White Sox can’t quit Nate Jones, decline James Shields’ option

Starter could theoretically return to Sox, but it won't be on a $16 million salary

Two moves into the White Sox offseason, nobody has been thrown for a loop.

The Sox checked off their first items of winter business on Monday, exercising the $4.65 million option on Nate Jones while declining the opportunity to pay James Shields $16 million in 2019. Shields says he “absolutely” plans to pitch next season, and considering he’s coming off a 204-inning season, he probably has some value to some team for one more year, and it’s probably premature to start wrapping up his career.

If that’s it for his White Sox career, it wasn’t a good one. The Shields acquisition cost the Sox Fernando Tatis Jr. while going 16-35 with a 5.31 ERA over 2½ seasons. He made good use of a stall in Tatis’ ascent by giving the Sox desperately needed innings from a starting pitcher, which helped him close the reputation gap a little. Maybe we’ll hear his name come up years from now the way David Price still talks about Shields to this day.

“James Shields is how I developed that pitch,” Price told reporters Tuesday ahead of his scheduled start against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night. “Just being with him early on in my career and the changeup that he has possessed over the course of his career, and for him to take me in the way that he did, and to play catch with me every day, unless him or I were starting that game. And just being able to work on it every day with him. One of the guys that had one of the best changeups in all of baseball, to work with me on it every single day, that was huge.”

Shields’ true impact on the White Sox remains to be seen, at least outside of a couple anecdotes. All we can say for now is that he wasn’t able to fully leave the Jaime Navarro neighborhood of disastrous pitching acquisitions. The complete list of pitchers who threw at least 400 innings for the White Sox despite an ERA+ below 80:

  1. Shields, 79 ERA+ over 436 IP
  2. Dave Danforth, 79 ERA+ over 447.1 IP
  3. Vic Frazier, 77 ERA+ over 444 IP
  4. Navarro, 76 ERA+ over 542 IP

Maybe Shields can come back for one more year as an effective-enough innings-eater, but the Miguel Gonzalez re-signing serves as a cautionary tale against retaining a guy who relies heavily on that “enough” tag, as things can unravel quickly when he no longer meets that description.

One could counter with the Derek Holland or Mat Latos signings for arguing against pursuing question marks with theoretical upside, but Mickey Rooney moments aside, Holland had an OK year with the Giants in 2018. The less said about Latos’ 2018 the better.

* * *  * * *  * * *

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s for Jones, exercising his option was always the more likely path, although as we’ve seen with the Offseason Plan Project, one could easily form an argument for moving on.

It was a $3.4 million decision in terms of accounting, although the $1.25 million buyout follows him into the 2019-20 winter, so that money could still have to be spent somewhere along the line. If he has another injury-marred season, it’ll be a $3.9 million conversation the following year.

The decision is basically a scale, with “upside” on one side and “availabilty” on the other. The leading points for each:

  1. A healthy Jones can basically slot into any bullpen in baseball.
  2. Jones is seldom healthy.

In favor of the first point, his velocity and swinging-strike rate were both in line with his history. The walk rate ballooned on him, although perhaps that can be attributed to rust.

Regarding the second point, Jones only threw 30 innings in 2018 — and somehow that was his second-highest innings total over the last five years. Jones is a guy who, according to Cot’s Contracts, had an elbow surgery provision written into his contract, only to have a season-ending ulnar repositioning procedure that somehow avoided triggering that contingency.

The question comes down to loss aversion more than risk tolerance, because the risk cuts both ways. The idea of Jones is comforting, because if he can regain his old form or even something close to it, that’s easily worth the club option. But that good Jones has only been an idea for four of the last five seasons, and maybe it’s worth applying those resources to a free agent, and/or opening up a spot on the 40-man roster.

Of course, it’d sting to watch him throw 60 good innings on an affordable deal for another club, even if the Sox would be hard-pressed to convert any future strong performances into substantial trade value. And the Sox would have to replace Jones with an equivalent veteran in order to better ensure a watchable bullpen, which isn’t easy for that kind of money.

After visiting and revisiting this decision in my head and while reading plans over the last couple weeks, I didn’t have strong feelings one way or the other, because I don’t see any outcome as being particularly consequential.

However you see it, this particular debate has been settled, and now we’ll see if this conservative course is a tone-setter for the offseason, or a way to offset more daring moves down the line.

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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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The question about Jones is whether they can find a more reliable reliever for $3.9 million. With his injury history, I don’t think he’s worth that, but I’m not necessarily opposed to it. If he’s healthy, it’s a bargain.

Eagle Bones

Unless we’re talking about that salary on a multi-year deal, I have a hard time seeing anyone more interesting than him being had on a one-year, $4 million deal. Jones also has those club options which adds to the upside value of his contract. I think they made the right call here.

