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At the start of the rebuild, Rick Hahn said he wanted to build a team that was a contender every year as opposed to one that goes all in on a contention window and then declines into mediocrity or worse. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s what I understood his intention to be. His actions, though, have told a different story. Instead of turning expensive veterans into coveted young assets and trusting the youngsters, he has allowed the roster to grow old and failed to develop enough young stars to replace the oldsters.
I’m here to change that.
Good teams aren’t afraid to let stars walk or to proactively peddle them for the next wave. The Cardinals don’t regret letting Pujols walk. Same with the Astros and Correa. The Guardians traded Lindor for Rosario and Gimenez. They got 2 useful pieces and saved a lot of money. The Rays have turned the trading of stars into an art form.
Our problem was we didn’t have reasonable replacements waiting to take over. Timmy could have fetched a major haul a year ago, but who would replace him? Mendick? Leury? He still has trade value, but less than a year ago. For 2 years I’ve explored trades for Moncada. My problem was that we have been so heavily right-handed and again, no ready replacement. I kept wanting Burger to be that guy. Now Moncada’s trade value is low and his salary is high and growing. The one position where we had a cheaper replacement ready to go, we were afraid to say goodbye to a franchise icon. (Admittedly, the Abreu contract paid off in a vacuum. However, it hamstrung the roster construction and showed a lack of nerve.)
But I’m here to change that.
I am unconcerned with the so-called contention window. I see a path to contending with the team I’ve assembled, but I can also see it falling flat if 2022 represented the true talent level and availability of Grandal, Robert, Giolito, Kopech, Vaughn, Jimenez, and others. I believe I have a roster that can win now and is in better shape in ’24, ’25, and beyond. My team is younger, more athletic, faster, more left-handed, better defensively, and represents a more intelligent distribution of payroll. My team will also be more fun to watch.
I think the rules changes are going to put more emphasis on speed and defense, particularly in the middle infield where teams can’t compensate by over-shifting. I tried to add players who can take advantage of the rules, both this year and beyond.
Given the salary obligations for 2023 and the potential of this roster, it would be criminal to lower payroll. A floor for the payroll should be the $190M or so they spent to win 81 games. Expanding the payroll can be justified as a way of turning fan interest around, pushing for playoff revenues, and not giving the Cubs an opening to dominate the city. That’s what I elected to do. I still had to clear a lot of payroll in order to pay for raises and to dip into the free-agent waters to get some key pieces.
I started this exercise with only 1 absolute: Abreu is gone. Even at a reduced rate, he clogs up my roster. And his reduced rate is a lot more than I have to spend to cover first base. Plus, at 36 it’s an open question as to whether Jose has turned into Nick Madrigal with a little more power.
Despite just one absolute, I began with a number of general expectations. Unless my research revealed a new path forward, I expected to clear payroll by trading Anderson, Hendriks, Graveman, and Pollock. I viewed Grandal, Moncada, Giolito, Kelly, Lynn, and Garcia as either borderline untradeable or worth more as rebound candidates. And that’s what happened. I traded the first group and kept the second.
- Lucas Giolito: $10.8M – tender
- Dylan Cease: $5.3M – tender
- Reynaldo López; $3.3M – tender
- Adam Engel: $2.3M – non-tender
- Michael Kopech: $2.2M – tender
- Kyle Crick: $1.5M – non-tender – I’d be open to retaining him, but it’s not critical.
- José Ruiz: $1M – non-tender – I’d be open to retaining him, but it’s not critical.
- Danny Mendick: $1M – tender
- Tim Anderson: $12.5M ($1M buyout) – pick up
- Josh Harrison: $5.625M ($1.5M buyout) – decline
- AJ Pollock: $13M ($5 million buyout) — EXERCISED THEN EXORCISED
OTHER IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
- José Abreu (Made $18M in 2021) – let go – We have a cheaper option ready.
