While the ALDS was a disappointing end, it’s hard to call the White Sox’s 2021 season anything other than a success. Luis Robert and Dylan Cease took a massive steps forward, Lance Lynn and Liam Hendriks came in and delivered more or less exactly what was expected, and multiple other established players made incremental progress. Only one team can win it all, and speaking personally the fact that it’s not the Sox doesn’t dampen my enjoyment of this year’s team.
But for a team with so much talent, there are big questions this offseason. Primary among them: How can this team go from good enough to win the AL Central to good enough to win the AL Pennant? A lot of fans seem to want more starting pitching, since the rotation underwhelmed during the Astros series. But I struggle to see ways to reliably upgrade on pitchers as good as Lynn, Giolito, and Cease without shelling out $40 million a year for Max Scherzer. And even then, the Dodgers recently discovered he’s just as mortal as anyone else.
Pitching is unpredictable. So I’m taking a different tack. And by the end of this plan, the White Sox will have the best lineup in the big leagues.
- Lucas Giolito: $7.9M — TENDER
- Reynaldo López; $2.8M — TENDER
- Evan Marshall: $2.3M — NON-TENDER
- Adam Engel: $2.2M — TENDER
- Brian Goodwin: $1.7M — NON-TENDER
- Jimmy Cordero: $1.2M — NON-TENDER
- Jace Fry: $1M — NON-TENDER
Giolito, Lopez, and Engel are relatively easy calls. I would non-tender the others, and offer them minor league deals to re-sign.
- Craig Kimbrel: $16M ($1M buyout) — PICK UP
- César Hernández: $6M — DECLINE
I’m operating under the assumption that the White Sox will pick up Kimbrel’s option, so that’s what I did here. They might be better off cutting bait (I probably would if I was named front office czar), but presumably they’ve gathered enough intel to know there will be interest on the trade market.
Hernandez stunk from almost the day he got here. It was a low-risk move that didn’t work out. *Shrug.*
OTHER IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
- Leury García — RE-SIGN, 2 years / $10 million
- Carlos Rodón — LET GO
- Billy Hamilton — RE-SIGN, Minor League Contract
- Ryan Tepera — RE-SIGN, 2 years / $8 million
Let’s start with Rodon, as the biggest name and the only one I’m choosing not to bring back. I just don’t have any faith that the Sox and Rodon/Scott Boras can agree to terms that will work for both sides. Despite his dominance for the first half of last season, the Sox are in a position where they wouldn’t want to rely on him as more than a 4th starter because of his continued health issues. Unfortunately, he will not come at a 4th starter price. The Sox have a ready replacement in Michael Kopech, so I think it’d be better for both sides to go out on a high note.
Leury is coming off the best year of his career and is La Russa favorite, so I assume he’ll be back. Since he won’t cost all that much, I see a lot of sense in keeping him around as a roster-wide safety net. Tepera is also coming off a career season, and I’ll be interested to see what his market is. He doesn’t have a very long track record of success, but was solid all year (including the playoffs), so I have a hard time seeing how the White Sox could do better in the mid-tier relief market. Hamilton is another guy who makes sense as a Spring Training invite; I’d prefer him slightly to Goodwin if the team can only keep one.
No. 1: Marcus Semien (seven years / $180 million)
I expect this will be a popular name during this year’s OPP, because it makes a ton of sense for the White Sox to finally wade into the deep end of the free agent pool. I bet the water’s nice.
The Sox have famously flirted with top-end talent, but Semien’s situation might actually be the perfect storm that aligns all variables and makes it possible. They already know him, as a former Sox farmhand. He’s an elite player currently playing a non-elite position, like Yasmani Grandal and Liam Hendriks. There are several other high-end middle infield options (namely Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Javy Baez, and Trevor Story) that might dampen Semien’s market. And he just so happens to be coming off an MVP-caliber season at the Sox’s biggest position of need.
Signing this kind of contract would break new ground for Jerry Reinsdorf and set the Sox up as legit World Series contenders in 2022. So let’s just hope this storm is perfect-er than the Manny Machado chase.
OFFSEASON PLAN PROJECT: See all the plans | Submit your own
Unfortunately despite my mother’s warnings, I’ve blown my free agent budget all-in-one-place. So the rest of my roster re-shaping has to happen via trade.