Lurker Laura

It seems that every pitcher who was ever on a team with James Shields is campaigning for him as a future pitching coach.


If useless Miguel Gonzalez is worth a $5M gamble, surely Shields is worth twice that much to someone.

Josh Nelson

I could see the Dodgers signing Shields.

Ted Mulvey

Wasn’t living in CA a factor as to him signing with the Padres? Not that Shields has leverage with his performance the last couple of years, but it seems he might be willing to take a lower deal than offered elsewhere to be on a contender in California.

Josh Nelson


karkovice squad

Gonzalez was better overall ’16-’17 than Shields was ’17-’18. So no, that logic doesn’t hold up.


The Jones move was the right call. Low cost gamble on a guy with talent. At that cost & club option, IF he can stay healthy he could be a good trade peace at the deadline as the group of young pen arms starts establishing themselves.


If is the key word there…

Yolmer's gatorade

BrokeJones Mountain.

Josh Nelson

For those that would like the White Sox to approach the Marlins about JT Realmuto


If Hahn wants to build credibility and make up for past errors he will make it happen. That could be the one move of the offseason and I’d be happy.

As Cirensica

The question comes down to loss aversion more than risk tolerance, because the risk cuts both ways. The idea of Jones is comforting, because if he can regain his old form or even something close to it, that’s easily worth the club option.

I disagree with you Jim. In this particular circumstance where the White Sox are still in rebuilding mode, 1 year contributions (or not) means very little. Would it hurt to see Jones pitch 60 great innings with another team? Not really because a good reliever in a 1 year contract with the 2019 version of the White Sox means very little.

We actually want to lose games in 2019 so we can pick high in the draft.

The 1 year contracts for the White Sox in 2019 means nothing because it’s the 2020 White Sox team that matters most. Thus, any 1 year signing needs to be as cheap as possible. If I were Hahn I would avoid signing expensive 1 year players because there is not really a good purpose for it. I would focus on signing long term assets that will help the team to win beyond 2019… we need inning eaters? Sign Shields again. We need relievers? Sure, there are tons that can be had at a lot less than Jones and with a much better health record. That those cheap relievers suck? Sure…they certainly are gonna be worse than a healthy Jones, but who cares? Is the White Sox aiming for a 2019 playoff spot? No…so, Hahn should sign the long term players we need beyond 2019, and fill the holes as cheaply as possible. Free the money so we can sign Machado!

Eagle Bones

It’s also not a straight one year contract because of the options.


Am I the only one that thinks some players don’t just want a dump truck of money but actually want to play for a team trending in the right direction? If we lose another 100 games forget Any 3B’s next year.

As Cirensica

Generally, players play where they are getting paid.

Eagle Bones

Generally, yes. But I don’t think it’s crazy to think that the Sox would need to have a SUBSTANTIALLY better offer than teams like the Yanks, Dodgers, etc. to pull in a FA like Machado. Just doing the Price is Right move and topping them by $1 isn’t going to convince them to come to a 100 loss team. As others have said, that’s why they should be trying to get better this offseason.

As Cirensica

I am done with loses. I am all for increasing wins by means of adding players that will be here when we compete. That is, Eloy, potential free agent signings, Kopech, etc. Increasing the wins by adding 1 year contracts of veterans? Unless they are cheap, I just don’t see the point.

I am actually not mad we sign Jones again. But if we missed the Machado train or other long term piece (Grandal, Corbin, etc) by a couple of millions, then I will be mad.


There is no way we lose out on one of the big time contracts by 4 Million. No way. If we lose out on those guys, its going to be one of two reasons:

1. The player did not want to play for the Whitesox (For whatever reason)
2. The other team added an entire extra year or more than the Whitesox wanted.

On an AAV Scale I dont see the Whitesox getting outspent on anyone outside of possibly Harper (if some team wants to throw him 40M)

As Cirensica

Teams generally outbid other teams by a couple of millions or an extra year or other player friendly clauses or a combination of these factors. Also, the players preference might have a role.

If a team outbids another team by 20 million, that team GM should be fired.

Eagle Bones

I’m not sure that’s necessarily true. That additional money may be what’s required to convince the player to come to your team (i.e. the 2019 White Sox vs. the 2019 Yankees).

Eagle Bones

If they literally made no long-term investments this offseason, yes I agree that’s kind of silly. I do however think there is a purpose to bringing in some solid short-term guys. Adding a guy like Donaldson on a one-year deal (if that’s possible) would significantly increase their chances of having a better record in 2019. Even if Donaldson is traded midseason or immediately leaves next offseason, I still have to think having that better record will give the Sox a more favorable position in FA negotiations with players next offseason. Hopefully some longer term guys will come along for the ride (like Eloy, hopefully one or two of the pitchers and maybe a couple FA signings), but the aid those shorter term guys could provide may still be important. And obviously they may provide value at the deadline if they can be flipped.

