I’ve done a SoxMachine plan for the past three years at least, and each year, I struggle to toe the line between “what do I think the White Sox would do” and “what would I actually do if I were the GM.” Per usual, I tried to straddle this line but leaned more on what I specifically would do in each scenario while keeping it relatively realistic.
Every player that I’ve either signed/traded for to create this roster has one or more of the following characteristics that makes up for something the White Sox lacked in 2022:
- Above-average walk rate (at least 8%)
- Strong defensively, per Baseball Savant’s Outs Above Average (OAA)
- Ability to throw 150+ innings of sub-4.00 ERA baseball
- Strong bullpen arm with either a proven track record or the stuff to make it work
- Plays some sort of long-term role for this organization
This entire offseason required plenty of creativity, and between trades and free agent signings, I leaned into the idea that no one on this roster is safe.
With that, let’s begin.
- Lucas Giolito ($10.8M): TENDER
- Lucas Giolito will be back to form in 2023. But, just in case he isn’t, we’ve accounted for that in this plan.
- Dylan Cease ($5.3M): TENDER
- Cy Cease Truthers got the last word this season. $5.3M is a nice pay bump thanks to the new CBA rules, but here is the ace of the staff the team has been looking for.
- Reynaldo López ($3.3M): TENDER
- Don’t be surprised if Lopez shows up as part of a Lasik advertisement sometime soon after revitalizing his career. He is going to remain an important back end piece.
- Adam Engel ($2.3M): NON-TENDER
- The “Adam Engel starting RF” calls based on a 200 PA sample have quieted. In some worlds, it may make sense to bring him back, but I’d like a bit more security in terms of production from a fourth outfielder.
- Michael Kopech ($2.2M): TENDER
- Look for him to be someone who gets a Cease-like boost next year if all goes according to plan. The White Sox will almost need it.
- Kyle Crick ($1.5M): NON-TENDER
- Consider me among those who liked the signing at the time.
- José Ruiz ($1M): TENDER
- The Mariano Rivera of low-leverage situations, throwing 60 innings in a season as a reliever is always valuable.
- Danny Mendick ($1M): TENDER
- Bring him back on the strength of his ability to competently fill a role in case of injury/poor performance. Looking forward to seeing him on the field once again.
These next two sections have already been done for me, as I always prefer to wait until options are either picked up/declined by teams and players to get the best picture of what money is actually available to me.
- Tim Anderson: $12.5M ($1M buyout) – PICK UP
- If the White Sox were ever serious about shaking up their core, they’d consider trading Tim Anderson with 2/$27M left on his deal, which would be a steal for teams looking for a stopgap shortstop. The Cardinals are a great example of a team who could use his services, but in my plan, he stays on the South Side.
- Josh Harrison: $5.625M ($1.5M buyout) – DECLINE
- Great pickup for the value and did exactly what they paid him to do. That said, you can only pay so many utility guys $5M+ before you start to consider quantity vs. quality. Consider Harrison partially a casualty of Leury Garcia/Tony La Russa.
- AJ Pollock: $13M ($5 million buyout) — OPT OUT
- I stood alongside Josh Nelson in saying I thought there was a chance Pollock opted out to chase a secure job on a competing team in 2023. We won that battle – though, with the opt out, we all became winners.
OTHER IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
- José Abreu (Made $18M in 2021) – LET GO
- Thanks for all the memories, but it’s time. It’s just as much about Abreu being ready to leave as it is about the White Sox needing to move on, and I think Sox fans need to realize that if they haven’t already.
- Johnny Cueto ($4.2M) – LET GO
- My good friend Beefloaf said it best: when you get this sort of production for $4.2M, it becomes hard to want to pay any more for it, especially from a 37-year-old who faded a bit down the stretch. The budget is already tight, so I’ll let someone else pay Cueto. He was a joy to watch, however.
- Vince Velasquez ($3M) – LET GO
- I briefly considered bringing him back but decided on a new project for Ethan Katz. He really wasn’t that bad in 2022, though.
- Elvis Andrus ($14.25M) – LET GO
- September was fun for a little bit, and we have Andrus to thank for that. However, with a team needing a bit of change in construction, Andrus doesn’t really fit the bill here.
I’ll go on record as “cautiously optimistic” about Pedro Grifol. Rick Hahn appears to have gotten the guy he wanted based on his reactions at the press conference, and Grifol has shown the confidence, professionalism, and experience to consider him a “qualified” hire. I understand some of the questions still surrounding him, but at the end of the day, the roster will always matter far more. I’m very curious to see how the rest of the coaching staff shapes up.
