Two Dog asked a terrific question that I began to answer, only to realize that I would need a lot more time to be convinced of my own thought process. With Prospect Week in the rear view mirror, and with an ice storm giving me nowhere else to go, I had time to fully wrap my mind around it.
Thoughts on what the Sox situation would be today if Manny Machado had taken 10/$300 mill. How that would affect current payroll? Where would Moncada be? What moves wouldn’t have occurred if Machado was in Chicago? How would that affect the extensions that were completed? Would the team be in better shape to win the World Series? Etc.
The closest thing the White Sox have to dealing with a contract that size was more than 20 years ago, so we have to establish an entire context ourselves before figuring out how the Sox might even react to the various courses of action. My attempt:
Machado’s contract is easy to digest: 10 years, $30 million per, with the ability to opt out after 2023. The White Sox had already made all significant roster additions before Machado signed with San Diego, so you only have to subtract a league-minimum payroll when adding him.
Machado’s 2019 salary was technically $10 million, but he also received a $20 million signing bonus due 30 days after the contract took effect. This means you can calculate the payroll two ways:
No. 1: Official MLB calculations. Machado earned only $12 million ($10 million plus a prorated amount of his $20 million signing bonus), which would only inflate the White Sox payroll to about $104 million, using Spotrac’s figures. Coincidentally, they’d be replacing the Padres at the 24th spot.
No. 2: RealFeel payroll. Because the $20 million came out of the White Sox’s pockets in 2019, it’s fair to mentally account for it as a 2019 expenditure. That’d push the payroll to $121 million or thereabouts, good for 19th place, one spot behind the Twins and two ahead of the Tigers.
I’ll introduce a third figure:
No. 3: Discounting Friends and Family. There were no pressing baseball reasons to add Yonder Alonso or Jon Jay, who combined to earn $12 million for their “contributions” to the 2019 season. While the White Sox didn’t say they acquired Machado’s brother-in-law and close friend in order to lure him to Chicago for less than his asking price, everybody pretty much saw through the scheme. And it can be called a “scheme” because neither Alonso nor Jay came close to justifying the signings with their play. In fact, both were cut before the end of the season. With no major replacements, the ReelFeel payroll comes down to $110 million.
A Machado-sized contract would only further incentivize the Sox to get the other players locked in, even if they think they might have to shift or offload some salaries as players get closer to free agency.
THE FINANCIAL IMPACT
The White Sox paid the necessary prices to acquire helpful talent the following winter — four years and $73 million for Yasmani Grandal, and three years, $55.5 million for Dallas Keuchel. They also spent $28 million toward the 2020 payroll on four players who didn’t help (Edwin Encarnación, Gio González, Steve Cishek, Nomar Mazara). Without Machado on the payroll, this would’ve put the White Sox on track for about a $135 million payroll under the previous standards (the official 2020 data includes 28-man rosters for a shortened season, vs. 26 players for 162 games).
Either way, the White Sox ranked 20th in payroll. Add Machado’s $30 million to the books — or $12 million after a prorated version of the salary plus signing bonus — and that puts the White Sox around $65 million, which would be $175 million over a full season, and good for 15th in baseball. I’ll argue in a bit that they wouldn’t’ve needed Mazara, so that knocks $5 million off the total.
It’s hard to say the White Sox couldn’t afford that to begin with. While the Padres only improved from 66 to 70 wins, they saw substantial gains in attendance and ratings. Two weeks after Machado signed, San Diego’s president of business operations said the team generated $3 million of additional ticket sales. At the end of the year, the Padres drew 2.4 million fans, up from 2.17 million in 2018.
Not only was its attendance growth the third-largest in Major League Baseball, but its telecasts enjoyed the largest average increase in MLB.
The average rating for all Padres telecasts in 2019 was 3.76, the best in Fox Sports San Diego’s eight seasons. That was 76 percent higher than last year and equivalent to about 37,000 homes in San Diego County (where one rating point is worth 9,817 households).
The prime-time numbers enjoyed a similar increase (78 percent). After losing nearly half their prime-time TV audience over a three-year period, the Padres gained nearly all of it back with an average rating of 4.09, equivalent to just over 40,000 households.
