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It’s strange that the White Sox are coming off their most successful season in 12 years with exactly the same holes they had entering last offseason. But Rick Hahn somehow managed to thread the needle of massively improving the team while still adding a bunch of crappy players.
The improvement was thanks to the long-awaited debut of Luis Robert, career seasons from Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu, and productive years from the best two free agents Hahn added, Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel. Robert should continue to improve, but it’s hard to count on Anderson and Abreu both showing the same (incredibly awesome) form they did in 2020. Meanwhile, Grandal and Keuchel are both another year older, and will have to again beat out some concerning peripherals in order to repeat their production. All this is to say that it’s imperative Hahn find real answers at right field, DH, and in the rotation this time around. If the White Sox rest on their laurels, they’ll face the possibility of backsliding from a season that was only modestly successful to begin with.
So, here’s my attempt at some solutions.
- Nomar Mazara: $5.6M | $5.9M | $5.7M – Non-tender
- Carlos Rodón: $4.5M | $4.5M | $4.5M – Non-tender
- Lucas Giolito: $2.5M | $5.3M | $2.5M – Tender
- Reynaldo López: $1.7M | $2.2M | $1.7M – Tender
- Evan Marshall: $1.3M | $1.9M | $1.4M – Tender
- Adam Engel: $1M | $1.4M | $1M – Tender
- Jace Fry: $800K | $1M | $800K – Tender
- Yolmer Sánchez: Uncertain – Non-tender
Mazara and Rodon were both hugely disappointing, which has been a trend in each of their careers. I doubt many Sox fans will be sad to see them go; they are emblematic of the kind of half-solutions Hahn needs to avoid this offseason. I considered non-tendering Lopez, as well, particularly since my front office needs every dollar we can get. But I’m trading him instead.
The others are fairly all easy calls, although I’ll try to bring back Yolmer’s sure hands on a minor-league deal.
- Edwin Encarnación: $12M – Decline
- Gio González: $7M ($500K buyout) – Decline
- Leury García: $3.5M ($250K buyout) – Decline
Encarnacion and Gonzalez are two more easy calls, but Garcia is a little tougher. He’s definitely a useful player, but his skills can be replicated for the league minimum. To me, this decision comes down to how much imaginary payroll can I convince imaginary Jerry Reinsdorf to imaginary stomach. If the number is flexible then I’d keep Garcia, but since I’m trying to come in at $135 million on this plan I’m declining his option.
OTHER IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
- Alex Colomé (Made $10,532,500 in 2020) – Let go
- James McCann (Made $5.4M in 2020) – Let go
- Jarrod Dyson (Made $2M in 2020) – Let go
I don’t think McCann will settle for a backup job and he’s not as good as Grandal, so unfortunately we have to say goodbye to one of Rick Hahn’s finest acquisitions. I’ll be curious to see Colome’s market because I wouldn’t mind seeing him back, but I think there are more pressing places to allocate the money he’ll probably require. Dyson was a decent deadline acquisition, but he’s not worth more than a minor league deal at this point.
- Manager: Bruce Bochy
- Pitching coach: Kyle Boddy
I’m working under the assumption here that Bochy wants to return to managing. I’m not wild about either AJ Hinch or Alex Cora and the baggage each carries with him, while hiring 76-year old Tony La Russa nine years after he last managed seems… bizarre. Bochy splits the middle as a proven championship-winning manager who’s widely respected around the league, but won’t be closing in on 80 during the Sox contention window.
I have no idea if Boddy, the founder of Driveline Baseball, is actually qualified to be a major league pitching coach. He certainly would need to be vetted extensively, considering the extremely online tendencies he and Trevor Bauer share. But he’s long been one of the most progressive (if somewhat controversial) thinkers in the baseball world, which is exactly what the Don Cooper regime seemed to lack over the last few seasons. And his current consultant role with the Reds means he’s no longer a complete outsider. Regardless, I would love to see the front office make an aggressive hire here. Becoming an organization at the forefront of pitcher development would take a lot of pressure off the front office as the payroll grows.
(More realistically, if either Matt Zaleski or Everett Teaford can demonstrate an advanced understanding of modern pitch analytics, I’m okay with the Sox staying in house.)