- Johnny Cueto ($4.2M) – let go
- Vince Velasquez ($3M) – let go
- Elvis Andrus ($14.25M) – let go
I’ll say Kevin Long, but…
The new manager should be someone with no recent ties to the organization and its decisions. It should also be someone that other teams have seriously considered in the last 2 or 3 years. That means no one like Konerko. Or Cairo. Or Guillen. Or Pierzynski. I want someone who embraces analytics. I want someone who has been in a position to learn from successful organizations and people. I don’t know who that person is. I’d be happy with Espada or Quartaro or Long, among names that have been mentioned.
I would let my new manager pick his staff. I would strongly encourage him to keep Katz. I would tell him I want coaches who can teach effectively. If we had had Ron Washington on staff, perhaps we wouldn’t have dealt the poor-fielding Marcus Semien. I want coaches who make their charges better.
It’s hard to know how much blame to assign and where to assign it for our injury issues. Was it our training staff? Was it the lockout? Was it players not taking their fitness seriously? Was it the front office for finding fragile players? Was it La Russa undermining the trainers? Was it dumb luck? I bet it was a combination of all those factors. I would sit down with the trainers and have them explain what went wrong and what changes they will make to ensure that we don’t ever see a repeat of 2022. If I’m not satisfied with the answers, I’d bag them and start fresh.
The White Sox analytics department will grow and be cutting edge.
All aspects of scouting will be re-evaluated. I want the best scouts looking for the right attributes. I want more scouts so we can uncover lots of second-and-third-draft-day gems. Professional scouting must be improved so we can ask for the right minor leaguers in trades. Advance scouting will work closely with the analytics department so we are completely prepared for every opponent.
In short, every aspect of the organization needs to be bolstered.
No. 1: SS Trea Turner (8 years/$264M, $33M/year with opt-outs after 2, 3, 4, and 5 years). Fans will buy $33M in tickets just to watch him slide. This is longer and for more money than I wanted to pay, but the Phillies are proof that contracts for premium players are a better value than cheaping out for Adam Eaton.
No. 2: LF Brandon Nimmo (6 years/$144M, $24M/year with opt-outs after 2, 3, and 4 years). I saw a projection that had him going to Colorado for this same amount. This way he goes to a contender instead. The first thing I saw for Nimmo was 4 years and $56M. I thought, “I can live with that!” Then I kept seeing bigger and bigger contracts. Nimmo is the perfect fit for this team. He can play CF well. He gets on base. Perhaps the contract goes south because of injury, but it’s worth the risk.
No. 3: SP Jose Quintana (2 years/$24M, $12M/year + club option for 1/$12M that vests with 150 innings in year 2). He gives us innings and stability in his homecoming. I have no idea what a fair contract for Q is. This feels like it’s in the ballpark.
No. 4: pitching depth on minor league deals. I have no suggestions, and I traded for a pair of high-end arms, but more should be done.
No. 1: Trade Liam Hendriks, Lenyn Sosa, and RHP Jake Palisch to PHI for SS/2B Bryson Stott. Despite their postseason success, the Phillies struggled to hold leads all season. Knebel, Hand, Robertson, and Syndergaard are all various levels of injured or free agents. Zach Eflin has a mutual option for $15M. Who knows if they’ll both agree to that? (I suspect they will.) It’s unlikely that Dominguez and Alvarado are as good as they’ve looked in October. Dombrowski knows bullpens are important, and he’s not afraid to make deals.
The Phils can afford to give up young hitting talent because A) the team has no trouble scoring runs; B) the team is getting someone they can plug into the middle infield mix (plus a reliever they need); C) they can steal from a rival by signing Swanson; and D) they get a young arm that can move quickly through the system.
This deal seemed likelier when the Phillies got bounced by the Cardinals in the opening round. Winning always creates a glow and blinds teams to their weaknesses (think Atlanta rewarding Eddie Rosario for an insane couple of months). Nonetheless, I’m sticking with the deal because I think it made sense on October 1.
The Sox clear payroll and they get a young left-handed middle infielder who has a pedigree and some success in the majors already.
No. 2: Trade Tim Anderson, RHP Peyton Pallette, and 3B Wes Kath to LAD for RHP Bobby Miller and RHP Gavin Stone, both minor leaguers. The Dodgers get a relatively inexpensive two-year replacement for Trea Turner plus a pair of pedigreed minor leaguers. After losing Miller and Stone, their farm system still has pitching prospects at all levels. They want to position their payroll to make a run at Judge. This helps them do that.
The Sox clear payroll and get two stud starting pitchers in the high minors. The upper minors have little in the way of impact pitchers. This trade moves to correct that problem.
No. 3: Trade Kendall Graveman, Blake Rutherford, and Yolbert Sanchez to SF for minor league OF Vaun Brown. The Giants get a reliable relief pitcher and a couple of minor leaguers of the type they’ve had success developing.
The Sox clear payroll and get a very fast minor league outfielder who can go get ‘em.
No. 4: Trade Jake Burger, A.J. Pollock, and $7M to CIN for OF Mike Siani, MI Carlo Jorge, and OF Justice Thompson. Siani is a left-handed hitting OF with plus speed, defense, and arm. The other two are guys. Burger will become a folk hero in Cincy. This rebuilding team can put him at 3B or DH. A year from now he might be able to slot into 1B when Votto leaves. Pollock gives them a credible major leaguer so it doesn’t look like they’re totally giving up. At $6M, they can justify him. At $13M no one can justify him.
The Sox save $6M while liberating a player who will never play for them. Pollock’s 4th outfielder slot goes to Siani, who provides everything Engel was supposed to provide this year but didn’t. Plus he’s a left-handed bat.
C – Grandal (18.25)
1B – Vaughn (.8)
2B – Stott (.8)
3B – Moncada (17.8)
SS – Turner (33.0)
LF – Nimmo (24.0)
CF – Robert (9.5)
RF – Colas (.8)
DH – Jimenez (10.4)
Bench – Zavala (.8) Mendick (1.0), Siani (.8), L. Garcia (5.5)
SP – Cease (5.3), Lynn (19.0), Giolito (10.8), Quintana (12.0), Kopech (2.2)
RP – Lopez (3.3), Bummer (3.8), Lambert (.8), Kelly (9.0), Martin (.8), Banks (.8), Diekman (3.5), Foster (.8)
Other commitments – Pollock (7.0), Harrison 1.5), Abreu (1.0), Keuchel (.2)
Active roster – 194.75
Other commitments– 9.7
Total payroll– 204.45
Almost all of the overage from Jerry Margalus’ budget is from the increases in the salaries of free agents from the first estimates I saw. Rather than change my team, I changed my budget! It’s still affordable and profitable.
So what did I accomplish for 2023? If healthy, the starting 9 is dynamic. I think Colas is ready, but if not, we have options such as Siani, Cespedes, Vaun Brown, or Sheets. I still believe in the talent and, with a new training staff and manager and a regular winter, I believe in the availability of Moncada, Robert, and Jimenez.
On the pitching side, Giolito has already proven he can rework himself. He showed stretches of his old self last year. I expect him to come armed for bear in his contract year. Once Lynn got up to speed, he was a bulldog. Kopech is the biggest variable. I hope last season was a springboard to something better (or more durable). The depth beyond these guys is fine. Martin, if healthy, is an option. Miller and Stone can get a look.
The bullpen is iffier. I hope my new manager moves away from the closer-centric model and simply deploys guys when the need is greatest. Lopez, Bummer, Kelly, and Lambert can be a pretty good quartet. The 2 Dodger minor leaguers could step into bullpen roles this year to get their feet wet. Crochet may be a weapon in the second half.
So what did I accomplish beyond this season? We have 2 high-end arms ready to step in to the rotation. One will fill Giolito’s spot. The other is depth against injury or age-related decline of Lynn or Quintana. We should have a boatload of infielders: Turner, Stott, Rodriguez, Montgomery, Gonzalez, maybe even Mendick. Assuming some development occurs, we may be able to trade Moncada and keep the cycle going.