Michael Kenny’s Offseason Plan Breaks the Rules

I spent all this time building the White Sox a winner before the Offseason Plan Project even started. It was foolish of me. I didn’t know what the payroll parameters would be, but I thought I had some idea. I targeted $180 million, and I ended up a little bit over that. It seemed to me that going to those heights was the only way to build a White Sox team that could be true American League favorites, and even that required making some really difficult decisions.

When the $170 million payroll limit was announced, all of my planning went out the window. With respect to all the offseason plans I’ve already seen, I can’t envision a real-life 2022 White Sox team with a $170 million payroll that doesn’t also have multiple Adam Eaton-style concessions on the roster.

Granted, the pessimist in me knows that $170 million is a perfectly reasonable guess as to where the payroll will land, even if that would be severely disappointing. How is it that the Chicago White Sox can’t be expected to spend with the likes of Houston, Philadelphia, or San Diego, even at the peak of their contention window?

The idea bums me out so much that I’ve decided to post my $184 million plan as it’s already written, instead of reworking it to suit the whims of this cheap fictional owner who’s based on a true story.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE PLAYERS

  • Lucas Giolito ($7.9M): Tender.
  • Reynaldo López ($2.8M): Tender. This is a really tough call. López could provide important starter depth, and with the way he pitched at the end of this year, I think he’d be a fine sixth starter. The problem is that he’s out of options, so the only place the Sox can stash him is in the bullpen. I’m not sure it makes sense to do that, since that would relegate him to mop-up duty until he’s needed in the rotation, and it would be difficult to keep him stretched out. However, I think I’d like to take him into Spring Training and see how things shake out.
  • Evan Marshall ($2.3M): Non-tender. I was planning on re-signing him to a minor league deal before his Tommy John surgery was announced.
  • Adam Engel ($2.2M): Tender. Every year he misses more time, but every year he looks better at the plate when he’s healthy. The idea of a full season of Engel’s 2020-21 offense and defense is too tantalizing to give up, even if he’s surprisingly about to turn 30.
  • Brian Goodwin ($1.7M): Non-tender. Thanks for the fun moments, but these kinds of relationships aren’t meant to last.
  • Jimmy Cordero ($1.2M): Non-tender and re-sign (MiLB). Get well soon, El Brazo.
  • Jace Fry ($1M): Non-tender. He’s just too far removed from combined health and success.

CLUB OPTIONS

  • Craig Kimbrel ($16M/$1M): Buy out.I hope you had the time of your life. Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer are sunk costs, so there’s no sense in doubling down on this horrible trade just to try to justify it. Rick Hahn has made two big midseason trades as a buyer in his career, and he’s got James Shields and Craig Kimbrel to show for it.
  • César Hernández ($6M/0): Buy out. Hernández hit .232/.309/.299 after being traded to the White Sox and showed basically nothing in the ALDS. Let’s let Hernández walk away and dream just a little bit bigger at second base. If only we had a guy drafted fourth overall to fill this spot…

OTHER IMPENDING FREE AGENTS

  • Leury García ($3.5M): Re-sign (1 year, $4M + club option). Leury had a wild season. He had a 62 wRC+ on June 11, and it looked like he was toast. Then he went and hit for a 121 wRC+ the rest of the way, filled in admirably for Tim Anderson at shortstop, and had the team’s biggest moment of the postseason. He’s made himself indispensable as a Swiss Army knife who can cobble together 1-2 WAR wherever you need him to.
  • Carlos Rodón ($3M): Let go; no qualifying offer. I feel bad for Carlos, who seemed in line for a big payday around the All-Star break, but now he faces a cloud of uncertainty after fading down the stretch. I’m a believer that it was fatigue that did Rodón in and that he can return to his early season form, but the White Sox can’t afford to pay him $18.4 million and then have him get hurt again.
  • Billy Hamilton ($1M): Let go. As much as I loved the experience of Billy the Hitter, a healthy Adam Engel makes him redundant. If Adam Engel isn’t so healthy, players like Hamilton are pretty easy to find on the scrap heap or at the trade deadline. Adieu, sweet Billy, until we meet again.
  • Ryan Tepera ($950K): Re-sign (2 years, $10M). The Sox won the trade for Tepera based on his Game 3 performance alone, but then after the game he went and blabbed about the Astros maybe possibly cheating. Which, fine, voice your suspicions inside the clubhouse, but going public with that stray thought managed to turn the White Sox into the villains in a series against the team that actually cheated. For that alone I want to get rid of Tepera, but here’s hoping his comments blow over as quickly as the cheating scandal did.

FREE AGENTS

No. 1: OF Starling Marte (3 years, $54M). The White Sox have desperately needed a right fielder for about 75 years now, and it’s time to stop messing around. No more Nomar Mazaras or Adam Eatons; no more crossing one’s fingers and hoping for the best. It’s time to go get a bona fide right fielder who can mash baseballs.

