Asinwreck’s Offseason Plan to Actually Win in 2020 and Beyond

What a waste of time. Jerry Reinsdorf, Kenny Williams, and Rick Hahn failed to add to the franchise’s talent base in 2019. Opening the checkbook for Manny Machado or Bryce Harper or Yasmani Grandal or Patrick Corbin or even Lance Lynn would have added players who would contribute to the next good White Sox team. All it would have cost was money. Instead a team in the third-largest market in the league went into the season with a payroll below $90 million.

The payroll would have been even lower had the Sox not traded an actual prospect for the rights to pay Yonder Alonso $8 million. Their big free-agent acquisition was Kelvin Herrera, who got $8.5 million to prove he wasn’t over the foot injury that ended his 2018 season that August. The Sox did not spend the money required to add significant talent. The money they did spend was invested poorly. The result was little depth in the rotation, the bullpen, or the lineup. It’s a credit to the development of Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, and Eloy Jimenez that this team did not lose 100 games, and the team wasted their good years by neglecting to add talent around them.

My real plan for the offseason involves a new owner (Rocky Wirtz, anyone?), new president of baseball operations (Kim Ng has her roots with the Sox and relationships with MLBAM and the Yankees and Dodgers organizations), and new general manager (I think Kevin Goldstein is ready for the job and he already lives in Illinois) who will make the changes required to make the White Sox a first-class major league organization. Failing that, my ideas for the 26-player roster involve spending some money.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE PLAYERS

  • Álex Colomé, $10.3M Tender.
  • Yolmer Sánchez, $6.2M Non-tender.
  • James McCann, $4.9M Tender.
  • Carlos Rodón, $4.5M Tender.
  • Leury García, $4M Tender.
  • Evan Marshall, $1.3M Tender.
  • Josh Osich, $1M Tender.
  • Ryan Goins, $900K Non-Tender

Other than a couple of utility infielders, I am tendering everyone. Not everyone who gets a contract will be part of the 2020 White Sox, as I have some trade ideas.

CLUB OPTIONS

  • Welington Castillo: $8 million/$500,000 buyout. Decline.

That dead-cat bounce in September will not convince me to spend any more time or money on Castillo. I have a very predictable plan to get the Sox the second catcher they need.

OTHER IMPENDING FREE AGENTS

  • José Abreu (made $16M in 2019). Resign for 1 year/$16m.
  • Iván Nova (made $9,166,167 in 2019). Let go.
  • Jon Jay (made $4M in 2019). Let go. Jon Jay’s Hall of Fame clock started on September 30, 2019.
  • Hector Santiago (made $2M in 2019 on split contract). Let go. I would check in to see if Hector was willing to pitch in Charlotte again for depth purposes, but not for anything more than an NRI. I wouldn’t mind seeing him stick around the organization after his playing days are over.

FREE AGENTS
The Sox need to infuse the team with talent, and the farm system’s struggles last year didn’t help. I am not stopping with three signings.

No. 1: Yasmani Grandal (4 years, $80 million). In March of 1981, Jerry Reinsdorf approved a five-year contract to a 33-year old free agent catcher. That seems insane, but Fisk’s signing was a key move in helping the young talent Bill Veeck had amassed in his final three seasons go win a division title. Grandal is younger now than Fisk was then, and I suspect he would do four years at $20 million a year. (I also suspect that annual figure is necessary due to several interested teams bidding.)

Signing Grandal provides a major building block to the rebuild. It gives the Sox their best defensive catcher since throwing Tyler Flowers in the dirt and their best offensive catcher since at least A. J. Pierzynski’s contribution to the last winning White Sox season in 2012. It keeps McCann from being worn down, and allows Renteria to give either catcher at-bats at DH or even 1B. It is one of the two big free agent signings I recommend, with the other helping the rotation.

No. 2: Zack Wheeler (4 years, $72 million). I would love to pencil in Cole or Strasburg here, but that is beyond the pale for a Jerry Reinsdorf team. Wheeler’s mix of youth and recent performance gets him the nod over the other starters who will get multi-year offers. I am leery of the two years it took Wheeler to recover from TJS, and he started slow this year. Oh, though, his second half. A performance like that alongside the pitching Giolito gave us last year would be wonderful to see.

