Free agency opens today, but White Sox aren’t knocking down the door

While I held some optimism that Rick Hahn’s initial description of the White Sox’s 2023 Opening Day payroll might exceed $190ish million under the right circumstances, James Fegan is here to crush my hopes (emphasis mine).

Last season’s payroll, estimated at $196 million by FanGraphs, was not a top-five figure in MLB, but it was easily a franchise record and indicative that the franchise feels its time to compete is now. But that figure also reflects some level of expenses accrued over the season, with a team source indicating that an Opening Day figure in the territory of $180 million is more what the club has in mind when it comes to staying in the same vicinity as last year over this offseason. The current FanGraphs estimate for the 2023 Sox payroll is $173 million, and while that could be knocked down a few million by some non-tenders and is an imperfect replication of the team’s internal numbers, it would make top-level free agent signings unlikely and be a consideration in what sorts of trades they can execute. If there’s one thing the White Sox are not touting about themselves this offseason, it’s their payroll flexibility.

To me, the tension between what the White Sox should spend and what they will spend rests on their attitude toward Yasmani Grandal, because it reminds me of a sequence of events involving a far more regrettable free-agent outlay.

Back in 2015, the White Sox signed Adam LaRoche to a two-year, $25 million deal. I was lukewarm on LaRoche’s potential impact, but I could see how he might address some needs, and unlike the four-year deal to Adam Dunn, the White Sox could easily spend past it if LaRoche flopped just the same.

Except that’s not how the White Sox operate. LaRoche flopped and the White Sox didn’t spend past it. Instead, they rolled into spring training with reduced privileges for LaRoche and even cheaper end-of-the-line veterans, a combination that resulted in the first of two embarrassing clubhouse explosions. Then LaRoche retired in spring training, which meant that the White Sox could’ve accommodated another considerable salary after all. But hey, at least that gave them the resources to jump the market for … James Shields.

So let’s apply this to Grandal. When the White Sox signed him back in November 2019, everybody had to brace for a gross ending, because it was a four-year deal to a 31-year-old catcher. Grandal theoretically addressed some huge White Sox shortcomings up front with enough impact to make such inefficiency worthwhile.

Three of the four years have met expectations. A standard curve might look something like:

  • Year 1: Worth it
  • Year 2: Worth it
  • Year 3: Meh
  • Year 4: Eww

The “eww” arrived a year early due to a second knee surgery, but while the severity of his plunge caught everybody by surprise, the White Sox should’ve been prepared for whatever happens from this point starting three Thanksgivings ago.

Instead, here’s how Hahn assesses Grandal at the moment:

“(Catcher) was one area where we underperformed last year, doesn’t mean we feel we necessarily have to go out and address that,” Hahn said. “(Grandal) had his struggles and physical issues in ’22, and it’s important not to lose sight how productive he was the year before and having Yasmani be right, the 2021 version much less the guy he was much of leading up that, that guy is a huge asset to the ’23 White Sox. Fortunately, we’ll have a full offseason to get him healthy. His work with Pedro, we think will be beneficial, and knock on wood we’ll get him back to the level he was at in ’21.”

Now, Hahn might’ve said something similar even if the White Sox had a rich history of aggressively pursuing next solutions. Fans would love hearing a blunt assessment of how much Grandal’s 2022 season sucked, but it wouldn’t help in terms of player relations or leverage.

The problem is that “knock on wood” has been the prevailing White Sox strategy in such situations, even when decline should’ve been treated as a preexisting condition. Hahn’s last rebuild also shifted from free agency to trades earlier than it should have, which resulted in two shortstops reaching All-Star status elsewhere while the White Sox received two starting pitchers who turned in their worst seasons.

This seems like the last year to spend big, because if Brandon Nimmo or Carlos Rodón or whoever can’t get the White Sox out of their rut, dollars start melting off the payroll starting the following winter regardless. Maybe this winter’s big acquisition sticks out like a sore thumb during the next retrenching like Shields on the 2018 payroll, but retaining the bulk of the prospect base would make for a smoother transition if such a transition is required.

Alas, as I’ve said many times before, Jerry Reinsdorf does not spend money to make money, and Rick Hahn is terrible at making Reinsdorf money to spend, so any loosening of the pursestrings looks more like an involuntary spasm than a sustained strategy. We might be saying the same thing about the unusually thorough process to hire Pedro Grifol if the Sox stick to their old strategies of supplementing the talent.

There, the analog is 2012, when the White Sox reduced their payroll by $30 million with the hopes that Robin Ventura would be able to address the dysfunctional leadership structure at the end of the Ozzie Guillen era. It almost worked, at least until the roster’s depth issues emerged and Ventura’s inexperience came back to bite the Sox in September. Imagine what it might’ve looked like had the White Sox paired sizable spending and a manager with the team’s best intentions at heart, because the White Sox might not be capable of that.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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dwjm3

The organization needs to explain why the payroll would go down when attendance was up year or year. I mean a couple games of playoff revenue is that big of game changer for them?

itaita

Ask that at Sox Fe-

Buehrlesque

Doing/reading OPPs and thinking about the hot stove is fun and all, but as FA officially opens, I have lower expectations and enthusiasm for this offseason than any I can remember. The Sox have proven they won’t spend at top of the market rates on any position but C and RP. Time and time again they’ve bypassed opportunities to buy impact free agents, particularly OFs. No reason to believe that will change.

With the payroll restrictions, along with the horrific salary management to begin with, I don’t see any reason to think they are really going to put the effort into having a significantly improved roster. I hope I’m wrong, but I anticipate a few bandaids with no long-term view or impact.