Designate Leury Garcia for Assignment
I didn’t know which section was best to put this in, but it’s my team and I’ll do what I want to. I’ll eat the salary obligation to put together my ideal, post-TLR roster, but I want Lenyn Sosa and Romy Gonzalez to get the backup second baseman reps, not Garcia. Thanks for Game 3 in 2021, but I don’t consider that home run to be worth $16.5M.
Michael Conforto (1-year/$13M with a $13M player option for 2024)
The Contract: This is a very similar contract structure to the one Carlos Rodon got last offseason – whose agent also happens to be Scott Boras. Conforto is going to need to take a pillow deal with some sort of guarantees behind it just in case things go south in 2023, and even Boras is probably going to have to recognize that after he overplayed his hand heading into 2022.
The Player: You know how “Kenny always gets his guy”? Well, this is my version of that.
I’ve long liked Conforto’s fit for this team, and for those who were worried about giving him a long-term deal last offseason, we’ve found our spot in the middle. Heading into his age 30 season, Conforto’s career 12.1% walk rate and 124 wRC+ are well above what the White Sox have gotten from a corner outfield position recently. He has a 136 wRC+ in his career against RHP, and even in a down year in 2021, that wRC+ was still at 119. Conforto has a career 96 wRC+ against LHP, but can also set up perfectly in a platoon situation if necessary (and if my offseason plan were to come together fully):
- Conforto vs. RHP (2021): .243/.348/.444, 119 wRC+
With the league’s worst walk rate in 2022, the White Sox could benefit from someone whose walk rate was 25th-highest from 2019-2021, similar to that of Aaron Judge, Kyle Schwarber, and Mookie Betts. While the risk is plenty here due to the shoulder injury and the loss of a full season, Conforto has the floor of a hitter profile that the White Sox lack and the ceiling of someone who well outperforms his contract.
SP Jameson Taillon (3 years, $39M)
Contract Breakdown – 2023: $13M, 2024: $13M, 2025: $13M
The Contract: Taillon posted a sub-4.00 ERA and has a projected market value of around $14M. FanGraphs crowdsourcing put him at around $12M, while starters like him last season (Alex Wood, Yusei Kikuchi, Jon Gray, Anthony DeSclafani) got around $12-$14M. So, I went right in the middle with this multi-year deal for a mid-rotation arm with very intriguing stuff.
The Player: A former top prospect with Pittsburgh, Taillon has settled well into a mid-rotation role in his past two seasons with New York. His fastball spin (85th percentile) and curveball spin (83rd percentile) are both well above average, giving him the sort of stuff that can easily take a step forward under Ethan Katz – however, they’re already good as they are. In addition, Taillon’s 1.62 BB/9 goes a long way toward helping a White Sox staff whose starting pitcher’s BB/9 was 23rd in all of baseball. Someone who can throw 170+ innings of sub-4.00 ERA ball is exactly what the White Sox should be looking for, especially when you begin to compare yourselves to the Astros.
The top five starters for the 2022 World Series Champion Houston Astros threw about 830 IP. With Taillon, the White Sox’ top five starters could conceivably go about matching that: Cease (170-180), Lynn (160-180), Giolito (160-180), Kopech (150-160), and Taillon (170-180). In addition, the Astros’ top five starters posted a 2.94 ERA for the season. The White Sox, with their current crew, could conceivably get near the 3.00 – 3.20 mark if all went well. That’s a bit more of a lofty goal compared to the innings pitched goal, but signing someone like Taillon and building a rotation of Cease, Lynn, Taillon, Giolito, and Kopech is one that competes with some of the best in the American League.
OF Adam Duvall (1-year/$5M)
The Contract: Duvall had a rough season in Atlanta a year after their World Series run. The soon-to-be 34-year-old right-handed hitter is getting a deal in line with what a lot of the lower-tier, right-handed platoon-based outfielders received in 2022, mostly because his performance dictates a bit of a pay cut from 2022. However, there’s a reason for this move.
The Player: What’s the point of signing someone who had an OPS under .700 in 2022? It’s the platoon advantage and defense that Duvall provides. Against LHP in 2022, Duvall slashed .233/.282/.562 (.844 OPS). Yes, essentially, Duvall is a play at power as the complement to Michael Conforto in the outfield. Conforto’s 97 wRC+ against LHP in his career affords him the chance to try to handle both, but if he can’t Duvall can handle his own and then some against LHP.
