When teams tried to sign their way out of tanking

Big contracts out of nowhere are dangerous, but they can work if carefully considered (and lucky)

If you can’t get enough of tanking talk, Jonah Keri weighed in on the topic, wondering aloud when a team can justify trying to bust loose.

The Phillies, now with Carlos Santana, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, started the conversation. The Padres, now supposedly contemplating Eric Hosmer, are along for the ride.

Keri is skeptical of both, although the Padres more than the Phillies because they have fewer of their best prospects actually in place on the 25-man roster. He gives a number of examples of teams that made significant signings when it didn’t appear as though one large expenditure wouldn’t make a difference.

  • Cubs: Edwin Jackson in 2013 (nope), Jon Lester in 2015 (yep).
  • Astros: Scott Feldman in 2013 (nope)
  • Nationals: Jayson Werth in 2011 (kinda worked)
  • Royals: Gil Meche in 2006 (nope)
  • Tigers: Ivan Rodriguez in 2003 (yep)

Werth’s seven-year, $126 million contract is the one I think causes the biggest philosophical divide. On the whole, he did not earn the money, because he was a replacement-level player over the last three years. But he did give the Nationals three productive years — one injury-shortened — as they rose to dominate the NL East, so one could argue that he earned his keep on the whole, and it wasn’t his fault Dusty Baker favored him over more promising options in the NLDS.

These contracts are effectively booster rockets — something to help generate escape velocity from perpetual loserdom, then negligible/sheddable afterward. I think calling Werth’s contract a flop misses the forest for the trees, but they’re easier said than done, especially with the White Sox’ lack of success in signing veterans.

In order for one to work, they basically can’t block anybody at the start, and the team has to generate enough depth internally so they have the flexibility to pursue or retain other desired players at market rates. Either that, or ownership has to be ready to ramp up spending (which is easier when it works, because of increased attendance and ratings). That part is a big difference between the Cubs with Jackson and the Cubs with Lester. The latter came with Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero and Joe Maddon.

The White Sox have committed hard enough to rebuilding that they’re too far afield to put one of these to good use now. They should have a far better idea of where they are as a franchise after first full seasons for Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, potential debuts for Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech, and, fingers crossed, a rebound for Tim Anderson. Perhaps the knowledge gained will be “still not there yet,” but they’ll also have a better sense of what parts of the depth chart definitely aren’t arriving in the next two waves.

The deal Welington Castillo signed is much more in line with the current ambitions. It adds  professionalism where experience is sorely lacking, lest weak positions drag down others, and any flop will be forgettable, insofar as it won’t alter any future plans. It would help if Castillo succeeded, if only to inspire confidence about the White Sox accurately identifying outside players who can produce past age 30. That’s another unknown factor in the White Sox rebuild, and it’ll have to be tested eventually.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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PauliePaulie

How much would success/failure by Castillo tell us if he truly was a “Ricky hire”, as the FO has sort of boasted?

Or is that more a story for fans than how a signing actually works?

PauliePaulie

Thanks.

Patrick Nolan

Good. This makes sense.

jorgefabregas

They needed some rotation filler. Hopefully he will be healthy enough to eat some innings.

asinwreck

May Miguel have good health, and may he show enough for Jon Daniels to trade for him again in the late summer.

PauliePaulie

Would’ve preferred someone new.

And Left handed would’ve been a bonus.

Patrick Nolan

But we’ve grown attached to this one.

WhereisRobin

Seems like Miguel has too

armchairGM

how about someone old and left handed? like hector santiago on the cheap

Rex Fermier

There’s still time.  I agree a serviceable lefty would be great insurance in case Miguel’s shoulder goes out, again.

mikeyb

Why would it matter if it’s a lefty or a righty?

Otter

Sure. Why not?

Anohito

Yay welcome back Migo!

Reindeer Games

Number one MiGo stan is on board with this.  Handsome MiGo back to ride again.

Eagle Bones

This is fine.

35Shields

I don’t know how to embed tweets, but it’s $4.75m

 

https://mobile.twitter.com/ChrisCotillo/status/951496676946186240

Patrick Nolan

DFMAY’d

Un Perro

Excellent. No more Dylan Covey, and we gained a Ti’Quan Forbes out of it all.

Trooper Galactus

I don’t think we will be looking back with admiration over how we got Forbes out of that deal.

asinwreck

DISMAYED

Patrick Nolan

I’ll share this link to something Un Perro wrote up right here on Sox Machine, because I’m not sure where to find these from the front page:

https://soxmachine.com/2018/01/11/sox-shoud-move-ji-hwan-bae/

As Cirensica

I was going to ask how to access that post (Other by the link provided by pnoles)

mechanical turk

Speaking of, and I was meaning to mention it in the site feedback page but here is as good a place as any, I did notice your community post test post yesterday in my RSS feed for the site.  I don’t know if that provides useful information or not.  Ideally for me any “front paged” community-sourced post would show there, but not just any nonsense someone posts that’s only tangentially related to the White Sox.

mechanical turk

It didn’t occur to me at the time I posted this to look to see if Un Perro’s post about Bae showed up and it did.  Presumably you have access to that information already but maybe I’m the only one left here clinging to this particular technological relic.  (Actually I know there are at least 16 more of you out there, probably still using IRC too.)

Ted Mulvey

MT: I use Feedly, thank you very much. God bless the memory of Eazy-E Google Reader.

Patrick Nolan

Elsewhere, Jim Callis weighs in on Rondon’s place in the Sox’ top 30 — he doesn’t have one.

PauliePaulie

Between AZ and Charlotte, I can see this kid causing some early season irrational exuberance.

Trooper Galactus

I think of him at his peak as basically Tim Anderson with a better glove and no power behind it.  Sounds like he swings at pretty much everything, but probably makes more consistent contact than Timmay.

Anohito

This should probably have a way more indepth post but where does this put the sox rotation situation for ’18 and beyond now? Should they still find at least one more cheap starter/innings eater? No more Covey right? What about Fulmer? Who starts opening day? What should the rotation order look like? And beyond.

chambers.kevin

I would guess Shields starts opening day. At this point, he is our best known and experienced pitcher.

35Shields

Gonzalez has been on the team longer and also has the advantage of not being hated by the entire fanbase.

katiesphil

I wouldn’t normally consider something like this of any real importance, but yeah – imagine the reaction if Shields starts opening day and gets shelled.

Patrick Nolan

I’d put the odds of Shields starting Opening Day north of 80%. Fortunately, it’s a road game, and someone more interesting might get assigned the home opener.

It…it might even be Miguel Gonzalez!

ThisReallySox

Give me Giolito

GrinnellSteve

I have a bet with someone (Gibby maybe?) that Shields will be the Opening Day starter.  He ended the year pitching credibly, and it reduces the pressure on the youngsters.

 

 

gibby32

It indeed is with me.  I gave you 3-1 odds.  You choose $5 as the “1”.  Assessing “win probability”, you have increased your odds since you made the bet.

GrinnellSteve

You’re either more organized or in possession of a better functioning memory than me.

With -18 wind chill and snow to shovel, Opening Day can’t come soon enough.

Ted Mulvey

I have a beer bet with Josh (assuming these bets transfer over from SSS) whether or not the Sox will retire Ozzie Guillen’s number next. My Google Calendar has a reminder set for 8/31 of this year at 4 PM reminding me to check.

gibby32

What’s the point of a bet if you can’t remember it?

GrinnellSteve

Don’t good intentions count for anything?

 

gibby32

Sometimes during criminal sentencing.

Brett R. Bobysud

Barring injuries, the 3 sure things for the rotation at the start of the year at this point are Shields, Giolito, & Lopez.  Of the 3, Shields is the most likely choice for opening day, given that he’s the only one of the 3 who has a full season’s worth of major league experience.

