For White Sox, February looks like January, which looked like December

Guaranteed Rate Field (Jim Margalus / Sox Machine)

Five years ago, the start of February meant light at the end of the tunnel for those of us in the content mines. Having exhausted my supply of evergreen ideas and left to perilously grab for post hooks day after day, the start of February itself was a post (meta!), followed by less than a fortnight before regular baseball action resumed.

Alas, when your subject is pursuing a high-profile free agent, you can throw long-term plans out the window. Groundhog Day is technically tomorrow, but it’s been Feb. 2 every day on the free agent front. Here’s the latest:

Aside from the Padres taking the part of the Yankees in the unholy trinity, little has changed in six weeks:

On the last episode of the Sox Machine Podcast, I’d mentioned that the situation has outlasted my ability to have a sense of any kind of progress. Natural skepticism kicks in, because if the White Sox really wanted to sign Machado (or Bryce Harper), or if Machado (or Harper) really wanted to sign with the White Sox, he’d already be in the fold. The counter is just about every other team could say the same, because it’s Feb. 1 and so many free agents remained unsigned.

Jon Greenberg came away with the same two takeaways:

Interestingly enough, when you talk to “industry sources” about the viability of Manny Machado to the White Sox, you get one of two answers:

1. “He doesn’t want to go there and it’s all a ruse.”

2. “I think they are the favorites by process of elimination.”

Those answers are a good reason why you should take anonymously sourced guessing with a few grains of salt as free agency lumbers into February.

If the White Sox do land a megastar, the era will start with more than a hint of resignation. Maybe that’s the only way the White Sox’ first nine-figure deal could be done.

Either way, they would be ahead of the rest of the league, which has had nearly half of its teams lying dormant. Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post makes the case that the free agent freeze is bad for the game. It’s also bad for the players, but THE GAME is probably the better case to make since fan sentiment naturally sides with billionaires over millionaires.

Nearly half the teams in the league aren’t even trying to improve, and market size has nothing to do with it. I like the way that Sean Doolittle puts it …

“We’re asking fans to be so patient,” Doolittle said. “What other product would you do that for? If your cellphone company said, ‘Hey, guess what? For the next three years, we’re scaling back our data packages. We’re only giving you 3G. But in three years, we’ll give you 6G.’ Would you stick around? Probably not. It really puts fans’ loyalty to the test.

… because while the analogy is imperfect, it’s more precise when accounting for what goes unsaid. A cellular provider needs customers to make money. Baseball, at the moment, doesn’t. With broadcast, licensing and gambling deals, franchises gain value regardless of attendance or ratings. When those are no longer the drivers, teams start behaving as though entertaining fans is harmful to the bottom line, and it all feels like a bubble begging for a nasty correction.

Maybe the work stoppage will be that correction. Or maybe it’ll take the form of a cluster of teams having nothing to show for rebuilding, bringing Grant Brisbee’s Ponzi scheme metaphor to life. If the White Sox are in the latter group, I’m not sure which one would be worse.

* * * * * * * * *

Besides Machado (and Harper), the White Sox still should be in the market for a cromulent starting pitcher. The Astros established the recent going rate for one by signing Wade Miley for one year and $4.5 million. Miley shook off multiple seasons of mediocrity to post 16 effective starts for the Brewers, plus four more in the postseason.

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Dolittle could move into broadcasting after his playing days are over. Thoughtful guy.


One of the few players really worth following on Twitter.


I guess the big question is how high are the Sox willing to go for Machado, and to a slightly lesser extent, Harper. I think the Padres entering the fray is good to the extent that they will hopefully drive the price closer to what it takes to sign these guys. Say the Padres go 8/250 for Machado. Then it comes down to, will the Sox counter and offer 8/270. Or will they say that’s too much for us. If Machado signs somewhere else for anything less than $300million, then I would really question how serious the Sox were in the first place. And I think it will really piss off the fan base. Just get it done, Rick and Jerry!


If you consider where you think the payroll is going to be in the next few years, they should be able to go to at least a 35 mil average before they would have to start think about it. Also, front loading the first couple of years at 38 or 40 could help out a lot too, and since Hahn is supposed to be a contract genius he should be able to figure it out…


I agree completely, but my guess is they are nowhere near $35-40 million. If they were, he probably would have signed already.

