White Sox’s cost-controlled core offering similarly restrained production

There are a lot of things wrong with the 2022 White Sox. It just depends on whether you want to get macro or micro about it.

Over at The Athletic, James Fegan has spent the last couple days detailing trends that never improved, both elements within their control (plate discipline, ground-ball rate) or league-imposed shortcomings (the death of the opposite-field fly).

If you pull back and want to merely want to size up the entire Baseball-Reference.com page, the problem is that the core that Rick Hahn locked up with early- or pre-career extensions have either been injured, awful or both. Here are their 2022 totals of games played and FanGraphs WAR:

  • Tim Anderson: 79 games, 2.0 WAR
  • Eloy Jiménez: 53 games, 1.0 WAR
  • Luis Robert: 89 games, 2.5 WAR
  • Yoán Moncada: 80 games, 0.4 WAR

The first three WAR totals reflect adequate full-season paces (a 3 WAR season for Jiménez reflects a significant offensive impact given his defensive limitations). As full-season outputs, they’re about on par with peak Yolmer Sánchez. Supplement their production with that of the bench players filling in during their absences, and the replacements are putting “replacement” in “replacement-level.”

  • Shortstop: 2.7 WAR (11th)
  • Left field: 1.0 WAR (22nd)
  • Center field: 2.5 WAR (14th)
  • Third base: 0.6 WAR (23rd)

That doesn’t seem as awful as it could be, except then you compare it to what the White Sox were projected to get from each position before the season, and it’s considerably grosser:

  • Shortstop: 3.6 WAR (9th)
  • Left field: 2.7 WAR (7th)
  • Center field: 5 WAR (4th)
  • Third base: 4 WAR (8th)

Worse yet, it’s hard to see any particular position improving its standing the rest of the way. Shortstop has been on a steady slide downward since Danny Mendick’s knee exploded, ravaging the depth behind an Anderson who resembled Alcides Escobar at the plate for two months before he injured his hand. Leury García and Romy González are getting Moncada’s playing time while he’s on the injured list, and Jiménez and Robert are finding it hard to string games together due to hamstring and wrist issues.

In order to overcome this kind of cluster failure, the offseason additions really needed to come through. The discerning Sox Machine reader needs nobody to inform them that this has not been the case.


Now, does this kind of poor group showing make the contract extensions a mistake? It’s too soon to issue a final judgment, but the underachieving has certainly made it harder to think about waiting out the status quo, especially if you’re inclined to attribute some of the struggles to premature paydays.

For instance, Eloy Jiménez is making $6.5 million this year, in what would’ve been his first year of arbitration eligibility had the Sox started him on Opening Day without an extension (lol). His most comparable player according to Baseball-Reference.com is St. Louis’ Tyler O’Neil, who entered his first year of arbitration coming off a 6.3 bWAR season and agreed to a $3.4 million deal for 2022.

Luis Robert hasn’t logged enough MLB action to automatically generate comparable players, but Teoscar Hernandez picked up a $4.32 million salary in his first year of arbitration eligibility in 2021, which is less than half what Robert will be owed in 2023, which would’ve been his first year ($9.5 million).

If you were to compare the money Robert and Jiménez have earned year-to-year against what they would’ve made without a contract extension, it looks like the White Sox outsmarted themselves.

  • Robert, with: $20.5M
  • Robert, without: ~$6M
  • Jiménez, with: $12.5M
  • Jiménez, without: ~$5.1M

But that probably doesn’t represent the White Sox’s perspective in their calculations. Had Robert and Jiménez not signed the deals before Opening Day, the White Sox probably would’ve called them up at a time that made them Super Two eligible. Jiménez would’ve had his first raise of note last season, and Robert would be looking at his coming up.

Under those circumstances, it’s more like:

  • Robert, with: $20.5
  • Robert, without: ~$12M
  • Jiménez, with: $12.5M
  • Jiménez, without: ~$9.5M

That still doesn’t look great on its face, but it’s still within range of redemption with one big year. It just requires both Robert and Jiménez to be players they haven’t been over the last two seasons (i.e., healthy and productive). When considering their trade values, other teams have to buy into that vision as well, and even if they did, they’d probably pretend they didn’t.