Grandal and Wheeler are the free agent cornerstones of my roster, but I have more free agents in mind. Let’s go to the bargain bin.

No. 3: Ben Zobrist (1 year, $6 million). He’s old and he didn’t do much in 2019 as he dealt with a divorce. The Cubs could well move on from him for budgetary reasons this offseason. Would he take an age-and-performance-appropriate pay cut to stay in town? If he does, he could be the Opening Day second baseman while Nick Madrigal starts at Charlotte. Or he could be the right fielder should my other plans not pan out. He could also spell Eloy in left and Abreu at first. He’s a switch-hitter with good on base skills, and if the personal issues of 2019 stay in 2019, he is a reasonable short-term addition to this young team. Combined with Leury, he provides the kind of positional depth that approximates the roster construction that served the Yankees well this year.

No. 4: Alex Wood (2 years, $10 million). Did anyone in baseball cost himself more money than Wood did in 2019? Going into free agency, the guy who looked like an ace in 2017 struggled with back injuries put up a ghastly 6.38 FIP in the few games he was able to pitch. Wood could be useless, or he could put up a 3-WAR season. He’s worth the risk of this contract.

No. 5: Matt Moore (1 year, $700,000). The onetime Tampa Bay phenom struggled with arm injuries for it seemed like forever before last season. He looked as good as he had in several years during spring training with the Tigers, and then looked terrific in a couple of starts the first week of the season. Unfortunately, he hurt his knee on an awkward defensive play in that second start and was out for the year. He’ll be 30 and almost 12 months past meniscus surgery on Opening Day. I have had him penciled in as a buy-low option for the 2020 Sox since Tax Day 2019, and would rather worry about his knee than, say, Michael Wacha’s shoulder.

No. 6: Blake Treinen (1 year, $3 million). This assumes the A’s cut 2018 All-Star Treinen, which seems likely given their other options and rumors in Bay Area media reports. He, Wood, and Moore are all coming off injuries that will depress their value. Adding them to Wheeler should prevent the 2020 White Sox from having to speed-dial Ross Detwiler or Odrisamer Despaigne. I love writing “Odrisamer Despaigne” so much that I added him to the 2020 plan as an example of What Not to Do. These signings also allow for the two trades I would like to make.

TRADES
I propose two trades. Only one seems rational, but both are offered after considering the needs and problems of the franchises who would be dealing with the Sox. Both trades involve guys who I tendered contracts to above, in the hopes that they would offer trade value the Sox need given the Dust Bowl yields down on the farm in 2019.

No. 1:  Evan Marshall ($1.3 million) to Mets for Dominic Smith (~$600,000).

Outside of Seth Lugo, the 2019 Mets bullpen was terrible. (Inside of Seth Lugo, it’s too dark to assess pitching performances.) The Mets also have some pretty expensive contract obligations, Wilponian financial constraints, and a lot of useful bats with limited roster spots for them. This seems like a team that would want affordable, reasonably effective Evan Marshall and be willing to give up a young lefty bat in return. The only way Dominic Smith plays first in Flushing is if a Sherman tank runs over Pete Alonso, and while Smith has lost a lot of weight since coming up in 2017, he isn’t plan A or B in either corner in Flushing. He would be excellent for the bulk of DH at-bats (whichever catcher you want to take off the mask that day can get the other DH appearances) and is worth trying for spot duty in right or left given the horrific production of non-Eloy outfielders in Bridgeport. Wherever Dominic Smith plays in 2019, I could see him hitting 30 homers with a .350 on-base percentage. That looks awfully good in the Sox lineup, especially for a left-handed hitter.

No. 2: Álex Colomé ($10 million) & Carson Fulmer (~$600,000) to Rockies for Wade Davis ($17 million + $1 million 2021 buyout) and David Dahl (~$3 million).

No, wait. Come back and hear me out. The Rockies owe Wade Davis $17 million in 2020 with a $1 million buyout for 2021. Wade Davis posted an ERA of 8.65 with ugly peripherals in 2019. Would the team that signed First Baseman Ian Desmond be willing to sacrifice Dahl to get improved pitching from a couple of guys (yes, even Fulmer qualifies for that) at about half the price? Dahl’s injury history is a blood-red flag and he’s due for his first arbitration raise, but that combination also may make the Rockies willing to take this gamble. Dahl’s a lefty with decent on-base skills and pop. Imagine a skinnier, faster, spleenless Dominic Smith and you see why I want both of these guys in the lineup.

Davis is probable toast, but his contract will come off the books before the Sox core files for arbitration. If he’s got any life left in his arm, throw him in some low-leverage innings and see what happens. If he’s bad, release him and see how Tyler Johnson or one of his teammates is throwing.

If the Rockies don’t like this offer, seeing whether the Pirates would want much for Gregory Polanco is a possibility that has less upside but still a substantial improvement on Ryarlon Jaordilson. Polanco’s swing and miss tendencies don’t match up well with the Sox lineup’s biggest problems, but he would certainly produce more homers than right field did in 2019. Bryce Harper would look phenomenal in right, but I suggested that last year to no avail. Worst case scenario in my plan, the Sox could plug Zobrist into right field and call up Madrigal. Picking up Dahl with Davis’s contract affords the roster on-base skills, handedness balance, and depth.

SUMMARY: OPENING DAY ROSTER
Pitchers:
Lucas Giolito (~$600,000)
Reynaldo López (~$600,000)
Dylan Cease (~$600,000)
Zack Wheeler ($18 million)
Alex Wood ($5 million)
Matt Moore ($700,000)
Kelvin Herrera ($8.5 million)
Wade Davis ($17 million)
Blake Treinen ($3 million)
Josh Osich ($1 million)
Aaron Bummer (~$600,000)
Jimmy Cordero (~$600,000)
Carlos Rodón ($4.5 million; on IL Opening Day)

Catchers:
Yasmani Grandal ($20 million)
James McCann ($4.9 million)
Zack Collins (~$600,000)

Infielders:
José Abreu ($16 million)
Ben Zobrist ($6 million)
Tim Anderson ($4 million)
Yoan Moncada (~$600,000)
Danny Mendick (~$600,000)
Leury Garcia ($4 million)

Outfielders:
Eloy Jiménez ($2.3 million)
David Dahl ($3 million)
Luis Robert (~$600,000)
Dominic Smith (~$600,000)
Adam Engel (~$600,000)

The 26-man roster all this churn produces costs about $124.5 million. That’s $4.5 million over the constraint. Here is the case for the expense:

This team is better in the short-term and long-term, without establishing heavy long-term payroll commitments or needlessly hindering the development of young talent. $48 million of this budget disappears after the season. $17 million of that is Wade Davis, and we are only taking that on because we were too cheap and ineffective to get a right fielder for less than what it will take to pry David Dahl from the Rockies. Dahl has three years of club control remaining, so that expenditure is sound. Zobrist is a bridge to help the team cheap out on Nick Madrigal with another year of control, so that represents long-term cost savings if Madrigal can be a 2-war or more player. Unlike Davis, Zobrist is a good bet to actually improve the current team’s performance in 2020.

The two big expenditures are additions to the talent base for the next few years. Back when Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn bought the team, Einhorn remarked that they would be turning the Sox into a first-class organization. The signature move they made was the Carlton Fisk signing. The team that calls Guaranteed Rate Field home shows few signs of being a first-class organization these days despite a valuation of about $1.5 billion. Paying Yasmani Grandal and Zack Wheeler is a conscious attempt to restore the compact with fans that management broke in the run up to last season.

Back in February of 2018, Rick Hahn said “Our goal is to contend for multiple championships over an extended period of time. As to the exact date on which that starts, we’re not prepared to put the specific target out there because, in all candor, I would have given you a farther out date a year ago at this time. When we started this process, we talked about how traditionally these things around the league take five years or so. I think we’ve already adjusted that timeline, for the better.”