The problem with big possible front loading is the opt out. If you’re going to give these guys an out somewhere after 3,4,or 5 years, front loading the first few years at 35-40M suddenly becomes a bigger isuse.

Its not my money and personally I think the Sox should do it anyways, and if anything the ability to do so would put them above any other offer. But i’m sure that would be an issue for hahn/Reinsdorf and co.


I sure hope this is a purely financial standoff because it is indeed that neither player really wants to play on the Southside I fear this could cause bigger problems if the Sox do land them just by having the highest offer. I really don’t want to watch some superstar for the next 7 years that has a bad attitude because he doesn’t want to be there or milks injuries to stay off the field. So I hope if they don’t want to come they just don’t.


If the Sox have the highest offer and they take it, wouldn’t they be more upset at the other 29 teams who wouldn’t pony up? Wouldn’t they then want to show those teams that they made a big mistake by not offering more? I have a hard time believing a major league ballplayer is going to sulk for 7 years making $30+ million per year.


Usually money is the biggest concern. Even players that say they want to win championships rarely play for pennies on the dollar.


No offense, but I don’t think either guy wants to come here. Doesn’t mean that couldn’t change with some divisional titles or trophies. But an aircraft carrier of money is hard to turn down….


As a federal employee, I’ve been drawing some parallels this past month between the govt. shutdown and the free agency standoff. I considered making a post/poll here at Soxmachine in early January where we could guess what would end first; the shutdown, Machado’s free agency, or Harper’s free agency.
The shutdown “ended” a week ago, but many of us consider this dispute to be far from over and we could very easily enter another shutdown in a fortnight (couldn’t help borrowing your term Jim, however i believe the kids know it as FORTNITE), coincidentally just as PCR occurs for many clubs. I saw the “three week solution” to the shutdown as the equivalent of kicking the can a very short distance down the road, which in free agency terms would be like signing a one year deal so we can continue to do this dance again much sooner than any of us would like. Could this political melodrama be a predictor of the superstar’s contract fates? Without getting political in your responses, i was just wondering if anyone else saw the similarities.


Yeah, there certainly are some similarities. I don’t see these players signing a 1-year deal and then want to go through this same drawn out process again. Even though there will be more teams looking, there will be more free agents also. I think the last two years are becoming the “norm”. The only thing that will fix it is a significant change in the CBA. Strike, anyone?


Yep that was another metaphor i wanted to include earlier. Govt. shutdown = MLBPA Strike? When two sides are seemingly so set in their ideologies, is it as unavoidable as the media/twitters would have us think?

karkovice squad

It’s the prisoner’s dilemma. In an iterated version with the same players, if one side repeatedly defecfts, never retaliating is a losing strategy.

It’s not about 2 sides set in their ideologies. If we’re feeling charitable it’s about 1 side choosing extreme self-interest. If we’re not, then call it bad faith.

Resolving the prisoner’s dilemma otherwise requires trust among the participants.


Honestly, I don’t see any parallel. The current superstar FA’s are a little disappointed that the marquee franchises aren’t going hard after them, so they are trying to see which of the remaining suitors will blink first and give them an opt out after 3 years instead of 4. Purely guessing here, but I assume the Sox offers are the most lucrative but they don’t want to offer an opt out any sooner than the conclusion of the 2022 season.


An interesting comparison, but I actually think the difference is that politicians don’t necessarily need to compromise because they can wait for an election to change the number of seats/president they have to get something done. The coming work stoppage in baseball with the cba will eventually get hammered out because there is too much money on the table to not play baseball. I get the impression the government doesn’t really care how much money they waste on shutdowns, DACA, Walls, etc…

karkovice squad

Thinking more about this, it’s less like the shutdown and more like a recession. Individually responding to a recession with austerity makes sense. Collectively pursuing austerity can have catastrophic consequences by creating a positive feedback loop.

Like with Brisbee’s Ponzi Scheme comparison, owners are counting too much on being able to do the same thing everyone else is doing but better. Or at least being able to time it so they change their own course before everyone else hits the brick wall they’re headed for.