These contract extensions are a fascination of mine because they stopped being no-brainers over the course of Hahn’s tenure, and he built both of his rebuilding attempts around the strategy. The deals that Chris Sale, José Quintana, Adam Eaton and Tim Anderson had a lot more margin for error than the ones signed by Robert, Jiménez and Yoán Moncada.

(Moncada has been absent from this discussion because he’s hitting .197/.269/.313 and is guaranteed $47.6 million over the next two years. He signed his contract extension after he’d achieved the form of a guy who could get down-ballot MVP support. Now the math is grave.)

The conversation has gained even more angles and facets since we last discussed this, and we last discussed this when Lucas Giolito reportedly turned down a four-year, $50 million extension.

As Giolito tries to soldier through the rest of a season that could be charitably described as “mediocre,” the White Sox look like they dodged a bullet. Yet it doesn’t mean that Giolito made a mistake. Carlos Rodón showed everybody how much value a well-time resurgence has, so Giolito can still be rewarded for reaching free agency as quickly as possible, even if it cost him some present money. Teams and players operate on different time tables, so these equations aren’t zero-sum.

For the White Sox, the way this has unfolded should be seen not as a victory over Giolito’s camp, but an example of the benefits of leaving more of the roster open-ended. When building a resin shed, you’re told not to tighten the screws all the way, because it restricts the ability to work other pieces into the framework.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from following extensions and service-time debates is that a lot can happen in six years, and the seventh is even further away. The Nationals didn’t pick up the last option of Eaton’s no-brainer extension. The Cubs survived a grievance to secure a seventh year of Kris Bryant, and they mostly spent it trying to trade him. The same can be said for the Guardians with Francisco Lindor and the Red Sox with Mookie Betts, and only Cleveland has been able to convert on the predicament so far.

Moncada’s extension went from being celebrated to a potential albatross. Jiménez and Robert aren’t in that sort of hole, but their salaries have risen to from “afterthought” to “obligation” when everybody expected the value to remain blinding at this point.

This all has made the ambiguity about Andrew Vaughn’s future earnings rather refreshing. The White Sox started him on Opening Day without an extension, so he’ll make the league-minimum or thereabouts through next season, and then he’ll have three arbitration years afterward, rather than waiting for the Super Two cutoff to calculate a potential explosion in his 2027 earnings. If he plays well, he’ll earn more. If he gets hurt or stagnates otherwise, he’ll earn less. A team interested in trading for him can determine what they might want or have to pay him for future seasons, rather than undertaking what the White Sox already signed. There may be a point where everybody gets itchy about whether to extend or replace him, but that means he’s doing well enough for everybody to care.


Robert can be lumped in with Jiménez and Moncada because of his extension’s timing and size, and the fact that he isn’t healthy. Yet he still stands apart because he’s playing the most, he’s produced the most this year, and he’s doing both at a premium defensive position. If you combine his production over the last two seasons, you get a really good full season:

  • 157 games
  • 674 plate appearances
  • .317/.355/.502
  • 40 doubles
  • 1 triple
  • 25 homers
  • 99 RBIs
  • 17-for-21 SB
  • 31 BB, 130 K
  • 138 wRC+
  • 6.1 bWAR, 5.8 fWAR

You can quibble with the plate discipline or the wildly fluctuating quality of his defense in center field, but that’s an excellent season for a 24-year-old no matter how you slice it. The only issue is that he’s needed two seasons to compile one year’s worth of playing time.

As long as the top end of his talent remains evident — and I’d probably give him one more standard non-lockout, non-COVID winter before ruling out 140 games from him — I think you have to regard him separately from Jiménez, who is only a bat.

Which makes sense, because Robert’s extension was considered different from the others when he signed it. Third parties considered it less of the traditional great value, and more along the lines of superstar insurance. If he came up a level short of his best, he’d be paid market rate for the stage in his career, more or less. If he made good on his potential, the White Sox would secure his services for a cost and length of time that would be otherwise impossible.