No. 1: Trade RP Craig Kimbrel and OF Adam Engel to the Yankees for OF Joey Gallo
Any interest in Kimbrel is likely limited to teams that are 1) already good and 2) quite rich. Meanwhile, the Yankees have cash to burn and a bullpen that looked wobbly after losing Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman for stretches in 2021. They also have too many corner bats, particularly if they re-sign Anthony Rizzo, and Gallo struggled after being traded from Texas. He’s a divisive player, but checks three major boxes for the White Sox: he bats lefty, plays good defense in the corner outfield, and hits the ball in the air. As the 6th or 7th best hitter on a team, you could do a LOT worse.
Engel is a throw-in to sweeten the deal for New York. If healthy, he’d make a nice quasi-regular for the Yankees, as someone who can partner with Aaron Hicks in CF or play better defense than Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the corners. It’s sad to say goodbye, since we all watched him slowly transform himself into a capable Major League hitter. But with Luis Robert (hopefully) playing everyday in center, Engel is more valuable to another team than to the Sox.
No. 2: Trade C Zack Collins and OF Micker Adolfo to the Pirates for C Jacob Stallings
It’s pretty clear that the Sox need someone, anyone who can catch behind Yasmani Grandal. Stallings took the Kevan Smith memorial “long and slow” road to the big leagues, but in his first extended shot at a regular job last year he was one of baseball’s five most valuable backstop defenders according to Fangraphs. He’s also not an embarrassment with the bat, posting a 92 OPS+ over 570 plate appearances the last two seasons. But he’ll be 32 next year, which puts him firmly outside whatever Pittsburgh’s contention window might be. In exchange for Stallings’s sure hands, the Pirates get two swings at a big power bat in Collins and Adolfo. Sure, based on those guys’ K rates, the swings will likely miss. But there’s value in seeing what each of them can do on a bad team.
No. 3: Trade SP Dallas Keuchel, SP Jared Kelley, and IF Yolbert Sanchez to the Marlins for SP Zach Thompson
This is essentially a salary dump to fit Semien’s contract. Who knows if this deal is actually workable for Miami, but I think it makes some sense. By taking on some cash and moving a back-end rotation arm, the Marlins get a high-upside prospect in Kelley, a near-ready IF prospect in Sanchez, plus whatever Keuchel has left as veteran ballast. The Sox clubhouse probably won’t be happy about losing both Keuchel and Rodon, but Rick Hahn is going to have to make some tough decisions one way or another and allocating $40ish million to those two guys just isn’t workable based on the White Sox general payroll restrictions.
Here’s the 26-man Opening Day roster:
SS Tim Anderson
CF Luis Robert
2B Marcus Semien
1B Jose Abreu
C Yasmani Grandal
LF Eloy Jimenez
RF Joey Gallo
3B Yoan Moncada
DH Gavin Sheets / Andrew Vaughn
C Jacob Stallings
IF Leury Garcia
OF Billy Hamilton
UTL Andrew Vaughn / Gavin Sheets
SP Lance Lynn
SP Lucas Giolito
SP Dylan Cease
SP Michael Kopech
SP Zach Thompson
CL Liam Hendriks
SU Aaron Bummer
SU Ryan Tepera
MR Garrett Crochet
MR Jose Ruiz
MR Ryan Burr
LR Jimmy Lambert
LR Reynaldo Lopez
PAYROLL: $173 million
This lineup would be very scary to opposing pitchers, capable of beating them in every possibly way. The pitching likely takes a small step back, but should be plenty good enough to win the division again. Once we get to the postseason, it’s up to Lynn, Giolito, Cease, and Kopech to… pitch better. It would help to face a worse team than the Astros in the first round. But regardless, those guys need to step up and pitch to their talent level. Any one of them has the arm to win a Cy Young, so there’s no reason they can’t collectively be good enough to win in the postseason.
Unfortunately, that brings me to a name I haven’t mentioned: Tony La Russa. While I’m no huge fan, I respect the work he did in guiding a young team to an easy playoff berth. That’s been exceedingly rare in White Sox history. But he needs to be better: better pitcher usage, better defensive positioning, better in-game strategy. It will help to have two extra Gold Glove-caliber defenders in Semien and Gallo, but La Russa and his staff will also have to maximize their own performances in order to truly compete with elite teams.
(Photo by Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)
Great plan, Greg!
If the Pirates would do that Stallings deal, it needs to happen yesterday.
Tell me about it. I think I included Yolbert Sanchez when I originally posited the idea, just because they could look at Adolfo and possibly think they could just nab him off waivers.