I am starting to wonder if Harper or Machado would refuse to sign after spring training starts – or even the regular season – if they’re not getting good offers.

Lurker Laura

I could see spring training, but not the regular season. That’s a huge gamble with generational wealth on the line.

lil jimmy

Not just good offers. Any offers. We know the Sox made an offer to Manny. We know the Nationals made an in season offer to Harper. As far as I know, that’s it.


Yeah, where are the Phillies and all their “stupid money”? As far as we know, they haven’t made any offers.

Lurker Laura

And if nobody else wants them, what’s wrong with them??


It’s not that nobody wants them, it’s that no one wants them at the money they’re asking. The big clubs are suddenly being very fiscally responsible. If George Steinbrenner were still alive, they’d both be on the Yankees by now.

Trooper Galactus

That’s the issue; so many fans have fallen for this “fiscally responsible” bullshit. I long for the days of independently wealthy owners who treated their teams as vanity items rather than simply line items. You’d always have a few who made free agency interesting and would spend big money to get things done. Now we have a bunch of ownership groups employing bean counters trying to maximize their profits with zero concern for how to actually field a competitive team, and they’ve somehow conned a large segment of fans into thinking this is a good thing.


There’s statistically inclined fans and writers who see the bullshit; though the writers are starting to realize that they’re enabling it (and of course teams hire the best analytical writers so you wind up with emotional articles on Fangraphs) by approaching the concept from a purely monetary point of view (assigning a $ value for WAR etc. which is probably the reason why Fangraphs became popular in the first place). This podcast is pretty interesting in that regard:

As for the rest they’re either randomly selected uninformed Americans who will inherently believe the wealthier you are the more righteous you are; because ‘murica. Or they’re people that think a business pursuing profit is the only moral guiding principle of society; not necessarily inherently foolish people aside from being incapable of looking ahead further than the next quarterly, but difficult to describe as baseball fans.


If you put yourself in their position, I’m not sure what the rush to sign by ST would be. Everybody acknowledges it is too long and the players stay in shape now. Maybe March 7 or so to give them 3 weeks. If all you have are underwhelming offers, what are you really risking? All it takes is one owner having a change of heart, or a premier player on a contender blowing out his achilles to possibly change the equation. Seems a lot more upside than downside potential.

Yolmer's gatorade

I could see one pulling a Grandal and signing a high one year deal.

Lurker Laura

I’ve gone back and forth on this for the past month(s), but I’m now on the “Machado isn’t signing with the Sox” side of the issue again.


I’m a little less confident than I was, but unless he’s willing to take a short-term deal, who else would he sign with?


I mean, the Padres or Phillies both make sense.

karkovice squad

The Sox really should get over the idea of extracting maximum value and set about maximizing wins. They can be satisfied with a market rate bargain and all the future hardware.


Couldn’t agree more. And it’s as much as a baseball fan as a Sox fan. Baseball has turned into one big competition to be “smart” about stuff, which 90% of the time consists of finding reasons not to make your team better.

You have a shitty position on your shitty team. What to do?

A. Call up your MLB ready Eloy like stud? No, it’s “smarter” to stunt his development while your fans eat crap so you can save money. Then you can squeeze out another year instead of the horror of actually paying market rate for a player who earned it. Cool.

B. Sign someone who doesn’t suck. No silly, you can’t sign a competent OF, as you are not at the right spot on the “win curve” so it “doesn’t make sense” to not be shitty at that position. The fans eat crap but we must “follow the plan” at all times.

C. Do the “smart” thing and hand over the position to a replacement level AAAA type who probably isn’t a major leaguer, but he is cheap. This way, we will theoretically have extra money to “sustain the winning” in 5 years or something (even though we may not need that money for FA because we already screwed our stud out of the extra year). The fans eat crap watching the Engel’s of the world, but what’s the alternative, being stupid?

To summarize, if you didn’t know any better you might think that ownership/front offices have convinced us fans that literally any move that keeps money in the teams pockets is “smart” while only “undisciplined” teams spend money to improve. Being “smart” also seems to consistently coincide with the fans eating crap, which seems suboptimal.

