Last year, I went with a plan that tried to anticipate what the White Sox would do. For example, I looked at the free-agent outfielders and figured that Rick Hahn would sign Adam Eaton. Rick Hahn signed Adam Eaton, with exactly the expected results.
I’m not taking the same path this year. And I’m not following Jim’s rules either.
The plan ignores owner-directed limitations and foibles, past and present, because I’m not playing at taking Rick Hahn’s job. This is a hostile takeover of the owner’s suite. For this exercise, consider me the equivalent of a Pritzker-level billionaire with the desire to make the White Sox a dominant team.
There is no way Jerry Reinsdorf is going to do what I propose. First, my moves go against his notions of loyalty by reaching outside of the organization for merit-based leadership hires that reflect competitive industry practices. Second, after a season that ended with two sold-out postseason games and TV and radio ratings that spiked higher than those of any other MLB team, I am opening the checkbook. Not the kind of free-spending sprees that secure the Adams Eaton and LaRoche, but a spending spree befitting a team in the third-largest market in baseball. We’re not doing the $170 million payroll cap. We’re not making roster or management moves consistent with this organization’s past practice. This is the plan that can lead the Chicago White Sox, using its current core, to a world championship.
First move: Replace Tony La Russa with Joe Espada as manager and work with him to expand the coaching staff. Are the Giants the wave of the future? Hiring coaches who can bring more and different information in ways that will help players is an investment that can pay off. The low-hanging fruit is simply shifting more, but adding coaches who can assess which batters will perform best against particular pitch shapes, and coaches that can help pitchers buy in to unconventional roles would be ways to emulate the Giants and Rays. (Ethan Katz knows the Giants’ coaches and can say whether the Sox should bid for Brian Bannister or anyone else to move east.) Espada has been the bench coach for the Astros and Yankees, and he understands the ways information is being used around the game in ways La Russa, Narron, and Cairo have not demonstrated over the past year.
Second move: Replace Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams with Megan Schroeder as President of Baseball Operations, then letting her populate the front office with her own hires. Schroeder’s current position is Director, Performance Science for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Schroeder currently leads a large analytics department, and she would be familiar with merging Rays-like approaches to performance science with an open checkbook. The position I’m hiring her for is the titular equivalent of Andrew Friedman’s job, and I suspect the Dodgers would not prevent her from becoming the second woman to lead a team’s baseball operations. The shape and structure of the front office will emerge out of her vision and our mutual ability to attract and retain talent. From the current front office, I’d make a case to keep Marco Paddy. He has a demonstrable record of improvement over his predecessor, and I would be interested to see how he would do with the maximum available resources to sign teenage Dominican and Venezuelan players (as well as high-ceiling Cuban players). Others could also be kept, depending on what the new president decides. Chris Getz has made changes to player development that seem in line with best industry practices. On the other hand, he employed Omar Vizquel, so Schroeder can decide whether he should continue to make decisions about who is supervising the young men in the system.
Schroeder and Espada are logical choices to develop state-of-the-industry performance science, and then successfully implement its use in roster management and game strategy. Since I am giving a blank check to them in the spirit of winning the 2022 World Series, here are the moves I will make:
- Lucas Giolito: $7.9M rework/extend. I’m opening the checkbook, so here is the 5-year, $125 million offer to Lucas. I’m not stopping there, extending Luis Robert (the GDP of Cook County until the end of time). Locking up Robert until he’s old and grey should happen now.
- Reynaldo López: $2.8M tender. At this price, he’s either a useful bet for innings or someone who could be used in a trade. I’m doing the latter.
- Evan Marshall: $2.3M non-tender. No reason to pay him to rehab the whole year, but I wish him well.
- Adam Engel: $2.2M tender. The price tag is low enough for his health risk. If he can play, his worth exceeds this salary even if used exclusively as a backup.
- Brian Goodwin: $1.7M non-tender. Thanks for the memories. We’re going with higher upside, but if you want to sign with Charlotte, we can have you be Nick Williams for 2022.
- Jimmy Cordero: $1.2M tender. Welcome back. We have low-leverage innings that need your attention.
- Jace Fry: $1M non-tender. We did not have evidence in 2021 that Fry should pitch in the majors. Maybe the Orioles or another rebuilding organization can salvage him.
- Craig Kimbrel: $16M ($1M buyout). Pick up. I have a fun trade idea.
- César Hernández: $6M. We come not to pick up César’s option, but to decline him. We can do much better at second, especially if we open the checkbook.
OTHER IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
- Leury García (Made $3.5M in 2021). Retain at 2 years, $7 million. A manager who can assess Leury’s strengths and weaknesses can deploy him in ways that will help the team. Chris Taylor’s presence should eliminate the possibility of Leury starting a postseason game in RF. Leury has real value backing up Moncada and Anderson. I have more faith that Espada is capable of deploying this Swiss army knife correctly than the man who kept Scott Hemond on a roster years after that was a good idea.
- Carlos Rodón ($3M). Extend the QO, then offer him 3 years, $30 million. This is a blank-check budget from Billionaire Me. I can forego another Lake County mega-mansion to accept Carlos’s injury risk and potential performance reward. If he signs a bigger deal elsewhere, the draft pick we get is partial compensation for the ones we’re losing due to my spending spree.
- Billy Hamilton ($1M). NRI. I bet a non-roster invitation is as much as he gets on the open market, and he’d be a fine invite to spring training. I like Billy Hamilton. He can’t hit, but he can defend. If Sox outfielders fall to injuries this spring like they did last spring, he’s a solid centerfield option after Robert, Engel, and Taylor. I have a few other NRIs who are in the free-agent section of this plan.
- Ryan Tepera ($950K). Retain. Does $3 million for one year seem fair? Let’s do it.