Qubort

Not only not top of market, but even slightly above replacement level market. When they didn’t even talk to Springer, it became clear they only were interested in washed up players hopefully finding a bounce back year.

Tons of free agents that can play up the middle this year but our best hope is trading for a guy like Wong and hoping he bounces back.

Jason

Hahn’s interview makes it so easy to maintain my visceral hate of this franchise, as well as maintain my promise to sever financial ties until Reinsdorf pulls a Wirtz and dies his curmudgeonly death. Only then will it free us commoners from his years of miserly apathy.

Last edited 27 days ago by Jason
PauliePaulie

“knock on wood”
-Hahn Offseason plan ’22/’23

lastof12

This all coming from a guy who is Captain of Underperformance and still retains his job. Why the hell would anyone think underperformance of any kind would be corrected? The continual ineptitude of this franchise baffles me.

Last edited 24 days ago by lastof12
Alfornia Jones

since JR didn’t make the obvious move to fire Hahn, i do agree to not allowing him to spend anymore money. He’s not good at it, and it will put the next GM further in the hole.

The fate of the team is Eloy, Robert, Yoan, there’s nothing else. Adding anyone does nothing unless these three perform, and we’re stuck with all of them.

Brandon Nimmo is the next Jason Bay/Heyward , even though it would be very White Sox to make a marginal 30 yr old with two decent years under his belt to be the highest paid player in franchise history.

the only play in free agency is Aaron Judge. Make the big plunge or stay in the kiddie pool with bargain 1-2 yr deals.

dwjm3

Players with multiple 5 win seasons under their belt are “marginal players” now

Oh

Alfornia Jones

4 yrs apart, the rest is a mess. it would be like extending Moncada after the 2019 season. The White Sox aren’t good at this, i’ll let you know when i figure out their strengths. Judge is the only real deal, pay that or sit out.

dwjm3

The White Sox rarely go after tier 1 free agents. They suck at free agent acquisition because they go after tier 3 guys. One needs to have top shelf in house scouting and a high quality front office to dumpster dive.

If you stink at talent evaluation you better go after top guys.

Qubort

I’d bet Correa, Turner, and Bogaerts all have higher WARs than Judge over the next decade.

dongutteridge

The next GM? You mean in 2030?

DuhSox

“put the next GM further in the hole”. Hahn is the next GM. If he hasn’t been relived of his GM duties by now, it isn’t happening anytime soon.

Buehrlesque

Jason Bay, ha. There’s a name I haven’t heard in ages! That connection is a bit of a stretch, but I see where you’re coming from. Nimmo is getting a lot of love right now, and he does look good on paper. But with what he’s being projected to get, I can very easily see his contract becoming an albatross and fast.

denman

“the only play in free agency is Aaron Judge. Make the big plunge or stay in the kiddie pool with bargain 1-2 yr deals.”

That seems a bit extreme. All indications are that Judge wants to stay a Yankee and the Yankees want to keep him; I don’t know that the “only play” is to try to outbid a Yankee team that appears to be the player’s preferred landing spot. That “kiddie pool” is going to be really crowded.

asinwreck

Although Jerry Reinsdorf is a CPA, accountability has never been an ability of his organization.

BenwithVen

Sounds like another offseason of them sitting on their hands and scraping the bottom of the FA barrel.

ThisReallySox

The White Sox are probably out on Nimmo. The Mariners are rumored to have interest. God knows they won’t outbid them

evenyoudorn

My OPP is that Hahn should will James Click his job and job security, then Thelma & Louise it with the boss.

calcetinesblancos

The Sox are gutless cowards and would never sign someone like Judge, so I would love to see an outfield mix of Robert, Colas, Conforto, Eloy (here and there) and another RH hitter.

Mets fans all seem to hate Nimmo. From what I see they think he gets on base, but goes up to bat looking to walk every time regardless of the situation. To be fair, that would definitely be an upgrade over the clowns we usually trot out there.

upnorthsox

MLBTR’s top 50 FA:

https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2022/11/mlb-trade-rumors-top-50-free-agents-predictions-2022-23.html

Not really any surprises other than it sure is a older and shallow class.

ForsterFTOG

I imagine Rick Hahn skipped the top 50 and went straight to the honorable mentions.

upnorthsox

I suspect he’ll find the honorable mentions too rich for his blood too and then declare the “Birmingham Project” ready for primetime and promote them all to Chicago. Fun times!

Buehrlesque

In general, an uninspiring list with some lofty projections. I still think its a cop out for Hahn to say they’re going the trade route and are not going to throw money at the problem. That said, outside of maybe the SSs, this really isn’t a list to splurge on.

Still, have to love the one writer predicting RP Rafael Montero the White Sox. Hey, if the shoe fits…

GrinnellSteve

I hope all his talk about going the trade route is to tamp down expectations just in case he fails to sign Trea Turner. History says I’m a fool for hoping that.

Buehrlesque

I don’t think the Sow will even pursue Turner let alone sign him. I can’t imagine he’s on their radar at all.

GrinnellSteve

He ought to be on their radar, thus my hope. I harbor no illusions that they’re actually thinking big.

Trooper Galactus

Sure, he’s on their radar in that they’ll test the market for him then offer him 80% of what he’s expected to get and happily finish second.

jhomeslice

The Sox won’t win a thing until they sign somebody to a bigger contract than Grandal. Period. There is no point in watching this team until that changes. Their 2023 season is already a throw-away.