No. 1: Marcus Stroman (four years, $72 million)
Stroman is simultaneously one of the youngest and most accomplished arms on the free agent market. Sounds great to me! He’s not a big strikeout guy, but he’s durable, keeps the ball on the ground, and limits walks. Does that sound like anyone the White Sox have signed recently? In an uncertain market, it’s especially hard to know what kind of contract Stroman will command since he opted out of the 2020 season, but somewhere between Keuchel and Zack Wheeler feels reasonable.
(I know he and Anderson have had beef in the past, but they both seem like good dudes, so I’m hoping they can make nice.)
No. 2: Jose Quintana (one year, $6 million)
The Sox need someone to stabilize the back of the rotation, and Quintana has never pitched for a team outside of Chicago. A reunion makes a ton of sense, even in Q’s somewhat diminished form. Since he missed most of 2020, I doubt he’ll command much money or more than one year.
No. 3: Jason Castro (one year, $5 million)
With McCann leaving, the Sox will need a sure-handed backup catcher. That’s exactly what Castro is at this point in his career, and if he can run into enough home runs to be a league average bat like in 2019, all the better.
No. 4: Shin-Soo Choo (one year, $4 million)
There aren’t many inspiring names on the DH market, but Choo is a lefty who can still get on base — two things the Sox lineup was sorely lacking in 2020. He’ll hopefully only be keeping the seat warm for Andrew Vaughn anyway. If Vaughn isn’t ready and Choo isn’t hitting, a full season should allow the Sox to cut bait and upgrade at the trade deadline.
Trade Reynaldo Lopez, Jonathan Stiever, and Zack Collins to the Mets for Michael Conforto
I’m not wild about the high-end right field options on the free agent market. George Springer will cost too much, Marcell Ozuna is an awful defender, and I don’t want to count on Michael Brantley’s continued health/productivity at age-34 and beyond. So I’ll turn to the trade market for a potential long-term solution.
The Mets are coming off a last place season, have new owner, a bloated payroll, very little pitching depth, and lots of quality outfielders. All of that would seem to suggest Conforto will be highly available entering his final season of arbitration. He’s also essentially a perfect player to plug the hole in right field: a high-OBP lefty bat that can hit 25-30 homers and is a credible corner outfield defender. I view the one year of team control as a benefit here, since the Sox should be able to acquire him relatively cheaply, then extend him ahead of his free agency if they choose. (It’s basically a miniature version of what the Dodgers did with Mookie Betts last season.)
The package going the other way should be useful to the Mets, but doesn’t cost anyone who figures heavily into the Sox’s future plans. Lopez can provide the Mets with desperately needed innings at the back of the rotation, while Stiever immediately becomes their best pitching prospect. Meanwhile, 33-year old Wilson Ramos and 36-year old Robinson Chirinos combined to be exactly replacement level over the bulk of the Mets’ catching duties in 2020, so they’re better situated to give Collins a major league shot than the Sox ever will be.
Here’s my 26-man roster heading into Opening Day 2021.
SS Tim Anderson
RF Michael Conforto
1B Jose Abreu
C Yasmani Grandal
LF Eloy Jimenez
3B Yoan Moncada
CF Luis Robert
DH Shin-Soo Choo
2B Nick Madrigal
C Jason Castro
IF Yolmer Sanchez
IF Danny Mendick
OF Adam Engel
RHP Lucas Giolito
LHP Dallas Keuchel
RHP Marcus Stroman
LHP Jose Quintana
RHP Dane Dunning
LHP Aaron Bummer
RHP Evan Marshall
RHP Codi Heuer
LHP Garrett Crochet
RHP Matt Foster
LHP Jace Fry
RHP Jimmy Cordero
RHP Dylan Cease
The payroll comes out to around $137 million, and if Jerry complains that I’m $2 million over budget I’ll tell him to borrow money from the Bulls (or I’ll sign a cheaper catcher than Castro). I feel good about my solutions for right field and the rotation. I’m less enthused by DH, but there’s really nowhere else for Vaughn to play when he’s ready, so it doesn’t make sense to commit to someone else until they know how good he is.
With a new manager and pitching coach pulling the right levers, I’m confident in this team as division favorites. Make it happen, Rick!
(Photo by D. Benjamin Miller)