As far as the other two spots in the rotation, with Rodon out, it appears to be Fulmer & Miggy, which means 5 righties.  They could go for another one-year vet lefty, but that would mean dropping one of the two mentioned above.

I still think Fulmer ends up in the bullpen at some point, but I think the Sox want to try him out as a starter to see if he can put things together under Coop’s guidance.

The quandary is going to be who to drop when Rodon is healthy again, and possibly again later in the season when Kopech gets called up.  Of course, by the time the latter happens, both Shields & Miggy could be flipped to create space in the rotation.

Patrick Nolan

Miggy also belongs in the “sure thing” category; they didn’t sign him for any other purpose.

gibby32

Your referenced “quandary” is premature.  Injuries happen every year.

Trooper Galactus

I’m over the whole “too many left/right-handed pitchers in the rotation” thing.  If you have five good right handers or left handers, it won’t matter in the long run.

Buehrlesque

IMO, there’s also a difference between “rebuilding” and “tanking.” If a rebuilding team signs Mike Moustakas and wins 78 games, it is not a failure, and it could pay dividends down the road (seen or unseen at the outset). It’s the tanking/intentional losing fad that, if too prevalent, can become troublesome. The fewer the number of teams that are trying to compete, the worse the league is, and the sport would be boring if all teams won either 100 games or 60.

Sox fans have a unique take on it because the KW-era teams always seemed to sacrifice the future, or at least not be concerned with it at all, to try for a very short-term fix, which was both a. short-sighted and b. even by that standard, a horrific failure of underperformance year after year. But mediocrity in general is not that bad.

Sophist

yeah — I was thinking along similar lines.  But here’s the distinction I want to make: between tanking/rebuilding and just improving a team’s drafting/development.

Teams are allowed to build a good minor league system without going through a tank/rebuild. Sure, it’s easier to build a top system if you have the luxury of losing hard for a few years or trading each and every asset. But if the goal is to build a team with good depth, able to compete consistently, it’s going to depend on having the scouting/drafting/development in place to keep bringing good prospects in without getting top 10 picks.

Anyway, if the Sox go after any big FAs next winter, it might signal the end of the tanking, but I’m hoping not a return of prospect wilderness that was 2004- 2016.

katiesphil

I dunno – there was one pretty good season in there as I recall.

hi5

Agree1 I’d put up with another stretch like 2004-2016 if another WS win is in there.

Sophist

I was referring only to the ability of the team to draft and develop over that span.

MrTopaz

See if I can get this tweet to embed/link…

Timmy seems fired up for this season. Or maybe MiGo beat him in clubhouse ping pong and he’s itching for some payback.

Edit: hell, I don’t know what I’m doing, but anyway, the tweet is “revenge18”, and some high five/jazz hand emojis.

yoyo

so basically Moustakas and Cain fit this scenario as upgrades that wouldn’t block anyone important for the immediate future.

tommytwonines

If Yolmer puts up similar numbers this year and plays third base almost exclusively, his WAR will be lower, yes?  But how much

coffeepac

theoretically, no.  His WAR would be the same.  The assumption is that defensive ability is fairly static for a given player across positions.  This should show up in the plays made/numbers as ‘player A makes more plays at 3B then at SS’ so the raw defensive numbers for player A at 3B would be higher then SS but the positional adjustment (fudge factor) would equal things out.

 

make sense?

35Shields

Even if his defense wasn’t better at third, the positional adjustments are really close anyways.

At Fangraphs, 2B and 3B have the same positional adjustment. At Baseball Reference 2B is 3 run / 1350 Inn and 3B is 2 run / 1350 Inn. So if all of Yolmer’s innings last year at 2B were actually at 3B, his bWAR would be 0.04 lower.

Patrick Nolan

Also, interestingly, FanGraphs’ positional adjustments for a second baseman and a third baseman are the same:

https://www.fangraphs.com/library/misc/war/positional-adjustment/

tommytwonines

Okay. I thought his mediocre offensive numbers (slugging, OBP, etc.) compared to other third baseman would drag him down more. Fair enough.