With the recent extensions for center fielders in their first major-league seasons, it’s a little easier to see what Hahn had in mind.

A couple weeks ago, the Braves signed Michael Harris for eight years and $72 million, with club options of $15 million and $20 million for the following two seasons. Harris is hitting .298/.343/.517 with 13 homers and 15 steals (in 15 attempts) over his first 82 games at age 21, so it has the initial markings of a steal for the Braves, even if it’s not quite Ozzie Albies-grade robbery.

Steal as it may be, the Braves still had to guarantee Harris a greater sum than Robert, whose deal was six years and $50 million, with the ability to make it eight for $90 million if both club options are exercised.

Then there’s the Julio Rodriguez extension, which can’t be summed up with one number for years or dollars. This MLB.com article has to break down its structure into three stages:

  • The base: Seven years, $105M, plus a $15M signing bonus
  • The club option: Eight to 10 years, $200M-$350M
  • The player option: Five years, $90M
  • The mutual option: Seven years, $168M

The incredible number of routes and ranges of value vary on escalators dependent on MVP voting, but basically he’s guaranteed 12 years and $210 million in the worst-case scenario, and up to $470 million if he makes Mike Trout look like Steve Trout.

Rodriguez’s rookie season at 21 was better at Robert’s than 22, but it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where a healthy Robert could’ve generated a similar kind of mania among the fan base. Since the extensions for Harris and Rodriguez kick in starting next season, I’ve stacked them up against Robert starting in the second year of his deal.

YearRobertHarrisRodriguez
2$3.5M$5M$4M
3$6M$8M$10M
4$9.5M$8M$18M
5$12.5M$9M$18M
6$15M$10M$18M
7$20M*$10M$18M
8$20M*$12M$18M
Guaranteed$48.5M$62M$104M

The “superstar insurance” indeed remains in place with Robert. The White Sox did not buy high, or at the tail end of a trend that the rest of the league saw abating. The value is just contingent on Robert reaching those heights, and as everybody knows, it’s not exciting to pay premiums on policies you never end up using. However, if Robert puts it all together, it still could turn out to be history’s most exciting extended warranty.


It’s hard to come up with an all-encompassing takeaway from this body of extensions. There still hasn’t been a team to match the White Sox’s commitment to players before their MLB debuts, but the extensions to Harris and Rodriguez don’t seem that different spiritually, unless three months of exposure to MLB pitching makes it so much easier to handle the expectations of guaranteed money. The Braves’ success with a whole host of cost-controlled players suggests it’s a practice worth continuing, even if the costs require more pause.

The lesson sounds like it’s as banal and unhelpful as “Extend some players, but make sure they’re the right ones.” Even if you did your best to figure out what hindsight might have to say about it, the White Sox made the Moncada extension official one week before the COVID-19 outbreak cancelled spring training. Good luck mapping out that one.

If I were to offer something a little more useful as the second rebuild tries to K-turn itself out of a dead end, perhaps it’s worth examining the motivations behind the extensions. Do the White Sox genuinely believe in the talent, or do the White Sox have to commit to anybody who might be worth a $100 million contract at some point, since it’s apparent that Jerry Reinsdorf will never approve one himself? Do the White Sox genuinely think those two club options will be put to use, or are they just worried they won’t have developed a replacement by then?

I’m sure the White Sox would stand by the former condition in each of those questions, but the suspicion generated by the results makes me see some value in letting young players work themselves in or out of the foundation before cementing them into place.

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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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To Err is Herrmann

This is a great, in-depth analysis that made my head hurt. At the time Hahn made the extensions, my concern was about injury rather than underperformance. These comparative baselines make me wonder about the front office’s thinking process . . . again.

As Cirensica

Excellent analysis Jim. I have always dislike these long term extensions to players that have very little playing time in the Majors. The incentive and the motivation factor are kinda gone, and a player with a poor self-discipline can derail easily. In Spanish, we have a saying that reads “Música paga no suena” (tr. Music paid in advance does not make a sound). A 21 year old player is practically still a child (mentally speaking). A surefire contract for 100M is a lot of money a player might not have the necessary maturity to handle on a professional level.

I believe the White Sox are forced to try to trade Eloy Jimenez this off-season. Eloy just does not fit in 2023. Although he could fit in 2024 when Grandal is off the books. I expect the next GM (let me dream Hahn will get canned) is gonna have a lot of tough decisions to make this off season.

a-t

Why do you think it should be Eloy specifically?

As Cirensica

Health mostly. He is the oldest 25 year old player in the majors. He should not play in the outfield for 2 reasons:

  • His legs cannot endure it. He is always limping. He has hurt himself twice while catching balls. One required a significant surgery. He can’t be out there.
  • He is not a good outfielder

Therefore, he should be playing DH, but we already have a plethora of DH/1B. Gavin Sheets, Andrew Vaughn, Jose Abreu (I want the Sox to resign him), and Yasmani Grandal. Therefore, Eloy complicates things. The only way for Eloy to play is by playing in the outfield where he has repeatedly shown us he can’t be without getting injured.

HallofFrank

I’ll be trading Sheets and Vaughn in my OPP. Eloy will be at DH and occasionally make an OF appearance.

As Cirensica

I will be looking to trade both Sheets and Eloy…I am keeping Vaughn

a-t

I agree that there’s an overflow of DH options and that Abreu should be resigned, and thus one of the others should be traded. I personally lean towards trading Sheets and having Grandal actually sit on off days.

Eloy’s been much less recklessly aggressive in the outfield since tearing his pec. He’s not a good defensive outfielder by any stretch, but he’s by now an ordinary level of below average, not the utter farce that Vaughn or Sheets are out there. I also think his offensive talent is probably the brightest of the bunch. The leg issues are concerning with his injury history, but the entire roster’s legs are gimpy this year, the training staff has a lot to answer for.

HallofFrank

Yeah, this is pretty much how I see it. I don’t think Eloy has the trade value to be worth trading. I do think there’s still some promise here. I’d love to see what a season looks like in which he gets ~110 games at DH and ~40 games in LF, if he could stay healthy enough for it.

As Cirensica

You believe Eloy’s legs issue is solvable. I don’t or I don’t want to take a risk. We are talking about a guy that is constantly limping. He landed on the DL early on the year running from 1st to 2nd.That’s a dash of 90 feet. This is pretty routine stuff. And yet, he got hurt. This is not normal. Then he comes back, and TLR has to sit him because his “vague” leg whatchamacallit. He is still limping. When he runs, I have to pray because he looks like he is one tiny bad step for a leg season ending injury. I just don’t think the White Sox should take this risk.

I do not believe Eloy can play in the outfield for more than 70 games. He could be a useful DH though.

Last edited 24 days ago by As Cirensica
soxfan

On a well-managed team (big assumption, I know), there would be absolutely no question about Sheets or Grandal competing with Jimenez for playing time. Grandal will get a sufficient number of ABs at catcher (or he won’t get them), Sheets is a left-handed bat off the bench while Jimenez is a top-decile hitter when healthy (another big assumption, I know).

If you want Vaughn, Abreu, and Jimenez to get 500 AB each, there are probably 1,200 available between DH and 1B and then you just have to squeeze Vaughn and Jimenez into the outfield for about 40 games a piece – not ideal, but far from unworkable if you have Robert patrolling CF and a cromulent defender in RF.

As Cirensica

This makes sense because you refer to a well-managed team, and I want that more than anything.

Qubort

Grandal deserving DH at bats seems like wishful thinking at this point.
Sheets is a negative WAR player.

I’m all for shaking up the roster, but some of this surplus talent is just hot garbage.

Last edited 24 days ago by Qubort
Right Size Wrong Shape

I don’t think Grandal should have ever been getting DH at bats, even when he was the best player on the team. When the starting catcher gets his day off it should be a day off. I think it’s just another indictment of the inability of Hahn to bring in impact left bats that Grandal kept getting put out there in that role.

metasox

At least for this season, the plan seemed to be a reduced catching load rather than a normal starting role. That theoretically wouldn’t require as much rest and would help someone stay health – theoretically.

As Cirensica

Until Joe missed the memo

As Cirensica

Today is a perfect example why Eloy does not fit with the current White Sox roster. He is DH’ing so our outfield is: Pollock / Sheets / Vaughn which is atrocious.

HallofFrank

Good analysis and I think you’re right that the extensions look… less than ideal. But to be fair, comparing the cost of Robert and Jimenez with the hypothetical, no-extension cost misses most of the point. From the White Sox perspective, the whole reason you offer these extensions is the years of control at the end. That’s the tradeoff. More guarantee and more money up front in exchange for (ideally) those valuable, team option years.

So, the best (only?) way to evaluate whether these decisions work is whether Robert and Jimenez are worth the team options at the end of the deal. If they are, and keeping them around is desirable, then losing the first part of the deal is almost certainly worth it—or, at least, they likely won’t come out behind.

soxfan

Yeah, I’m mostly not fussed about the way things are working out. Anderson is a near-best-case scenario while the potential for Robert and Jimenez are still there if they can find a way to stay healthy. Even Moncada has had enough flashes of brilliance to think the org will break even on his deal, but I will admit $25M/year is a big number if 2022 is the new normal rather than a mulligan.

HallofFrank

But the struggles and injuries are a constant. If the question is “were the extensions a good idea?” the answer has to be “we’ll see.” If the team options are worth picking up, then the extensions were probably good idea.

The one possible exception is trade value. Maybe Eloy is more enticing without the extension? But who knows.

a-t

It’s $17M next year and $24M for 2024, the 2025 $25M is a club option. That’s not peanuts but it’s perfectly reasonable for the 2019-21 Moncada, who was mostly durable while playing at a 4.5 fWAR/600 PA rate.

As Cirensica

I think Jim refers above to Eloy and Robert as players that shouldn’t be struggling to reach 100 games per season at peak years. Jim puts Moncada in a slightly different prism in his article.

Qubort

The extensions by themselves I didn’t have a problem with. But considering Hahn’s quote, “the money will be spent…….on relivers and extensions only” (the last part he apparently whispered) makes them silly. Why bother extending them if you’re not going to bother finishing the roster?

Injuries and bad years happen to every team. By refusing to sign any position players of substance for two off-seasons, it’s compounded the Sox issues.

Trooper Galactus

The worst part is the team squandered the seasons where the core players were at their most cost-efficient by not going all-in then.

jhomeslice

No doubt. I mean it’s almost too late, unless they do something unexpectedly crazy like sign Aaron Judge, or Trea Turner. This window was never supposed to last forever.

This team has awful defense, is 10th/11th in runs and ERA, 13th in homers. They are bad or mediocre at a lot of things, great at nothing. They are a couple of real star players away from being a top tier team. There isn’t one position player on the field who is star caliber, really. I mean Pujols would be leading this team in homers, at age 42. Judge has one less homer than the top 4 players on the Sox combined. This team just isn’t good, or close to an elite team, and needs to add star players to get better. They have not done that since Albert Belle almost 30 years ago. They have not even been rumored to be in on a single good free agent since Grandal.

I think the peak of their rebuild will wind up being 2021. That wasn’t anything special, to say the least. It’s almost hopeless without a change in ownership, really.

soxygen

Luis Robert does a lot of little things poorly, not the least of which is be the captain of the outfield.

I expect he’ll end up moving to a corner (or we’ll wish the Sox had a corner to move him to) before long. His center field defense has been awful this year.

Robert will probably be the best player on the Sox for the next 3 years and my guess is that we’ll wish we had a better best player.

Foulkelore

It’s a very small sample size, due to the wrist injury, but he has looked better to me in the outfield since coming back from the blurry vision. I’m holding out hope (because what else do Sox fans have?) that was the primary reason for his poor routes/defense this year, and it is now mitigated. Although, if so, how long was it an issue this year?

soxygen

He does a horrible job calling off other players in the outfield, he gets to the ball slowly, he sometimes inexplicably lacks urgency on getting the ball back into the infield…so, maybe blurry vision had something to do with it, but after a stretch of particularly brutal defensive efforts in early June we were told it was a “leg thing” so who knows…

Buehrlesque

Some good analysis here, Jim. I will say, there is a little risk of looking too hard to draw conclusions that are penny wise and pound foolish. All four of the big extensions were 100% definitely worth doing at the time, and the player evaluations made sense too. The Sox FO, which deserves to be fired for myriad reasons, were clear-headed in their judgement on this. (Aaron Bummer always seemed a little puzzling to me, but that one’s not much of a hinderance either way.) There really wouldn’t have been a sizeable advantage for the Sox to not do any of those deals.

The aggregate underperformance would have saved you something, not insignificant money, but it wouldn’t prevent roster maximization and construction (and of course there’s no sign it would have gone to anything useful aside from another veteran relief pitcher anyway). We’re talking pennies compared to the mega risk of the Tatis Jr and Rodriguez deals, which I would not be bullish on.

The upside of the the core turning out great and being locked up for several years greatly outweighs a slight bump in maneuverability if they disappoint. Basically, I’d rather see the org sign these deals and work around any inconvenient lower percentile outcomes down the road than avoid them with the justification they may not work out and limit flexibility.

soxygen

We won’t have to wait. We’ll see if the front office is able to work around the inconvenient lower percentile outcomes this off-season.

Last edited 24 days ago by soxygen
soxfan

What are the odds this is the end?

GrinnellSteve

The managerial equivalent of vague leg?

It could be the set up for a graceful exit or it could be an old man with a health problem. As much as I want Tony gone, I wish him good health.

As Cirensica

I want him to retire peacefully and healthily too. He should have never returned to managing.

Last edited 24 days ago by As Cirensica
670WMAQtheElder

If I think of myself as the owner of the team with these guaranteed contracts, and with the players apparently underperforming, my response would be to take action to help the players perform better. So I would strongly challenge my manager, his coaching staff, the training staff and the analytics/scouting staff to tell me why they these players–Giolito, Grandal, Lynn, Roberts, Jimenez, Moncada, Kelly, Garcia– are underperforming AND to give me a plan to turn them around in 2023. My key question would be whether the staff is putting the players in the best position to succeed. Is our strategy right? Is our preparation right? Is our development right? Is our training right? Is our evaluation right? These players are worth millions; the staff not so much. The players can’t be replaced unless they are traded; everyone on the staff can be replaced. So if these guys can’t give me straight answers and a plan, on my team, they are gone.

shaggy65

Another factor to consider: Extensions theoretically keep the team out of the free agent market for longer. Even if the Sox moderately overpay for production from players in their age 24-31 seasons there is a benefit to avoiding the much higher risks of committing bigger dollars to guys in their age 31-38 seasons.

(Note that I’m not apologizing for this team’s unwillingness to spend on big ticket free agents, just acknowledging that both the dollar values and the risks are higher for most free agents.)

chipporter

I think we are missing some analytical categories.

What about Eloy’s OSWar (Open Shirt War), where does that rank among big guy pretend OF’s?

Or Grandals JWar (Jewelry War), how does that rank among non slugging slugging catchers?

Or Moncada’s SJWar (Shoes and Jewelry, or should that be 2 war categories?) among 3B’s who use their bat for decorative purposes only?

I’ve never been a, no fun league, guy, but I am a, you have to earn the right to strut like a banty rooster guy. Our guys simply haven’t earned the right to show up everyday adorned to show off that they got paid, and then not sing for their supper. They should stop making sure that their shirt is open enough for us to see all their gold chains every at bat, and spend more effort on the results of the at bat, first.

If you want to strut, let’s see something to strut about, other than you got a fat paycheck. Don’t throw your lack of success in my face 4 times a game, because dudes, you suck.

To Err is Herrmann

Baseball is the only sport of the major four where you can sport huge chunks of change around your neck. It’s kind of strange when you think about it. Maybe we all should be wearing multiple gold chains around our necks at work and pointing to the sky in gratitude when we make a cogent point at a committee meeting.

upnorthsox

Lol, I’m going to try that!