In February of 2020 the White Sox will be entering Year Four of the rebuild. Tim Anderson and Eloy Jiménez are already on long-term deals. Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada made great leaps last year that will ensure they will be due raises when arbitration comes along. The White Sox wasted 2019 by failing to add talent to this base. James McCann was the single data point to defend the team against absolute incompetence identifying major-league talent that could contribute in the short-term (let along the long-term). The big expenditures in 2020 secure legitimate major league talent who will contribute as Anderson, Moncada, Jiménez, and Giolito enter their primes.

The roster includes two speculative investments. If one of Wood or Moore pans out, the Sox are in great shape. Most of these deals improve the 2020 White Sox without compromising the ability of the 2021 White Sox to pay their young stars, or to get in the way of roster spots for Michael Kopech or Nick Madrigal as those two ideally join the core.

The riskiest part of this roster is the bullpen, and I made that choice for two reasons. First, bullpens tend to be volatile. Second, if there’s any part of the farm system that could help the team in 2020, it’s the bullpen. Giving Michael Kopech managed long relief stints after a couple months in Charlotte could keep his innings under control the first year back from TJS. Tyler Johnson, Ian Hamilton, and Zack Burdi all have plausible cases to warrant significant major-league service this season, and even Dylan Covey could be stashed at Charlotte to see if keeping him to an inning or two will reduce the carnage wrought in 2019.

The roster also includes Carlos Rodón, on the chance that his 80-grade slider could serve the team down the stretch and also for next year. His salary is just about the overage from the established budget. Ain’t that worth it?

So constructed, the 2020 White Sox should win more games than they lose. That has not happened since 2012. This team has a realistic chance at making the postseason given the makeup of the AL Central. That has not happened since 2008. The same men who have presided over this sustained futility continue to make roster decisions. If that process was to change, either under the leadership of Rocky Wirtz, Kim Ng, and Kevin Goldstein, or due to the suggestions of some schmo who ripped off Bill Veeck’s best book for a pseudonym, those streaks will end this year.

This roster also sets up success for the future. $48 million comes off the books in 2021. Cutting all but $16 million of that will be easy. What of that $16 million? If Jerry Reinsdorf is still in charge of the team next year at this time, the hardest decision will be determining whether or not to offer 34-year-old José Abreu a contract as the catchers, Dominic Smith, and maybe Andrew Vaughn all vie for playing time at first base and designated hitter. Developing depth can bring unsentimental decisions, and we will know in twelve months if the White Sox have finally developed the depth for sustained success.

The Sox cut a slugging franchise icon right after improbably winning the 2005 World Series. I could live with history repeating itself in 2020.

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8 Comments
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MrStealYoBase

Best one I’ve read so far. Good reasoning for all your additions and some outside the box names.

lil jimmy

As you are an East coast guy, if you say go get Dominick Smith, I’m on board. I don’t see any need for Ben Zobrist, but that’s small potatoes. I also like Kim Ng, (and Rocky)

roke1960

I really like Dahl, but I don’t see the Rockies giving him up for that package.

Eagle Bones

I’m not sure what to make of that deal at first blush, but I like the idea! Davis has a potentially dangerous vesting option (15 mil guaranteed if he finishes 30 games this year). Basically means he just needs to stay on the field and in the closer’s role. I guess they could easily skirt this by putting him in a setup role?

Overall, great job! I think you might need to add a prospect of some note to the Smith trade to get that done and you’re maybe a few mil like on Treinen, but I like both of those moves!

GrinnellSteve

This is lucid. Good job.

I did the same thing in trying to leverage the low payroll to take on a bad contract and get a right fielder. Different names, same general idea.

BeefLoaf108

I love the Dominic Smith idea, but I don’t think the Mets are that fuggin’ nuts to let him go for Evan Marshall. I suspect it would take plenty more than that.

I like your free agent signings quite a bit.

White Sox Wade

Love the front office changes and buy low signings.  Nice job.