Baseball in some ways is like a keg party. Years ago, we saw the Mike Illitch’s, the George Steinbrennars, and a decent amount of other owners not hold back, and do keg stands until they were running around with no pants on, and some embarrasing pics were taken. Not wanting to end up like those guys, all the front offices now go to the same party and sip from the 2 ounces of beer they allow themselves, not wanting to get drunk and face any embarrasment. My wish is they could just ditch extremes, loosen up, and have 5-6 beers.

As Cirensica

Is this the tl:dr version?


If the Sox don’t get Machado or Harper, I’d really like to see them sign Marwin Gonzalez. With his versatlilty, it would keep the options open for the next free agent class. Then you could just put him at whatever position needs filling (2nd, 3rd, lf, rf).


If the get Machado, it would still be cool to get Gonzalez since we maybe have one legit outfielder between all the bodies we’ll be sticking in CF/RF


The other thing to keep in mind with how long this is taking is the staring contest between Lozano and Boras. Each one is trying to wait out the other deal to try to use it as a level to top.   They’re also trying to wait the process out to get other suitors, like the Padres, involved to drive up the price. We’re talking about potentially historical contracts with opt outs and the like to generational talents.  The Sox are in the position to match or exceed any other team’s offer.

The fact that this hasn’t been resolved yet doesn’t mean the Sox are being cheap or that Machado/ Harper don’t want to play in Chicago.  I still feel good about the Sox landing one of them, most likely Machado.  It has a JD Martinez to Boston feeling for me.  I doubt any Red Sox fan cares at this point how long that process took.

karkovice squad

Notably, the Red Sox got a bargain and Martinez was the one who took a haircut in that deal. So yes, it is about owners playing too tight.


Martinez did not take a haircut, unless you believe that Boras ridiculous 7/210 target was in line with player projections – which it wasn’t. The Red Sox may have got a bargain because JD Martinez had the best season of his career in 2018, but that is an extreme outlier compared to most free agents. He still doesn’t project to reach 5 WAR for 2019.
It’s the agent’s job to exaggerate the value of his client but every team has an analytics department now to cut through the salesmanship and fan emotion.

karkovice squad

He got fewer years than Upton and less AAV than Cespedes. That’s a haircut.


There seems to be a bigger market for Machado/ Harper which should help to drive the price upwards. With Martinez it seemed like the Red Sox were a forgone conclusion in December and he signed in March. 

Rex Fermier

I think you’re the first person on this site that really understands what the hold-up is. This is just a pissing match between Lozano and Boras. Stalling has worked to bring the padres into the mix. Stalling longer may bring in another team that feels that maybe they can land the super star player. The Phillies and Chisox are desperate for a big name player. They will wait because their fans expect it.
The Yankees figured this scam out right away and didn’t waste their time with either player and went for other players. The Yankees are the smartest team in baseball. They weren’t fooled.


The problem is the agents, especially Boras, once again misjudged the market. Harper turned down a very aggressive offer of 10 years for 300 million. Boras claimed it was just to show interest and not the real offer. Really?
These players are listening to agents, who are wrong more than 50% of the time, when they should have been watching the market. Now, even after receiving interest from three or more teams these two jamokes think they squeeze more money from the teams. If it hasn’t happened, it won’t happen.

In the meantime, a lot of good players are sitting on the sideline waiting for the two rum dumbs to smell the proverbial coffee. The Sox have to make alternative plans but they’ve sat around thinking that they may get one of these guys.


They damn well should be trying to squeeze money from the teams. The players aren’t the ones being greedy.

As Cirensica

These players are listening to agents, who are wrong more than 50% of the time

Can you back that up?


The suggestion that Manny doesn’t want to play for the White Sox contradicts the (reported) notion that this is all about top-dollar. Either preference for location is a factor for him or it isn’t. Both cannot be true. 

The longer this drags out, the better for the Sox, right? It may not feel that way, but the Phils expect to compete in 2019. If they are super confident they’ll get at least one of Harper or Machado I’m sure they’ll wait around, but sooner or later (likely sooner) they’re going to need to fill roster spots. The Sox don’t expect to compete, so they can hold out.