However, Duvall’s value goes beyond power. Believe it or not, Duvall is actually a really strong defensive outfielder. He ranked in the 87th percentile in OAA in 2022, posting +1 OAA in LF and +3 OAA in CF. In doing so, he serves as a fourth outfielder who has the ability to start, platoon, or serve as a late-game defensive replacement if necessary without breaking the bank.
RP Luke Jackson (1-year/$4M with $5M club option in 2024)
The Contract: The Dodgers put together a similar deal for Tommy Kahnle (1/$4M) after he missed all of 2021 due to the same injury as Jackson. I’m replicating that sort of deal for someone who I think can provide some high-leverage innings in 2023 if all goes well even after missing all of 2022 due to Tommy John Surgery.
The Player: Ethan Katz, I present to you your yearly project! Fix him!
Jackson was a significant piece of the Braves World Series run in 2021, posting a 1.98 ERA that made everyone happy and a 3.66 FIP that left everyone questioning if he could repeat in the next season. His 57.9% ground ball rate from 2019-2021 was 10th-highest among qualified relievers over that period, and with Kendall Graveman and Aaron Bummer, we know the White Sox like their ground ball pitchers. At the same time, Jackson also had a respectable 27.7% strikeout rate over that period – just ahead of Aaron Bummer.
Jackson features a slider/fastball/curveball mix, with his fastball averaging nearly 96 mph in 2021. His slider featured a 35.1% whiff rate that season and his curveball had a 29.3% whiff rate. He struggles to get life on his fastball, averaging just 2208 RPMs and getting just a 22.2% whiff rate on the pitch the last time he threw. However, it does have *slightly* above average vertical and horizontal movement, so it’s not a bad pitch. He also does struggle a bit with walks, posting a career 9.8% walk rate.
At the end of the day, Jackson presents a low-risk, high-reward option for a player looking to bounce back this season. Given his experience in high-leverage roles and a championship run with the Braves, Jackson presents himself as someone who could earn a back-end role once again without needing to be thrust into one right away.
Minor League Signings: SP Aaron Sanchez, SP Drew Hutchison, SP Matthew Boyd, SP Sean Newcomb, RP Kyle Crick, OF Willie Calhoun, C Andrew Knapp
Note that I have no idea how plausible it is that any of these players actually sign minor-league deals. However, given their performances in 2022, I don’t consider it outside the realm of possibility that these players get deals that allow for bouncebacks.
- Sanchez – AAA: 3.75 ERA, 62.1 IP / MLB: 6.60 ERA, 60 IP
- Hutchison – AAA: 3.95 ERA, 13.2 IP / MLB: 4.53 ERA, 105.1 IP
- Boyd – AAA: 2.25 ERA, 8 IP / MLB: 1.35 ERA, 13.1 IP
- Newcomb – AAA: 3.38 ERA, 24 IP / MLB: 8.78 ERA, 27.2 IP
- Crick – AAA: 2.70 ERA, 6.2 IP / MLB: 4.02 ERA, 15.2 IP
- Calhoun – AAA: .774 IPS, 261 PA / MLB: .524 OPS, 62 PA
- Knapp – AAA: .799 OPS, 230 PA / MLB: .393 OPS, 46 PA
Of the list, the only one I can see not taking a MiLB deal would be Boyd, who would likely have to accept a bullpen role if he chose to take a major league deal. However, given that the Charlotte Knights had a total of basically two starters down the stretch last year, here’s a way to start to build back a bit of depth for the team.
It’s trade time. Let’s go wild.
For all interested: yes, I am aware Baseball Trade Values exists, and once and a while, I’ll peek at their metrics. However, I am not beholden to them and refuse to be, since we know very little about how they arrive at their calculations. So, if something doesn’t “work” on Baseball Trade Values, this is my way of saying I didn’t really care because of the rationale I put into acquiring the players.
Let’s get into it.
White Sox acquire C Danny Jansen, RP Nate Pearson, and 2B Cavan Biggio from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for CL Liam Hendriks
The Rationale: Two teams are trading from their respective strengths in this scenario. Jansen is one of three catchers in Toronto who deserves time on the roster in 2023, while Cavan Biggio needs a change of scenery in what has become an overcrowded infield – and outfield – in Toronto. Toronto was also considered to be in on Robert Suarez prior to his 5-year, $46M deal with the Padres, as they identified high-leverage arms as an area of need after struggling in this area in their short Postseason run. Meanwhile, the White Sox have one of the best swing-and-miss guys in baseball in their bullpen but are running a budget that doesn’t exactly lend itself to carrying a reliever making $14M a year on the roster – no matter how good he is.