I like this Plan. I see more chance the White Sox signing Semien than the Marlins making that Keuchel trade though.
Overall nice job on the plan…I’m little confused by your Semien contract though …He will be 31 at the start of next season you feel the market will dictate a 7 year deal for him?
Bluejays gave 6 years to a 31 years old George Springer.
I’m a big fan of your trades. They are creative, realistic, and make the team better. Well done.
I already harped on this in another forum… but I really hope the White Sox don’t plan on platooning Vaughn. Hitting only against LHP, he wouldn’t get a ton of PAs and he’s the caliber of prospect whose development is more important than MLB depth. He’s also already woefully lacking on pro experience. If the Sox don’t feel comfortable giving him a corner OF or DH (which I understand), let him get ABs in AAA or trade him.
I will never understand many in this group’s love affair with Joey Gallo. Y’all remember when Adam Dunn was our DH, right?
While I believe Kimbrel needs to go — imagine if he puts up a even a passable 3.50-4.00 ERA for the Yankees next year and Engel learns how to stay healthy. We can say: we offloaded our former #1 draft pick second baseman for someone we later flipped for the second coming of Adam Dunn. I’d rather hold onto Kimbrel than take on Gallo.
I don’t remember Adam Dunn playing above-average defense in RF.
Instead, we can get some defense in RF along with lots of Ks and the occasional HR. I don’t get it.
I know his WAR would be an improvement, but I’m with you. I’ve just never been a fan of that type of player, a guy who is likely to strand a runner on 3rd with less than 2 out. I know Yankees fans hated him because of the K’s.
I would hate to see him as a stand-alone addition, but if they got Semien to go with him, then ok.
Yeah but you have to admit Gallo’s stats will be better than whatever bozo we put in RF next year.
I don’t know if Gallo needs to come to Chicago, but someone needs to pry him from the Yankees so he can regrow his beard.
Lance Lynn surely agrees with me.
I never understood what everyone hated about Adam Dunn while he was here. What were people expecting?
His OPS his first year with the Sox was .570, compared to over .850 for his career. His average the prior two years was 40-100 points higher than all his years with the Sox. They were expecting him to suck a lot less.
I expected exactly what little Dunn delivered — I just wish I could understand what Kenny Williams was expecting….
While they’re similar types, this isn’t a fair comparison. Gallo is 28, coming off a 4+ bWAR season, with one arb year left. Dunn was 31, comming off a 2+ bWAR season, signed a big 4-year deal and promptly fell off a cliff. The complaint about Dunn wasn’t that he was a slugger, it was that he stopped slugging.
“Promptly fell off a cliff” his first year and then bounced back nicely the rest of his time here.
100% with you. I don’t like players with one or two abilities unless they are bench players. Gallo was straight op horrible during his stay with the Yankees who has a stadium built for hitters like Gallo.
I love any plan that starts with Semien. I know people balk at the idea of going so big on one player because they assume they won’t be able to do much else. I say, get a badass player for once. I think that’s worth more than plugging two holes with much more mediocre talent.
I could see Semien on the South Side, great picture!
I like the spirit of the trade ideas because there’s no point in keeping guys like Collins & Engel around if they aren’t part of the plan or don’t play ever. If you can turn guys like that into value, you do it while other teams are still intrigued by them.
I like Greg’s trade too, but Engel has plenty of value right where he is. If he were healthy, he probably would have played 130+ games this year. He’s a nice option for 4th OF, and I’d be happy to see him return.
I like Engel, I just don’t think he’d be playing much if we get a real RF.
No on Gallo.
At dinner my wife said she was upset when the Sox traded Semien. I had no idea she cared that much and it was still eating her.
I’d love to see all 3 of those trades happen but I can’t imagine that any of those opposing teams do.
I’d like it if I thought it could happen, but I just don’t see the Yankees trading Gallo for Kimbrel/Engel without us throwing in money (which defeats the purpose), and I get the feeling the Marlins, who had one of the better pitching staffs in the National League and a solid 1-4 starting rotation, may be poised to add this year, especially given how clean their books are. While I’m sure they’d be happy to have Sanchez and Kelley in the long term, I don’t think they’d be interested in swapping Thompson for Keuchel in their rotation if they have designs on competing. If they decide to up their payroll to $100M+, they could probably add three or four top free agents to the mix without flinching.