I think Marte is the right fit for this team for several reasons. First, although he’s a right-handed hitter, he’s got reverse platoon splits, and he crushed right-handed pitching last year (141 wRC+). Second, he carries a pretty good glove (+4 OAA), and this team really needs to improve its defense wherever it can. Third, he’s been incredibly consistent throughout his career, contributing 3 WAR or more in 8 of his 9 full seasons (prorating 2020). Finally, he’s 33, meaning he probably won’t command a super long contract.

Surely Nick Castellanos will be the big prize on the outfield market; he’s only 30, and he just had a huge year offensively. However, he’s a borderline butcher in right, and I just couldn’t do that to Luis Robert with Eloy already in left. The same goes for Kyle Schwarber, who will make some team very happy as their DH. Michael Conforto is the only appealing lefty bat available, and he’s coming off an injury-riddled campaign and is starting to look a bit platoon-ish. I would kill to pry Cedric Mullins away from the Orioles, but I don’t think that’s happening.

No. 2: C Manny Piña (2 years, $6M). We learned the hard way what this team looks like when Yasmani Grandal goes down. Seby Zavala is not an acceptable backup catcher for 2022, and Zack Collins isn’t really an acceptable anything. Piña is the longtime Brewers backup catcher who backed up Grandal in 2019, and is a first-time free agent at age 34. He’s a career .245/.314/.413 (91 wRC+) hitter and an exceptional defender. Signing Piña would allow the Sox to reduce the load on Grandal, giving him a day off a week and some time at first base or DH, and would also provide insurance against another injury.

No. 3: RHP Mike Foltynewicz (MiLB). Folty is a former top prospect who looked like he had finally put it together in 2018, when he threw 183 innings of 3.37 FIP ball for the Braves. Since then, though, a cocktail of injuries, diminished velocity, COVID-19, and confidence issues have derailed his career. Atlanta cut him loose after the 2020 season, and while he got rocked in Texas this year, he actually managed to regain most of the velocity he had lost. The stuff is still there, but the results aren’t, so maybe Ethan Katz and company can help him unlock something.

TRADES

No. 1: Acquire RHP Luis Castillo from Cincinnati for 1B/OF Andrew Vaughn, SS Colson Montgomery, SS Yolbert Sánchez, and RHP Caleb Freeman. The Reds have reached the point where they need to retool, and with Castillo two years from free agency, they might look to cash in their ace and try to get younger. Adding Castillo to a rotation that already features Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, and Dylan Cease would give the White Sox a legitimate claim to the best starting staff in baseball.

Replacing 2021 Carlos Rodón with Castillo might be a wash, but Castillo has been much more dependable, and he also costs a lot less than a qualifying offer. Much like last year’s Lance Lynn trade, this deal provides additional value in the form of payroll space; Castillo is projected to make about $7.6 million in arbitration 2022.

In Vaughn, the Reds get a player with five years of control who will come in handy when the National League adopts the DH. He can share first base/DH duties with Joey Votto, or he can use his newfound ability to play the outfield. (The Reds do have a storied history of bad outfielders.) Vaughn didn’t have a great year in the aggregate, but he showed his mettle with a 119 wRC+ in July and August. This was basically a minor league development season that happened in the majors, and he acquitted himself well given his lack of experience.

This is the third year in a row that I’ve tried to trade Vaughn, so I’d like to reiterate that I don’t hate him, nor do I lack appreciation for his skill and value. I just think the White Sox have so much right-handed power that they don’t need him in the way they need pitching or defense. Vaughn, José Abreu, Eloy Jiménez, and Gavin Sheets are four players for three spots, and Vaughn is just the right combination of expendable and tradeable.

Montgomery’s departure also stings, but I think the combination of Vaughn and Montgomery, plus a couple sweeteners, could be enough to get the Reds to bite (despite what Baseball Trade Value says).

No. 2: Acquire 2B/OF Ketel Marte from Arizona in a three-team trade with Seattle.

  • Chicago acquires 2B/OF Ketel Marte from Arizona for RHP Michael Kopech, 3B Jake Burger, and RHP Matthew Thompson.
  • Arizona acquires RHP George Kirby, 3B Jake Burger, and RHP Matthew Thompson for 2B/OF Ketel Marte and C Carson Kelly.
  • Seattle acquires RHP Michael Kopech and C Carson Kelly for RHP George Kirby.

Marte is not the unattainable star that he was a couple years ago, when he was coming off a 7 WAR season and still had five years left on his very affordable extension. Still, he put up 2.9 WAR in just 90 games in 2021, and he comes with the added bonus of positional flexibility, having split his D-Backs career between second base, shortstop, and center field. He’s a switch-hitter who hits well from both sides, costs $8 million in 2022, and has two club options after that. Even if he never sniffs 7 WAR again, he’s a valuable addition to this team as a starting second baseman and occasional fill-in elsewhere.

I pulled a third team into this deal because I don’t think the Diamondbacks are going to trade three years of Marte for four years of Kopech. Instead, Kopech heads to the Mariners, a team that’s probably going to start pushing its chips in after holding on all the way to Game 162. They need help in their rotation, and they’re getting a potential impact starter while also upgrading at catcher. Granted, George Kirby is a potential impact starter in his own right, but he’s probably still a year or two away from sticking in the rotation for good.

That’s why he’s perfect for the 110-loss Diamondbacks, who should have no qualms about trading anyone with a pulse to start accumulating prospect wealth. On top of Kirby, they also acquire Burger, who’s ready for some run in the majors but needs a place to get it, plus a young upside pitcher in Thompson. And hey, Burger and Seth Beer will finally be teammates!

No. 3: Acquire RHP Cole Sulser from Baltimore for RHP Jonathan Stiever and OF Micker Adolfo. Even with Ryan Tepera back in the fold, this team is short on quality right-handed relievers and bumping up against the payroll ceiling, so I’m spending a bit more prospect capital to add a pensman on the cheap. Although Sulser will be 32 before the season starts, he still has four years left on his rookie contract because he just had his big breakout with the Orioles. He pitched to a 2.70 ERA in 60 games, with healthy peripherals (28.4% K, 8.9% BB) and solid Statcast numbers (88.1 EV, 3.12 xERA). He’s not a relief ace, but that also means he could probably be acquired for spare parts.

26-MAN ROSTER

Starting Lineup

SS Tim Anderson (R)
3B Yoán Moncada (S)
CF Luis Robert (R)
1B José Abreu (R)
C Yasmani Grandal (S)
RF Starling Marte (R)
LF Eloy Jiménez (R)
DH Gavin Sheets (L)
2B Ketel Marte (R)

It took me a while to figure out how to put this lineup together because it’s just… so… deep. I originally had Ketel Marte in the two spot (.374 OBP since 2019), but that would’ve meant batting either Starling Marte or Eloy eighth, which seems wasteful. Meanwhile, Gavin Sheets, who slugged .556 in 160 plate appearances against right-handers, is hitting ninth.

Bench

C Manny Piña (R)
IF Romy Gonzalez (R)
OF Adam Engel (R)
UT Leury García (S)

I would probably start Engel over Sheets with a lefty on the mound, with Jiménez at DH. If you prefer Danny Mendick over Gonzalez, fine—they can have a Spring Training battle. This bench is lacking an impact left-handed bat (unless you count Leury), so that’s a place we could look to upgrade midseason.

Rotation

Lucas Giolito (R)
Lance Lynn (R)
Luis Castillo (R)
Dylan Cease (R)
Dallas Keuchel (L)

Who cares if Dallas Keuchel is your fifth starter when this is your one through four? You can quibble with the order, but it doesn’t really matter; these guys are the new Four Horsemen.

Bullpen

Liam Hendriks (R)
Aaron Bummer (L)
Ryan Tepera (R)
Cole Sulser (R)
Garrett Crochet (L)
José Ruiz (R)
Ryan Burr (R)
Reynaldo López (R)

The bullpen isn’t exactly a juggernaut, but I think there’s enough quality and depth to carry them to the trade deadline, when reinforcements will come. As we saw with Tepera, it’s not too difficult to add to the bullpen without giving up the farm, and as we saw with Kimbrel, it’s possible to give up the farm if you want to make next year’s Offseason Plan Project even harder.

With these 26 players, the $2 million owed to Kimbrel and Adam Eaton, and $4 million of Abreu’s 2022 salary deferred, my Opening Day payroll comes in just a hair under $184 million, with $135 million committed to 11 players and buyouts in 2023.

SUMMARY

I accept that this team will probably not be very good in 2026. The White Sox just aren’t good enough at finding and developing star-level talent, nor are they willing to compensate for that in free agency. If sustained success isn’t realistic, then we need to do everything we can to achieve success in the short-term.

What is success at this juncture? To me, it’s playing in a World Series in the next two years. With the playoffs being the crapshoot that they are, I don’t think winning the World Series is a fair expectation for a team that follows the rebuild model (whether or not they should). It’s the goal, obviously, but even a team that wins its division five years in a row will only win a World Series title 49 percent of the time.

I think that this White Sox team can get to the World Series, and hopefully win it, in the next two years. The lineup is stacked, the bench has great depth pieces, and the rotation is outstanding. I would’ve liked more pitching depth, but I maxed out the payroll, and I traded Andrew Vaughn and Michael Kopech to do it efficiently. However, the Sox should match up favorably with just about anyone in the American League, including those pesky Astros.

Now it’s all about getting back to the Postseason and seeing what happens.

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Michael Kenny
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Trooper Galactus

I appreciate seeing three-way trades in these plans, as I generally lack the imagination and know-how to ever really put one together for my own. While I’m not sure I’d want to swap out Kopech for Marte, I do think it fits with your overall strategy and is mostly realistic. Meanwhile, I like Starling Marte a lot, but I avoided him in my plan due to a combination of age and a ground ball rate that mysteriously went up a couple pegs this year that I can’t explain away as just a blip on the radar.

Ben

I think Seattle would sign off on this trade idea.

Ketel Marte was on my radar too, I just couldn’t find a way to get it done. He’d be a great fit.

andyfaust

Shop smart, shop S-Mart(e)!

And K-Mart(e) too i suppose.

Josh Nelson

All of the Marte’s!

I appreciate trying to work out a three-team trade. That would be an incredible feat if pulled off in reality.