The Players: Danny Jansen, for the first time in his career, really lit it up in a smaller sample size in 2022, hitting .260/.339/.516 over 248 plate appearances. He’s shown power before, as he slugged .473 in 2021, so there is some pop in his bat. The advanced metrics on Jansen’s 2022 performance don’t signal any sort of expected regression, so we can feel decently confident reading into the smaller sample. He’s an average defensive catcher, however, with two years left on his rookie contract, he’s being used here as a bridge between Yasmani Grandal and the next White Sox’ long-term solution at catcher that provides some needed insurance in case Grandal truly has seen the end of his productivity. Jansen’s 10.1% walk rate and .863 OPS against RHP once again add to the weaknesses identified at the beginning of this plan.
Both Biggio and Pearson are risks that the White Sox would take on, but both feature tremendous upside. Biggio is a versatile left-handed bat with a nearly elite glove at second base (+7 OAA in 2022). His 12.5% walk rate once again adds to the team, and while it was a rough season for him, he did manage a .691 OPS against RHP. He also brings speed to the team, as he’s stolen 14 bases in a season before. At current, he’s not great by any means, as Biggio needs to cut down on his strikeouts and put the ball in play more. The White Sox are banking on potential here, but perhaps Biggio would enjoy working with his former manager Charlie Montoyo once again.
As for Pearson, this is the closest thing to a “top prospect” the White Sox would get in this deal. The 26-year-old was supposed to be one of the next big arms in Toronto, but heading into his age-26 season, he leaves more questions than answers for a Blue Jays team that needs some help in the back end of the bullpen. Pearson is an Ethan Katz project in the making, with incredible velocity (98th percentile) but below-average spin (41st percentile). His four-pitch mix (FB, CB, CH, SL) features some elite movement, but with how tremendously he’s struggled with walks (16.4% walk rate in his career), it hasn’t really mattered all that much. Pearson missed a chunk of last season with Mono, and it’s unclear if the Blue Jays would be willing to move him. However, at the end of the day, shouldn’t they be willing to trade an unsure asset for a sure-handed one?
It’s an interesting package for Hendriks, and most trades I’ve seen involving him have involved top prospects. If the White Sox are planning to get a #50-#75 prospect for Hendriks instead of some major league pieces, the Blue Jays aren’t the best match. Instead, I’ve gone the riskier route of trying to fix a few weak spots on the White Sox roster. I can’t tell if this package is too light or too heavy for Hendriks – though I’m sure you’ll all tell me in the comments. It really depends on how the league views Danny Jansen and how strong his market is with so many teams looking for a catcher.
In the end, it feels a bit like an island of misfit toys in a return, and perhaps the White Sox would be better served betting on some upside from players who aren’t in their mid-to-late-20s. However, it also feels like the White Sox could really get a steal here just by taking some of the expendable pieces in Toronto. I’d also be willing to add a minor league piece here if necessary, but honestly, this feels like a trade where Toronto doesn’t really feel like they lost anything they can’t already replace as their core ages and gets more expensive. They need sure things in order to come out of the AL East, and Hendriks is as sure as it gets.
White Sox acquire C Endy Rodriguez from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for P Garrett Crochet and INF Jose Rodriguez
The Rationale: Henry Davis is the future in Pittsburgh, and that future is not far away after he made it to AA last season. With the Pirates still finishing off their rebuild, they would benefit from adding someone who they can continue to develop at the major or minor league level. With four years of team control, Crochet can be in Pittsburgh for a while, and since he is coming off Tommy John Surgery, the Pirates have the ability to create whatever they want – starter or reliever – of the former top-75 prospect (per Baseball America), which is a luxury the contending White Sox can’t really afford.
The Player: I’m taking a chance at trying to find the future catcher of the Chicago White Sox, even if he isn’t going to be on the team in 2023. Rodriguez finished the season as a top 100 prospect, per Baseball America, sneaking in at #95 after hitting .323/.407/.590 across High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A in 2022. He’s considered to be incredibly athletic but also very strong behind the plate, playing 1B, 2B, and LF this season while also throwing out 31% of potential base runners. The Pirates may not be quick to give up a player such as Rodriguez so easily, however, I’m banking on the fact that the presence of Henry Davis, combined with the Pirates’ stated need of desiring more swing-and-miss pitching, is enough to get this done.
