One White Sox winter is playing out in Cincinnati

redlegsfan21 / Flickr

When the Dodgers and Reds struck their seven-player megadeal on Friday, Los Angeles commanded immediate attention for the addition made possible by subtraction. Clearing away two outfielders and worming under the luxury tax made a lot of people see a Brycesignal coming from the other coast.

It remains to be seen whether the Dodgers’ half of the deal is destructive to White Sox dreams of Bryce Harper, but the Reds’ side — Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Matt Kemp and Kyle Farmer — could be equally instructive for the White Sox. They’re pursuing a path that is available to Rick Hahn, or was.

In other words better capturing the spirit of the Black Sox Centennial, Cincinnati could surprise.

After five consecutive losing seasons and three with no real traction in either direction, the Reds still don’t have enough in-house talent to compete with the Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates and Brewers, especially on the pitching side. They have a terrific infield that allowed them to pull off the occasional hot streak, but the 67-95 record still told the story.

Nevertheless, Cincinatti’s President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams saw a time for action:

“We feel like we’re entering that window of competitiveness,” Williams said. “We have Joey (Votto) for a limited amount of time. We now have guys like (Eugenio) Suárez signed. We’ve got building blocks around the diamond. We don’t know how far it’ll take us, but this is a year where we’re going to try to get better with the resources we have.”

Joel Sherman of the New York Post presented the skeptic’s side of the case:

But there’s also some dissonance here, because Sherman is advocating for a strategy he hates: losing more games on purpose. From March, for instance:

Indeed, the Reds might be confusing because they’re trying to make themselves more competitive and compelling, even if it doesn’t result in a postseason. They only had one pitcher qualify for the ERA title, so here come Wood and Tanner Roark. They struggled to find production from their outfielders, but Puig should help, and Kemp has kicked out of pins before, although his 2018 looks like a return-to-LA dead-cat bounce.

They’re also doing it in a way that doesn’t kill their long-term interests. The top five of the Reds’ farm system is still intact, which gives them flexibility to explore trades for more win-now types if the pursuit of free agents like Dallas Keuchel doesn’t pan out. Or maybe they stall adding others and settle for an older but more credible team for the first half, and a younger, prospect-graduating club after midsummer deals.

The early returns are only intangible, unless you count headlines as something you can touch:

There’s a fair chance that neither Puig, Wood nor anybody else contribute enough to Cincinnati’s cause to make a lick of difference in the long run. White Sox fans know firsthand that Winning The Winter can only result in a three-win improvement over the summer. Still, for a team that has lost 90 games in four consecutive seasons and could struggle to attract name-brand talent in a more obscure market until it looks like a fun place to play, this strategy hits us where we live.

It’d be ironic if the White Sox’ sanitized-for-your-protection payroll actually limited their possibilities. A lot of the big deals this winter involved shuffling salaries to balance the numbers and risk. Seattle unburdened themselves of the last five years of Robinson Cano’s contract by accepting Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak. Philadelphia offloaded a redundant Carlos Santana to Seattle to get Jean Segura, and the Mariners turned Santana over to Cleveland for Edwin Encarnacion.

Now this winter sees the Reds somehow landing Puig in a deal that moved the last $28 million owed to Homer Bailey after a year where he went 1-14 with an ERA to match. The White Sox don’t have a comparable eight-figure salary on their books anymore, which makes it harder for them to execute such a move without it looking like a straight-up player sale. The commissioner’s office doesn’t take kindly to those.

That’s a discouraging thought, although it does come with some silver lining. When the Cano and Bailey contracts can still get moved, one shouldn’t worry too much about getting trapped under a Machado or Harper contract until its bloody end. As long as big-market teams act as though Major League Baseball has a salary cap — which means it pretty much does — there will always be the possibility of early escapes when they make the numbers work.


  • 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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Cincinnati is (unfortunately) the closest ballpark to where I live, but I’ll be paying closer attention this year. Mostly because of Puig, who is a fun player to watch.

I would have been very interested in a trade like this for the White Sox if Harper/Machado doesnt happen.


How I wish we would go make a deal for Puig. I think he would bring some personality to the team with Yolmer and also I think the team makeup would be conducive to his focus. Plus, little know fact is he is a very big “community” guy and that would be another positive as the Sox are a community team!

Greg Nix

I’m very disappointed in the lack of creativity from Hahn so far this winter. I like the additions that Cincy, Tampa, and Oakland have made much more than the Sox. Theoretically the Alonso deal is along those lines, but it’s a strange fit without a ton of upside. 

karkovice squad

The most upside is in whether Alonso’s acquisition has a meaningful impact on Machado’s decision. If it does–and Machado produces as expected for them–then the Sox will be due kudos for their lateral thinking.

It’s absolutely a puzzling gamble given the rest of their risk aversion, though.


I’d like to see them go after Greinke and Archie Bradley from the D’Backs and convert Bradley to a starter.

lil jimmy

I was listening to Alonso on the SCR yesterday. He and Machado were best friends. Manny met his sister and was head over heels but was afraid to ask her out. She gave him some time and then finally said “Well, are you going to ask me out, or what?”
Pretty cute.

lil jimmy

Twice now, I have seen it noted that the Dodgers need a Right handed bat. Harper is not that. So all the hand wringing of them stealing away Harper seems over blown.


If you’re suggesting that a fair number of us (myself most definitely included) basically shit ourselves over this Dodgers-Reds deal for nothing, well…

How dare you, sir?


Can anyone explain why it matters that the Dodgers are currently under the LT threshold? Signing Harper would push them over anyways and how far over you go doesn’t really matter.

They increased their 2018 and 2019 payrolls to decrease their “LT payroll” and get prospects. Unless I’m misunderstanding this means either:
– they really really liked the prospects they got
– they intend to stay under the LT threshold (which means no Harper)

Right Size Wrong Shape

Or there are more moves to come.


It seems very bizarre to make a move that adds payroll in the expectation that you’ll be able to sign Harper and dump enough other contracts such that the $2.5m saved here will keep you (just barely) under the LT threshold.

lil jimmy

LA is very clever. It appears they have about 20 in cap room. They have other needs however. Also 20 million does not get you Harper.


There’s too much math invoved in this deal for me to comprehend it. All I know is the 2019 season is screwed because Hahn sucks. Oh. and Renisdorf is so cheap. . .

karkovice squad

That depends on the contract structure. They could backload the deal or defer money to change the cap implications.


Apparently payroll for the purposes of LT is actually calculated using the AAV of multi-year contracts, so you can’t backload the deal to get by that.

karkovice squad

I should’ve been more precise: options/buyouts would also affect how the AAV is calculated since only the guaranteed money counts, while other clauses like opt-outs and NTCs change the $ value of the contract. Along with the deferred money, there are a lot of ways teams can make the first year of a decade plus contract less of a hit on the cap threshold.

karkovice squad

Both sides of that deal were about opportunity costs. It’s interesting how the Dodgers got more credit for addressing theirs than the Reds. Cincinnati shed this year’s liability for a year of net improvement at a fair rate and swapped out next year’s $5m liability for minimal long-term prospect cost.

The more apt comparison probably isn’t where the Sox find themselves this year but how they were hamstrung by Danks’ contract in ’15 & ’16.

karkovice squad

That or even enabling themselves to make another complementary move or better ones than Bonifacio, Lawrie, Rollins, Jackson, and Shields.


Too bad a trade like this wasn’t available for
the Sox in like 2016, before the Sale trade. We could have gotten a solid OF in Puig,  a DH in Kemp and a backend starter in Wood. 

As Cirensica

2 years ago, the price of Puig and Kemp would have been vastly different than now