The White Sox have gone the entire offseason not taking on a single new financial commitment for the 2017 season, and to date their biggest investment of the winter is absorbing Todd Frazier's second-to-last arbitration year, for which they owe the still extremely bargain rate of $7.5 million. They return the worst right fielder/designated hitter combo of 2015 and let a nearly-unprecedented bevy of offensive upgrades go off the board for fair value or far less.
With that in mind, observers with more distance from the franchise might look at Kenny Williams' tacit admission that the White Sox lacked the budget allowance to compete for this offseason best free agents as the farthest thing from newsworthy, but the grim confirmation of a damning truth still packed a punch for any White Sox fans still hoping for some sort of transformational upgrade to be made to the Chicago offense.
This either isn't the best metaphor for the Sox inability to compete with bids for top talent, or it's too good of one. Kenny Williams has actually probably checked the price of Ferraris in his life, but us folks on Volkswagen budgets or less would never find have any real cause to check the price of a Ferrari, because they know that until there's a life-altering shift in their finances, they don't stand a chance of landing one. Williams has taken up the mantle to cry poor on the organization's behalf before and it often reads as gamesmanship more than anything, but now he speaks with the credibility of a top executive with a team that has already bypassed every good solution.
Williams' comments reiterate a familiar song and dance about how much the White Sox should be expected to spend. Their revenues and profits are meager despite being in a top-five media market, but given the complete absence of sustained success in their franchise history and middle-of-the-road payroll, that could just as easily be interpreted as proof of just how seriously they have squandered their opportunities for success. Between a state-funded stadium, zoning-enabled dominance of their pre and post-game food and beverage traffic, and control of their own TV channel, it's hard to imagine what more the people of Chicago and the state of Illinois could do to facilitate the White Sox success other than be more fascinated by their consistently mediocre product.
Their currently projected payroll ($122 million) approaches their highest Opening Day payroll in franchise history, which sounds impressive until realizing that record was set five years ago, with all stipulations of accelerating revenues and inflation applying. 2011 is often held up as an example of the perils of upgrading through free agency, but such a treatment implies "not spending" is some sort of viable path to AL Central supremacy or ignores that The Biggest White Sox Contract Ever currently belongs to the far and away best hitter on the team.
But even granting such major concessions to loaded concepts like extending sympathy to the White Sox need to protect their profit margins, or that the perils of sacrificing prospect futures and payrolls flexibility for expensive band-aids are prohibitive, the stars aligned for the Sox to invest aggressively in their club this offseason, to expand their payroll and build a team with a real opportunity to dominate their division over the next two years, and ownership apparently didn't deem it worthy to grant their front office the payroll to make it happen.
Rick Hahn not only secured an inexpensive and excellent MLB core that's received plaudits leaguewide, but possibly outdid himself this offseason by finding solutions all across a deeply flawed roster, reducing their areas of need for a major expenditure down to a single move for an outfielder. And yet, even after all that, Dexter Fowler--consistently slightly above-average Dexter Fowler--signing for three years, $35 million is akin to an unaffordable luxury car for an ownership that refuses to pursue a winning ballclub on anything but their own comfortable financial terms, no matter how out of step with the realities of the league they may be.
If now was not the time and opportunity for the Sox to be financially aggressive, when will it come? The slim hope that a 82-win team plays like a 90-win team long enough to get midseason upgrades is not going to send fans crashing through the gates if it didn't work the last seven years. Even replicating a core as cheap and good as Chris Sale, Jose Abreu, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, Carlos Rodon and now Todd Frazier seems like wishful thinking, let alone imagining a moment coming along where the Sox have a better mix of talent and payroll flexibility.
The White Sox organization has been steadily improving. The David Wilder scandal is behind them on the international market, they've had the gap between their draft spending and the rest of the league closed for them by bonus pool rules. Both of these developments are starting to bear fruit and Hahn has shown he will make compelling moves no matter what restrictions he's working under. But until Jerry Reinsdorf and White Sox ownership prove that they will recognize the opportunity to expand team payroll when they're ready to compete, the optimism of a White Sox great core will be matched by the frustration that there can't be a great White Sox team to match.