With the Pirates also searching for a first baseman with pop, I’d also be willing to include Gavin Sheets in this deal. In addition, I’d be willing to exchange Rodriguez for Ramos if necessary. With the White Sox still dealing from their strength in the bullpen, I’d hope to make Crochet my centerpiece, however. With Bryan Reynolds coming to the end of his contract in Pittsburgh, the team would likely hope to put some sort of winning product out on the field sooner rather than later. Crochet and Sheets can both do that, while Ramos/Rodriguez represents more of the future. If the package is Crochet, Sheets, and Ramos, I’ll do that.
At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be willing to overpay too much for Rodriguez; however, I’d be working hard every day with Ben Cherington to make a deal like this work to the point of near overpay, especially if I believed that Rodriguez could be the next long-term catcher on the South Side.
I usually make 4 or 5 versions of this before settling on my final one. Other players I considered signing or trading for included, but were not limited to:
- Brandon Nimmo, OF, FA
- Jesse Winker, OF, SEA
- Max Kepler, OF, MIN
- Andrew Benintendi, OF, FA
- Ross Stripling, SP, FA
- Pablo Lopez, SP, MIA
- Hunter Brown, SP, HOU
- Rafael Montero, RP, FA
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B, FA
- Christian Walker, 1B, ARI
- Brandon Lowe, 2B, TBR
- Gleyber Torres, MI, NYY
- Jorge Polanco, MI, MIN
- Ezequiel Duran, MI, TEX
Here’s how this version of the 26-man roster shapes up. The total payroll obligations come out to $190.8M, including the dead money for Garcia, Pollock, and Harrison. So, *slightly* over-budget, but I’ll pull a Billy Beane in Moneyball move and offer to pay for Ricardo Rincon when the budget doesn’t allow for it, so long as I keep the profits from this team’s World Series run. I could also fix this by non-tendering Jose Ruiz, bringing up a league minimum guy like Jimmy Lambert, and not DFA’ing Leury Garcia if it really came to it, but where’s the fun in that?
All new additions are italicized.
SS – Tim Anderson (R)
3B – Yoan Moncada (S)
DH – Eloy Jimenez (R)
1B – Andrew Vaughn (R)
LF – Michael Conforto (L)
CF – Luis Robert (R)
C – Yasmani Grandal (S)
RF – Oscar Colas (L)
2B – Cavan Biggio (L)
Bench: INF Lenyn Sosa, C Danny Jansen, OF Adam Duvall, 1B Gavin Sheets
SP – Dylan Cease
SP – Lance Lynn
SP – Lucas Giolito
SP – Jameson Taillon
SP – Michael Kopech
RP – Jose Ruiz
RP – Jake Diekman
RP – Luke Jackson
RP – Joe Kelly
RP – Kendall Graveman
RP – Nate Pearson
RP – Aaron Bummer
RP – Reynaldo Lopez
Notable 40-Man Roster Members: C Endy Rodriguez, C Carlos Perez, C Andrew Knapp, C Seby Zavala, SP Davis Martin, SP Aaron Sanchez, SP Matthew Boyd, SP Drew Hutchison, SP Sean Newcomb, RP Kyle Crick, RP Jimmy Lambert, INF Danny Mendick, INF Romy Gonzalez, OF Willie Calhoun
With this team, there isn’t necessarily a designated closer; rather, there are six names with closing experience in some form or another. While Reynaldo Lopez may be the clubhouse leader to get those final three outs, Joe Kelly, Kendall Graveman, or even Aaron Bummer or Luke Jackson could potentially step into that role. The lack of a proven closer remains the biggest concern on my roster, but between the pitchers listed on the 26-man roster and the ones in the minor leagues, there has to be someone who can get those final three outs. If not, just go get the hottest name at the deadline.
Overall, in looking at this roster, the White Sox would now have a potentially elite starting rotation, a lineup that can hit plenty of home runs and should also walk a lot more, some additional speed with Cavan Biggio, and much-improved defense with Conforto/Duvall – Robert – Colas configurations. I feel pretty good about the depth on this team as well, with every backup outside of Lenyn Sosa one that has shown the ability to play at the major league level for extended periods of time. I also don’t feel anything listed is that out of the realm of possibility, nor does any of it require any long-term financial commitments.
With the stated goals from the beginning of this plan in mind, I feel I was able to accomplish each of them. Now, it’s time to sit back and hope that the plan comes together as hoped.
Let me know what you think!