Sign Marcus Semien, Marcus Stroman, and Chris Taylor to multi-year free agent contracts. Semien (4 years, $120 million) immediately becomes the best second baseman the team has had since Kenny Williams traded Ray Durham to Oakland. (Kenny is gone, so Scott Boras can come hang out in the owner’s suite whenever he wants. It’ll be like when he goes to Nationals games, only with much better food options.) Stroman ($4 years, $100 million) is just so much fun to watch. A short righty who fields his position brilliantly could slot in behind Giolito in the rotation to give opposing batters a very different profile. Taylor (3 years, $30 million) will offer positional versatility, providing an OPS of about 800 while ensuring RF, CF, LF, 2B, and SS always have a starting-caliber player starting.
The other free agent I am signing is not currently in the majors. Seiya Suzuki is being posted, and we are offering him a 5-year, $25 million contract to come over from Japan. At 27, he’s in the prime of a career that included a 1.086 OPS last year. He’s a year younger than Michael Conforto, two years younger than Nick Castellanos, and the rest of the free agent outfielders worth looking at are all north of 30. The 2005 White Sox benefited from an impact Japanese free agent addressing a glaring need when Tadahito Iguchi came over to play second. Here’s betting that Suzuki is the man to address the right field problem. If he’s slow to develop, Chris Taylor is going to spend a lot of time in right field. If he’s an impact player, he secures RF for a few years without having to hope that one of Adolfo, Céspedes, or Colás makes a leap quickly.
In addition to Billy Hamilton, I’m extending a few other NRI offers: Kirby Yates, Nick Burdi, Sandy León, and Luis Avilán. León can’t hit, but he is a capable defensive catcher. That makes him a better Plan C in 2022 than any of the 2021 Plan B options behind Grandal. The other NRIs are relievers returning from injury, with Yates having the most impressive record of past performance. Let’s say he’s the one who sticks, and maybe one of the others accepts an assignment to Charlotte as depth. Depth is good. This new White Sox ownership group values depth.
Trade Craig Kimbrel and Reynaldo López to the Mets for James McCann. For the love of Sherm Lollar, the Sox need a major-league quality catcher behind Grandal. Zavala and Collins proved they are not up to the task at or behind the plate when Grandal was out for several weeks. Maybe Carlos Perez can become that guy, someday. This team needs a veteran backup catcher now. The Mets always need bullpen arms, and they are not fond of McCann after one year of his big contract. Even if McCann never approaches his 2020 again, he is vastly superior to what the Sox have in their system and (unless the Reds cut Tucker Barnhart) probably better than the free-agent catchers available this winter. The Mets – assuming that team ever is able to hire a person to lead baseball operations – would come out of this deal saving money (McCann makes $10 million each of the next two seasons), and the Sox would get a player they can use from the forgettable, regrettable Craig Kimbrel experience.
If Steve Cohen wants Zack Collins in this deal, he can have him.
SS Tim Anderson $9.5m
CF Luis Robert $6m
3B Yoán Moncada $13.8m
2B Marcus Semien $30m
DH José Abreu $19.67m
C Yasmani Grandal $18.25m
LF Eloy Jiménez $7.33m
RF Seiya Suzuki $5m
1B Andrew Vaughn $0.6m
C James McCann $10m
SS/2B/CF/RF/LF/DH/1B Chris Taylor $10m
SS/2B/3B/CF/RF/LF Leury García $3.5m
CF/RF/LF Adam Engel $2.2m
Lucas Giolito $25m
Lance Lynn $19m
Marcus Stroman $25m
Carlos Rodón $10m
Dylan Cease $0.6m
Michael Kopech $0.6m
Dallas Keuchel $18m
Jimmy Cordero $1.2m
Garrett Crochet $0.6m
Kirby Yates $0.6m
Ryan Tepera $3m
Aaron Bummer $2.5m
Liam Hendriks $13.33m
Keuchel’s role is essentially depth starter, as even the Dodgers found they needed more starting pitching after seeming to have built limitless pitching depth. Kopech in this pen should be stretched out for multiple innings, and Cordero is there to be run into the ground if there are a lot of low-leverage innings to be had. (Espada is capable of using an opener, having a bullpen day, or other ways of deploying pitchers we haven’t seen on the South Side, but he has the horses to run a traditional rotation if that’s what he thinks gives the team the best chance to win.)
The depth chart shows this is no one-ply roster. Every single position has a backup who can credibly step into the lineup if a starter is out for three weeks. The pitching staff has seven credible starters. Vaughn is still up, but he could go to Charlotte with Abreu still around (and, if you prefer, you can substitute Sheets for Vaughn on the roster as both have options), and the bench players rotating at DH. I’ve seen enough from both of them last year that I’m comfortable giving them at-bats low in the order in 2022.
This roster is competitive, deep, and fun. The price tag is more than Jerry Reinsdorf would ever spend, but it’s in the ballpark of what the Dodgers are currently doing and what the Red Sox and Yankees were up to a couple years ago before they reset for the luxury tax. On that note, Keuchel and Abreu are going to come off the books after this season, allowing just under $39 million relief. Robert’s extension will cut into that, but for the purposes of this exercise, it doesn’t count against the 2022 budget.
By the winter of 2023, the front office’s assessment of the current talent over a year’s evaluation will allow evaluations to consider who should be traded and who should be brought in, while ensuring that the team doesn’t go into the tax over enough seasons to incur substantial penalties as defined by the next CBA. I will be more comfortable with Megan Schroeder’s team evaluating major-league talent than I would be with the men who were around to pick up Adam LaRoche and who remained to trade for Craig Kimbrel.
Imagine what the White Sox could be under new ownership. When the last Comiskey left, new ownership immediately took the team to the World Series. Doesn’t it make your day better?