White Sox, and they'll either be signing Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes, or I will complaining about them not doing it.
But given all the concern about their ability to land a major free agent, maybe it's time to lower our sights. After all, even a mid-tier free agent would be a lot better than Avisail Garcia. By some measures, he was the worst full-time outfielder in baseball last year (by that same measure Melky Cabrera was third-worst, but moving along...). Look at these options:
Alejandro De Aza
All of these are probably better 2016-17 options than Avisail, which the period of time they will have Frazier and Lawrie. I considered putting Travis Snider on here but decided against it. But the point is, there are some options here outside the top three guys. Specifically Dexter Fowler and Denard Span.
2. Fowler is the more notable option, having just been a part of the Cubs run to the NLCS as their starting centerfielder and leadoff man, and wrapping up his fifth-straight season as an above-average hitter. He'll be 30 by Opening Day 2016, but is a career .267/.363/.418 hitter who has now shown he can get on-base and hit for moderate power outside of Coors. He won't drown out other holes in the White Sox lineup by sheer force, but he's a very good bet to make a new one on his own.
Perhaps the most intriguing element of Fowler's candidacy is that it puts another centerfielder on a roster that just lost one. I wouldn't make the argument that Fowler should push Eaton to a corner, but with Eaton's injury history and the likelihood that Avisail will be carried around on this roster, they probably need someone standing in between a strained hamstring and Melky Cabrera playing center field.
But Fowler is not available at a deep discount. He turned down a qualifying offer from the Cubs and would cost the Sox their supplemental draft pick. With Jim Bowden's disturbingly accurate contract predictions pegging him at four years, $60 million, Fowler could become the second-highest paid player on the team for 2016 depending on how his money was allotted, and the Sox would probably view him as their big investment of the offseason, not a mid-tier signing that opens them up for more this year or midseason.
3. Denard Span, on the other hand, is estimated by Bowden to be more in the three years, $36 million territory, and does not have a qualifying offer tagged to him. That could allow for more Sox payroll flexibility, especially next year as Danks and LaRoche come off the books. Of course, Span is priced lower for a reason.
He'll be 32 on Opening Day 2016, not 30, and missed most of last year, and nearly all of the second half after having surgery on his hip labrum, which is less than ideal for a player in his mid-30's, where part of the argument for signing him is his athleticism.
But, when he has played, he's been good. He has a similar career wRC+ very similar to Fowler (106 for Span and 107 for Fowler) and has out-hit Fowler slightly over the last two seasons (.301/.358/.421 in his last two years in Washington, compared to .261/.358/.406 for Fowler in Houston and Chicago). If healthy, Span has a strong argument to unseat Eaton in center, or at least split time, and ideally could deliver Fowler value in a different package (gets on base with tons of contact rather than walks and gap power), and could be a base thief that replaces Alexei Ramirez's presence (42 stolen bases in the last two years).
Both of these guys are only somewhat above-average bats, and would place more scrutiny on the Sox to address issues with DH and shortstops quickly if they become black holes, but offer a good opportunity to add plus guys at a price the Sox might be more comfortable with. Full, if still disappointed, endorsement to both.
4. Thanks to Buster Olney, the narrative of the White Sox already having the core pieces in place for a playoff run in Chris Sale, Jose Abreu, Jose Quintana, and others, is finally getting some national endorsement on a large platform. The piece is also full of citing Jerry Reinsdorf's advancing age and will to win as a driving factor in the Sox not being willing to rebuild. How that jives with treating a payroll over $120 million like an electric fence, is beyond me, so is how Reinsdorf's refusal to go through a grueling, unwatchable rebuild possibly being tied to his ownership of the Sox TV network goes without serious examination, but alas.
Maybe this will help the Sox going for it get characterized as anything besides 'foolish Kenny Williams & Co. too undisciplined to go through hard rebuild, which is the only way,' but I doubt it.
For our wishcasting purposes, Olney cites sources claiming that giving up a draft pick to sign Upton or Fowler "won't necessarily be a deal-breaker."
5. New payroll numbers for 2015, which purport to show the full cost of the 40-man rosters over the entire year, peg the Sox at around $142 million, which is a noticeable jump from the ~$120 million Opening Day figure that we usually cite. About that:
Instead of being taken aback and thinking the Sox actually pay way more than we thought, it's better to note that every other team's figures went up as well, and the Sox are still 15th in baseball, and that comes after a huge payroll hike.