As market freeze lingers, White Sox treated as cautionary tale

Tom Verducci treats botched rebuild as a reason for teams to avoid pinning hopes on veterans

As the spring training reporting dates for pitchers and catcher approaches with so many pitchers, catchers and position players still seeking jobs, tension is emerging in strange ways.

Scott Boras has been lashing out against an anti-competitive market for a while, and while he has company in agents such as Brodie Van Wagenen, Seth Levinson and Joshua Kusnick, he’s still taking it to new heights by working on my side of the street.

Those not in the fog of the market — from reporters like Ken Rosenthal and Tom Verducci to players with jobs like Brandon Moss — are pinning the bulk of the blame on the union, although it’s too early to speak in any kind of conclusion-drawing manner about collusion, because collusion has looked and sounded similar at this point in the past.

Those voices are largely correct, especially with the ways the union bargained away the rights of future members. However, I don’t fault the players’ side for venting loudly or sounding alarms, because they’re going to have to create a united front after watching ownership use drug testing and an international draft to drive a wedge in the union. One way to do that is by making the rawness of the deal so evident that it dwarfs all lesser issues. They may be drawing attention to their own fecklessness in the short term, but ignoring the snarky reactions can be training in shedding short-term distractions.

The number of arbitration cases might be one sign of a coalescing labor force. The White Sox aren’t the only team with rare arbitration hearings on the horizon (Avisail Garcia and Yolmer Sanchez), and that development could be a bellwether:

Players are winning in that arena, getting the decision in five of seven hearings thus far.

* * *

[dropcap]G[/dropcap]oing back to the Verducci article, there are a couple of things I’d like to point out.

For one, Wikipedia for the moment has an unfavorable interpretation of it:

But more pertinent to our interests, he used the the 2015-16 White Sox as the counterpoint against investing in veterans to create a surge in wins.

Here’s an example of the old way: the 2014 White Sox went 73–89. Only two teams in the American League gave up more runs. They were eighth in runs scored while striking out more than all but one team in the league. By any measure, they were not very good. But they had Jose Abreu and Chris Sale, and GM Rick Hahn didn’t want to let their primes pass without trying to win.

So this is what the White Sox did that winter: they dropped $132 million on free agents Dave Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, Zach Duke and Emilio Bonifacio. What happened? They went 76–86. They spent $132 million for three more meaningless wins. They spent money when they weren’t ready to win.

The next year they went 78–84. Finally, two years too late, Hahn began a teardown of a bad club.

This probably looks like a strong argument if you don’t follow the White Sox closely. If you know how the White Sox botched the first rebuild, it might be a better indicator of the low standards for MLB ownership. Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn established a poor pro-scouting track record before they set out on accelerating the upswing with veterans, and they reinforced that particular reputation with more bad decisions over those that stretch.

Most other teams that fail to field a winner overhaul the front office, but Jerry Reinsdorf couldn’t even bring himself to fire Robin Ventura well after he turned into a cement block. Williams and Hahn have the fortune of excessively loyal ownership. They’re basically givens.

To Hahn’s credit, he’s implementing and voicing a vastly different approach that doesn’t rely so heavily on their weakest skill, and the rebuild is off to a helluva start, so I understand why fans want to disassociate Hahn from the “bad club” he built. Reporters shouldn’t do the same.

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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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If there’s a Hall of Fame for mulligans, Williams and Hahn are locks….


If the owners, who have always gotten huge excess value out of players in their 20’s, are going to refuse to pay big $ to payers in their 30’s, the next CBA will be a battle over length of team control.

I’m pulling for the players.


I’m not. Though I imagine it was really fun to watch a labor dispute sink the White Sox pennant hopes the last time around, I’d rather not see it pull the carpet out from this Sox rebuild .


You can easily pull for the players and not want a work stoppage


Furthermore…even if there is a work stoppage, it does not necessarily mean “it’s the players fault.”

This reminds me of the blame the players get for the raising of ticket prices…somehow in the pursuit to maximize their profits, billionaire owners get a pass, while the vast majority of the blame falls on the “greedy” players. It’s all very strange.


I never said anything about a work stoppage. Something like a change to how team control or arbitration works could easily throw a wrench into the rebuild.


Just heard Jim and Josh touch on this in the podcast…

I wonder if we will be hearing about player-management strife more often than in the recent past in the next three years or if free agency next off-season looks more recognizable things will quell publicly between the sides? It will be interesting to see the damage done this off season after/if things get resolved.

Patrick Nolan

Are you TRYING to piss off the HahnBots?


I would just drop arbitration all together. Go from rookie contract to free agency. It seems like teams are willing to spend 100+ mil on players but the returns are trash on guys who spend most of it on the other side of 30. That would at least give you more years of big money in their primes. Plus if your still doing well by the time that contract is up your still setup for another payday in a 20-50 million range perhaps.

Brett R. Bobysud

Considering that the MLBPA is probably the only Big 4 players union worth a damn nowadays, the upcoming CBA negotiations are going to be very interesting indeed.


It’ll be interesting to see how this ends. I’m on the players side but I also want my baseball no matter what.


“Feckless” is an awesome word.  Well written piece, Boss.  Now if this site becomes more user-friendly…

Reindeer Games

I’m a simpleton amused by such silly things as liked comments turning a different color.  This is because I am a dumb dumb.


Small thing that will make the site more user friendly.  When I log in anew, be it from mobile or computer, all the comments are blue, as in unread.  Though I know I’ve read most of them previously.   I have to scroll down and try to divine what are the new comments, especially for replies.

It seems that the change in color for read comments is not tied to my username, but rather to the session that I’m in.   If that makes sense.


Hahn did exactly what the players’ union/agents wanted in 2015 by signing a bunch of middling free agents for big money.  They don’t care about statistical analysis or scouting, in fact they would prefer if you didn’t look too closely at the numbers.

Verducci’s article points to guys like Oliver Perez getting paid $36 million over 3 years for well below replacement level performance as the old way of doing business, and GMs have wised up about that.