Also, I don’t at all buy that the Padres are really in this. Did they just suddenly realize that Machado was a good player? Did they find an extra $200 million lying around? Unless they were really the “mystery team” that’s supposedly been hanging around since December, no way will they outbid the Sox or Phils.


I agree with all of this. There are many reasons why Manny would want to play for the Sox (great city, friends/relatives on team, great future, closer to home than San Diego).
Yes, the Sox can be more patient than the Phillies and wait out the market, even into late spring training. The Phillies need to get off to a fast start if they expect to compete in that division.
I think San Diego is only in because the prices are supposed low on both Machado/Harper. Once things get serious, I don’t see them hanging in the bidding.

Patrick Nolan

Davidson to the Rangers on a minor league deal with the potential to be developed as a 2-way player. Interesting how 1-WAR players (with untapped flexibility!) are essentially held valueless* by the market.

*Unless you’re the White Sox, then you trade for them / sign them and pay them high 7-figures.

karkovice squad

Next they’ll be charging replacement level players a fee for the opportunity to get exposure.

Yolmer's gatorade

Sox need another bat that can hit left handed pitching. Davidson could’ve been that bat.

karkovice squad

Sox decided to stop playing ping pong with Clarkin. He cleared waivers and was outrighted to Iowa.


I am both happy for him that he has a modicum of stability and sad for the loss of a potentially epic transaction history.


Truly a Herculean effort by one man to pick up the slack for the entire industry by single handedly accounting for 43% of all player mentions on the transaction log. *crisply salutes Ian Clarkin in the manner Ed Harris did in the opening scene of The Rock*


Joe Sheehan had a newsletter this week that suggested Harper and Machado are not on par with A-Rod, Maddux, and Bonds (the last 3 superstars to hit free agency at a comparable age). Harper and Machado are not entering free agency with unbelievable walk years or the same level of WAR over the past 3 seasons.

We’ve all assumed they would get record contracts, and that if they don’t it must be nefarious owners. But maybe front offices are pricing them appropriately. It just flies in the face of expectations. They’re great talents and going to earn tons of money. It might not be A-Rod money or Stanton money.

As Cirensica

I blame PED

karkovice squad

Harper and Machado are not entering free agency with unbelievable walk years or the same level of WAR over the past 3 seasons.

But they do compare favorably to Stanton. Machado’s walk year in particular is in the same realm as what Stanton did before signing his extension.

Stanton’s contract is notable also both because the Marlins had leverage with arb and found someone else willing to acquire it from them.

lil jimmy

Stanton got 25 per year for 13 years, right? All things are not equal. The Marlins, slimy bastards that they are, never intended to foot that bill. He was worth 25 mil. per year. So pay him the going rate, then get out. These players want more, but 13 years is never on the table. 30 mil per is reasonable, but their agent wants 350 in 10 years. It’s different. Not equivalent at all.

karkovice squad

Stanton’s extension bought out multiple arb years. He was also only negotiating with 1 team. Both of which suppress the total AAV. It also makes the extension something more like a 10 year free agent deal. He’s getting closer to $30m/AAV for the free agent years. The Marlins also only got out of the deal because they found a taker, as already mentioned.

10 year deals aren’t unheard of until now. The Mariners even found a way out of theirs.

$350m/10 isn’t an unreasonable ask given inflation and revenue growth. And teams being able to deal their way out of them after getting what they want from the early years.

Trooper Galactus

Somebody needs to tell Joe that A-Rod got $252 million EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO. The idea that, accounting for inflation and revenue growth, Machado and Harper don’t justify AT LEAST that much money is ludicrous.


I suspect that the clubs have revalued free agents due to analytics and the lack of steroids.  Add in the widespread tanking, and the demand for superstars on long contracts is a lot less than before.  The agents and players haven’t adjusted their expectations to the new reality.

Trooper Galactus

That MLB looks at widespread tanking and doesn’t have a problem with that as a new reality is rather distressing to me.


Maybe we’re just thinking about this all wrong by adhering to the outdated notion that wins are the way to measure success. Clearly the playoffs should be expanded to include teams with top ranked farm systems and teams with lowest $/WAR.