The Padres spent money, but they made money. The White Sox also made gains, but by aiming lower, the rewards were smaller:
- Attendance: From 1.61M to 1.65M
- TV ratings: From 0.68 to 1.03
The White Sox wouldn’t have had San Diego’s ratings and attendance in one winter. Being the lesser draw in a two-team town, earning greater mindshare takes more time. Would Jerry Reinsdorf want to push the payroll further if he didn’t see immediate postseason-type rewards? He hadn’t taken the necessary steps before following an unsuccessful push, so color me skeptical.
The specific need for a third baseman like Machado abated when Yoán Moncada broke out with the team’s best performance of the 2019 season. He hit .315/.367/.548 with a defense superior to what he did at second base, even if wasn’t yet stellar on a corner. In the process, he bested Machado himself:
The in-house advantage disappeared a year later, partially because Moncada spent the year sapped by the aftermaths of COVID-19, and partially because Machado posted his best year ever, hitting .304/.370/.580. Paired with excellent defense, the package was on pace to clear 8 WAR over 162 games, and he finished third in MVP voting.
That doesn’t mean one still can’t prefer having Moncada at third over Machado going forward. It also can mean that the White Sox could’ve benefited from having both in the lineup. All they needed to do was shift Moncada to right field.
That’s not as easy an ask as I’m making it sound, but the White Sox were already in the process of moving him from second to third, a position he didn’t consider his natural home. Moncada has the speed to play second and the arm to play third, it stands to reason that he could’ve managed right field, especially given the recent defensive standards at the position. The biggest objection is the legitimate fear that he’d immediately test his crumple zones on an outfield fence or sidewall.
That said, if you can buy into the idea of Moncada in right, that’s several million dollars the White Sox would save annually on right fielders that were bad ideas before the ink dried.
Assuming the COVID-19 outbreak can’t be traced back to the White Sox’s inability to sign Machado — and I’m open to arguments otherwise if you have ’em — the White Sox would still be entering 2021 with the same looming questions about fans and revenue and all that. It’s hard to imagine the White Sox blasting through the hardship like San Diego did.
For better or for worse, the White Sox front office has little in common with San Diego’s. Rick Hahn doesn’t have A.J. Preller’s history of line-pushing and line-crossing, and Reinsdorf doesn’t meddle as publicly and crassly as Ron Fowler has. At the same time, the Hahn/Reinsdorf/Kenny Williams front office is not nearly as transactional in nature as their San Diego counterparts. The Padres’ chairmen (asinwreck points out that Peter Seidler took over this winter) encourage big changes, and Preller doesn’t mind dealing to make it happen. It helps that he’s built a far more robust farm system during the team’s intentional downswing.
Preller didn’t take on any huge financial risks between 2019 and 2020, but he signed Drew Pomeranz, and traded for Zach Davies, Trent Grisham, Jurickson Profar, Tommy Pham and Jake Cronenworth. It resulted in too many outfielders, but then the National League got the DH and it didn’t matter. The Padres made a run at the Dodgers, Preller made more moves to advance deep into October, and when the rotation turned out to be the weak link, he traded for three new starters this winter.
Meanwhile, the White Sox don’t have a salary the size of Machado’s on the books, their future looks just about as bright after snapping a postseason drought, and they didn’t come close to San Diego’s activity. If their additions stop at Lance Lynn, Adam Eaton and Liam Hendriks, their payroll won’t quite reach the Opening Day mark they were on pace for last year.
Now throw Machado’s $30 million log on the fire, and I don’t see Reinsdorf being any more willing to expand the budget (although Eaton’s salary wouldn’t be necessary with Moncada in right). I’d guess that the White Sox would still need to have the returns from increased TV ratings and whatever attendance over a 162-game season in hand before pushing the payroll higher. Perhaps it all pays off just the same, and nobody has any regrets over a five-year window.
If the White Sox coudn’t immediately capitalize during Machado’s first few years, I could easily envision Machado’s contract being treated as the culprit. That makes me think of the Nolan Arenado situation with the Rockies. While Jeff Bridich and the Monforts make Hahn and Reinsdorf look like benevolent wizards by comparison, we’re still looking at an insular, insulated and entrenched front office that conducts itself as though it’s more concerned with long-term budgetary headaches than immediate results.
Usually the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but I’m thinking it’s more of of a pass/fail proposition. The Sox would either prove they could carry a salary that size, or prove that it was too much of them. Their unwillingness to pursue George Springer at half Machado’s commitment to fill a much bigger concern makes me lean toward the latter, at least until the fans show up.
(Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire)