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You don’t need me to tell you that the 2022 Chicago White Sox significantly underperformed against expectations, but I’ll do it anyways: the 2022 Chicago White Sox significantly underperformed against expectations and the 2022-2023 offseason is critical in retooling the roster in pursuit of not only returning to the postseason, but winning their first postseason series since 2005.
This offseason plan is built around the following philosophy:
- Improving performance vs. RHP (ranked 23rd in wRC+ vs. RHP per FanGraphs)
- Strengthening the defense (ranked 26th in defensive runs saved per Fielding Bible)
- Not spending so much money on the bullpen (represented ~20% of 2022 payroll)
- Hiring a manager that is not coming off of a decade-long absence
- Lucas Giolito: $10.8M – TENDER; Lucas Giolito, 2022, most mediocre pitcher in baseball. But he had something you couldn’t see in the stats… well, actually he probably didn’t, but he’s still a better bet to throw 160+ decent innings than anyone on the open market at this price.
- Dylan Cease: $5.3M – TENDER; O’ Slider Slide, this wasn’t hard to decide.
- Reynaldo López; $3.3M – TENDER; ReyLo continues to be a critical piece of the bullpen in 2023.
- Adam Engel: $2.3M – NON-TENDER; Too much cash for a 4th/5th outfielder that hasn’t added much value over the past two seasons.
- Michael Kopech: $2.2M – TENDER; The best asset obtained in the Chris Sale trade had a great first full year in the rotation before running out of steam.
- Kyle Crick: $1.5M – NON-TENDER; But someone do a pulse check on him, okay?
- José Ruiz: $1M – NON-TENDER; Thanks for the 125.2 innings over the past two seasons, but we’re good.
- Danny Mendick: $1M – TENDER; 2023 league minimum will be only $280K less than this projected salary and Danny was playing well enough to justify that small premium.
- Tim Anderson: $12.5M ($1M buyout) – PICK UP; But we’ll assume that Tim isn’t interested in negotiating an extension due to all of the cash he’s bringing in from those Ankin Law commercials.
- Josh Harrison: $5.625M ($1.5M buyout) – DECLINE; This is nothing against Harrison – he had a solid 2022 after a horrendous start. The net payday is too high for a club that (1) has cheaper, similar options for the bench and (2) has too much money committed to the existing roster.
- AJ Pollock: $13M ($5 million buyout) — EXERCISED; I can still hear AJ saying, he would never break the chain (aka opt out of his above-market contract)
OTHER IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
- José Abreu (Made $18M in 2021) – LET GO. Yeah, this one hurts. Abreu should be the only White Sox player to ever wear #79. But we are being tasked with investing payroll into retooling a righty-heavy lineup and improving the defense, something that retaining Abreu prevents the team from accomplishing. The much cheaper Andrew Vaughn assumes 1B responsibility.
- Johnny Cueto ($4.2M) – LET GO. On the open market, Cueto will get paid more than enough to buy all of ambulances and speakers that his heart desires, and the White Sox just don’t have the payroll room to allocate to a 4th-5th SP going into his age 37 season.
- Vince Velasquez ($3M) – LET GO. Vinny Velo was fine in 2022. But no need to keep him around.
- Elvis Andrus ($14.25M) – LET GO. It was a fun 43 game stretch, but his last 4 years overall have been rough at the plate. Let’s remember the good times for what they were, okay? I know we are the White Sox and that’s hard for us.
My qualifications for the next Chicago White Sox Manager:
- Brings an outside perspective – means he must have virtually no ties to the club
- Has managed or coached for another franchise for the past few years
- Didn’t block a bunch of White Sox fans on Twitter
Ultimately, I think the White Sox best options are Joe Espada, Kevin Long, and Ron Washington. For purposes of discussion, let’s go with Kevin Long. Here’s what he brings to the manager’s chair:
- Experience with four different successful franchises, appearing in the World Series with all four of them
- Unconventional approach of hiring a hitting coach as a manager is intriguing for a club that desperately needs to get more out of its core bats
- Phillies Reddit (yeah, it was a weird place) is very upset by the prospect of him leaving – so fan review is positive
- He lasted through an entire interview with Mad Dog Russo, so he’s clearly cool and calm under pressure
No. 1: Kolten Wong (one year, $8M). This club option will be a tough decision for the Milwaukee Brewers, meaning that the 1-year, $8M that Wong would be owed is about market value, but let’s assume that the cost conscious Brewers decline this option.
Kolten Wong has had a strange past few years – at times showing his offensive prowess (career-high wRC+ of 116 in 2022 vs. career average of 100) and other times showcasing his defensive skills (5 defensive runs saved in 2021 vs. -1 defensive runs saved in 2022). Let’s say that he ends up at the mean on both sides of the ball: wRC+ of 108 and 2 defensive runs saved… the White Sox will gladly take that at a position of need in 2023.
No. 2: Tyler Anderson (two years, $34M). The first-time All Star pieced together the best year of his career in his age 32 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. With uncertainty around Lucas Giolito’s performance and Michael Kopech’s health, it would be wise for the White Sox to invest in a Starting Pitcher that, despite entering his age 33 season, doesn’t have significant mileage on his arm (802.1 career IP).
After Anderson’s strong 2022, a two-year commitment may not get it done. Add a third year option and the White Sox become contenders to add the All Star to their 2023 squad. And the Sox already have a bunch of TA gear for sale, so no need to make more apparel – expense management!
No. 1: Trade RP Kendall Graveman and INF Lenyn Sosa to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for OF Jake Fraley. For what seems like a minor move, there’s a lot going on here. Let’s dissect it.
- Jake Fraley: in 450 PAs against RHP in the past two years, Fraley has a wRC+ of 133. He can competently play all three outfield positions, which will be important in retooling the roster. The rebuilding Reds may be willing to move Fraley, who turns 28 in May and projects as a platoon player.
- Kendall Graveman: you’re probably wondering what the rebuilding Reds are going to do with Kendall Graveman. Yes, they probably prefer an RP on a 1-year deal, but Joe Kelly was awful and they likely don’t do this deal for him. Graveman is on a 2-year / $16M contract and can be flipped to a contender as he rebuilds his value as a closer in 2023.
- Lenyn Sosa: I didn’t want to do this, which means that, in order to get a player I really wanted (Fraley) and to shed cash (Graveman), I had to do it. The Reds receive a promising middle infield prospect with 6+ years of club control. And maybe their manager will actually give him playing time.
No. 2: Trade 1B/DH Gavin Sheets to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for OF Hunter Renfroe. It may seem counterintuitive to trade a lefty bat for a righty, but Renfroe offers quite a bit of what the White Sox need: power (hit 29 home runs in 2022), ability to hit righties and lefties (wRC+ of 120 vs. RHP; wRC+ of 134 vs. LHP), and sufficient OF defense (2 DRS per Fielding Bible, vs. Gavin Sheets’ -8).
The Brewers, though a contender, may be willing to move Renfroe given their own payroll constraints as they have 18 (!) players eligible for arbitration headed into the 2023 season. Renfroe’s value is also diminished by the fact that he is only under club control for one more season.
Gavin Sheets, who hit 15 home runs in 2022, represents a cost controlled option for the Brewers as they bounce back from their own disappointing season. Also, his value is limited on the Sox as Vaughn and Jimenez do not need platoon partners and Sheets has proven to be a pitiful defensive option in the outfield.
No. 3: Trade CP Liam Hendriks to the Texas Rangers in exchange for SP Owen White. In only two years, Liam has won over the White Sox fan base through his play on the field, community activism, awesome intro into games, and swearing on national television. That all makes it particularly challenging to move on from the All Star closer, but the $14M owed to Hendriks represents over 7% of the proposed 2023 payroll, a large number considering the flaws of the 2022 squad.
The Texas Rangers have proven over the past 12 months that they have no interest in a rebuild, as evidenced by the mega signings of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien and the hiring of Bruce Bochy as manager. The Rangers, who only have 4 players on the books thus far for 2023, likely value a premier closer over a starting pitching prospect that has only appeared in 4 games above A ball, and Edwin Diaz seems unlikely to leave Queens for Arlington, turning the Rangers’ attention to the trade market.
From the White Sox perspective, this trade accomplishes two things: (1) creates payroll capacity to invest in non-bullpen areas of the roster (yes, this is possible despite what the White Sox have led us to believe) and (2) adds a top 100 pitcher to a system that is severely lacking in minor league pitching depth. Other benefits to acquiring Owen White: he has already had Tommy John surgery and has an MLB ETA of 2023 according to MLB.com, meaning that he could add value to the club during this upcoming season.
No. 4: Trade SP Jonathan Stiever to the Washington Nationals in exchange for RP Victor Arano. Death, taxes, and the White Sox acquiring bullpen help over the winter. Except this time, it is warranted given the departures of Hendriks and Graveman.
Arano bolsters a White Sox bullpen that is now counting on Reynaldo Lopez and Jimmy Lambert to improve upon their strong 2022 seasons, Joe Kelly to bounce back from a challenging 2022 campaign, and Aaron Bummer and Garrett Crochet to stay healthy. Arano posted a 23.5% K% and a 6.4% BB%, both well-suited for the Sox pen.
Stiever represents a loss of starting pitching depth, but other acquisitions during the 2022-2023 offseason make up for his departure.
The Chicago White Sox enter the 2023 campaign with a new leader, an improved defense, and a more balanced lineup. None of the names added this offseason are going to sell a bunch of jerseys in the team store or get their own bobblehead day, but they do accomplish the goal of retooling the roster.
Ultimately, the White Sox success is still highly dependent on bounce backs from Yasmani Grandal and Yoan Moncada, as well as the health of Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, and Tim Anderson. The rotation should be the best in what will likely be a weak AL Central and the bullpen, though losing quite a bit, has plenty of upside.
Sample Lineup (vs. RHP):
SS Tim Anderson ($12.5M)
2B Kolten Wong ($8.0M)
CF Luis Robert ($9.5M)
DH Eloy Jimenez ($9.5M)
LF Jake Fraley ($0.7M)
RF Hunter Renfroe ($11.2M)
1B Andrew Vaughn ($0.7M)
3B Yoan Moncada ($17.0M)
C Yasmani Grandal ($18.3M)
Although the heart of the lineup is still righty-heavy, the Sox add the lefties Kolten Wong and Jake Fraley, who are historically well-above average against RHP. A bottom third of the order with Vaughn, Moncada, and Grandal has the potential to give opposing pitchers no easy outs.
OF AJ Pollock ($13.0M)
INF Danny Mendick ($1.0M)
UTIL Leury Garcia ($5.5M)
C Seby Zavala ($0.7M)
This is an expensive bench (thanks Rick Hahn!) but AJ Pollock should be expected to take the lion’s share of the at bats against LHP given Fraley’s struggles with southpaws (he’s probably going to be nervous around the Sox mascot when he arrives so let’s all be nice). Leury Garcia is on a short leash given the presence of Romy Gonzalez, but if he can even come close to replicating his 1.8 fWAR 2021 season, he’ll add value to the team.
SP1 Dylan Cease ($5.3M)
SP2 Lance Lynn ($18.5M)
SP3 Tyler Anderson ($17.0M)
SP4 Michael Kopech ($2.2M)
SP5 Lucas Giolito ($10.8M)
The top two in the rotation represent Cy Young finalists from the past two seasons, the 3rd starter is coming off of an All Star season, the 4th starter is looking to build off of a great first year in the rotation, and the 5th starter is looking for a bounce back season. Not a bad way to structure a rotation to open the season.
RP Davis Martin ($0.7M)
RP Jake Diekman ($3.5M)
RP Jimmy Lambert ($0.7M)
RP Garrett Crochet ($0.7M)
RP Joe Kelly ($9.0M)
RP Aaron Bummer ($3.8M)
RP Victor Arano ($1.0M)
CP Reynaldo Lopez ($3.3M)
Investing ~$23M into the bullpen feels a bit more reasonable than the Sox allocation of financial resources over the past two seasons. Reynaldo Lopez will need to establish himself in the closer’s role, but is well-positioned to do so after his performance out of the bullpen in 2021-2022. The return of Crochet adds another lefty weapon to the pen to pair with Aaron Bummer (and Jake Diekman is here too for some reason). The Sox maintain payroll capacity to add an impact reliever or two at the deadline, just please don’t let it be Craig Kimbrel again.
Once you add on Josh Harrison’s $1.5M buyout, the 2023 Chicago White Sox enter the season with a payroll of ~$185.6M. Now, that leaves us with ~$4.4M of budget room, which is good enough to pay for 176,000 parking passes, to purchase over 600,000 hot dogs at Guaranteed Rate Field, or to kindly cover nearly 4 Bobby Bonilla Days on behalf of the New York Mets. But instead of doing any of that, we are just not going to tell Jerry that we came up right on budget and then secretly plan to spend a bit more at the deadline.
The 2023 Chicago White Sox season is certainly shaping up to be more exciting than their 2022 campaign, but so was watching paint dry, so we’ll see how it goes!