As Cirensica

I don’t buy this new thing “having a better record” as one of the keys to sign good players or for a successful rebuild process.

Eagle Bones

You don’t think top FAs care about going to a better team? I think it’s clear they do. Now whether a better record actually indicates a team is “better” is another discussion, but I have to think trying to sign top FAs after an 83 win season would be easier than trying to sign top FAs after a 60 win season.

As Cirensica

You are right. Hahn needs to do some selling the team stuff.


A ‘rebuild’ will never get off the ground if organization accepts losing. Besides developing skills (hitting, pitching, running, throwing,…) “learning to win” has to be developed too. It’s just demoralizing to see winnable games thrown away and then it gets rationalized that “well, at least we’ll get a better draft choice”. Many star players can be found drafted in later rounds and many high draft picks are busts. The purpose of having a professional team in any sport in any level is to win. F*** the losing. And those who accept it.

As Cirensica

So, in order to attract good free agents we need to get back to build a mired in mediocrity team that show improvements from tanking years?

I am having hard times imagining Hahn saying “Hey Manny, we just signed Nate Jones, we are building a contender here”

As Cirensica

I concede this is a valid point. Sometimes the team sends confusing signals. That form of hope could have come last year by calling Eloy (In order to attract Machado), but ….

Right Size Wrong Shape

The goal should absolutely not be to try and lose next year. And I honestly don’t think anyone in the organization or fanbase other than you has expressed that. I’m not saying that I expect them to break the bank this offseason, but if you really think they are going to start competing in 2020 then strides need to be made in 2019, and I mean actual win/loss strides. How does a high draft pick in 2020 help you win in 2020?


Bullpen is a different monster than the rest of the team too. For the rest of the team a younger player with upside/competitive window team control is who I would lean towards. But in the bullpen where everything is more fluid year to year a veteran with closing upside is worth a 1 year option and see what happens next offseason. 

As Cirensica

Well…I think I misspoke. I don’t want them to lose in 2019. I want them to win!
My point is that I want them to dedicate most of the dollars to sign the players that matter beyond 2019. Machado, Grandal, Keuchel, Corbin, etc. Every dollar destined to 1 year contracts to players like Jones, Avisail, etc means LESS money we have to sign the free agents available. That’s my point. Want to increase wins? Sign Machado, sign Grandal, sign good free agents….in few words, priority in players that will be here beyond 2019.


I know this opinion won’t get me many “likes” – but I believe the Sox should let someone else pay Machado $30+ million a year for ten years. In five years time it is at least equally likely that he’ll be a millstone around their neck as it is likely that the team signing him will be thrilled. And then they’ll be stuck with him.

It’s easy to think of long-term FA signings that go sour within a few years. There’s a piece about bad FA signing on the site today, in fact. Most any baseball fan can name five of those without much thought, but it’s pretty difficult to name teams who are still thrilled with big money signings after a few years into the deal.

The 2005 White Sox were one of the greatest teams wire-to-wire that any of us have ever seen, and while that team had a number of genuine stars there were no Manny Machados there. Guys like Buehrle, Konerko and Dye were star players, but the key to success was that the team was very well constructed from top to bottom with solid players who knew and understood their roles. They avoided significant injuries, and cobbled together a good year from a bullpen that was essentially a work-in-progress from opening day.

I am all for seeing them spend money to build a long term winner, and God knows I am sick of losing. I just think it’s better to build a roster of solid players than focus on a single FA as some sort of savior. With our current core, Machado will not make us a winner; just as he couldn’t get Baltimore and LA over the top.

Eagle Bones

While the contract would probably go south at some point, I wouldn’t have trouble giving him the dollar and years he’s going to get. The thing that would stick in my craw is the opt-outs he’s probably going to get. Even if they get him, they could end up losing him in a couple of years right when this team is turning a corner. And if he sucks for some reason, they’re stuck with him like the Cubs are stuck with Heyward.


Unfortunately, that’s the way things are now. Machado is definitely worth a 10-year commitment. He is truly an elite player and only 26 years old. That what makes him different that any other elite free agent before him. A 10-year commitment only takes him to age 36. With an opt out after 3 years, hopefully the Sox would have built their team into a perennial contender by the end of 2021, and would have built up enough good will with him to keep him around. He is a must have for this rebuild to take off.


My view on Jones is simple. The Whitesox have a TON of room on the pay roll for 2019. nate Jones is a ~4M risk in the bullpen. Sure, there is a good chance that the money ends up being wasted, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a guy with a higher potential upside in the pen for just 4M.

Trooper Galactus

For reference, Soria cost twice as much money, and even he was considered a bit of a performance risk.