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When the Houston Astros won three straight games against the Boston Red Sox to clinch the American League pennant, I felt at peace with the White Sox early postseason exit. Those dangerous hitting Astros punished White Sox pitching for four games had slugged themselves into the World Series. Hell, they did it without Lance McCullers Jr.
While watching the World Series, I began to question my peace as Atlanta kept finding ways to win. They were the other #3 seed. They got past both Milwaukee’s elite starting pitching and Los Angeles overall greatness. All without arguably their best player in Ronald Acuna Jr. They traded for four outfielders, and of course, the Braves’ midseason acquisitions played essential factors in their success. Why couldn’t that happen for the White Sox?
That’s where my mindset is starting this Offseason Plan Project. Why couldn’t the White Sox do what Atlanta did? Is there something missing from this roster that’s stopping the White Sox from playing in deep October? Is the roster core not good enough?
As I take a swig of Dr Pepper, I mentally wash those questions away, fueled by my confidence in stating that I believe the White Sox core is good enough to win the American League pennant in 2022. A little bit more injury luck, and it’s not crazy to think the White Sox win 95-plus games in 2022.
The tremendous turnarounds from Carlos Rodon and Dylan Cease were huge this past season to weather those injuries to key position players. Can the starting pitching duplicate their success in 2022, starting with mainly staying healthy all season? Is Rodon coming back? If not, who else can replace his outstanding production? Bullpens are fickle beasts. Who will have the trust of Tony La Russa to hand the ball off to Liam Hendriks in 2022? Offensively, is there anyone out there that can help fill out the gaps at second base and right field?
Those are the questions I wanted to address in my offseason plan. Here’s how I would plan to answer them and (hopefully) make the White Sox better in 2022.
- Lucas Giolito: $7.9M; Tender – I’m not sure how realistic an extension is before Giolito hits free agency.
- Reynaldo López; $2.8M; Tender
- Evan Marshall: $2.3M; Non-Tender – sign to minor-league deal as Marshall rehabs from Tommy John surgery.
- Adam Engel: $2.2M; Tender
- Brian Goodwin: $1.7M; Non-Tender
- Jimmy Cordero: $1.2M; Non-Tender – sign to a minor-league deal
- Jace Fry: $1M; Non-Tender
- César Hernández: $6M; Decline
OTHER IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
- Carlos Rodón – Extend Qualifying Offer, leaning that he won’t accept it.
I struggle trying to figure out what kind of offers will be made to Rodon this offseason. One idea is Yusei Kikuchi’s deal with the Seattle Mariners, which Scott Boras orchestrated. The Mariners have to decide if they are exercising an option on Kikuchi for four years, $66 million. If they don’t, then Kikuchi has a player option of $13.5 million for 2022 that he must decide by the fifth day after the World Series.
I go back to the four years, $66 million. While the qualifying offer of $18.4 million is more than the average annual value of $66 million spread across four seasons, the latter is a much more significant guaranteed sum. Maybe Rodon bets on himself that by accepting the qualifying offer, he can duplicate his 2021 success and cash in the following offseason to make $20+ million a season.
Or he can avoid the risk of not duplicating 2021 with the White Sox and take the best three or four-year deal that another team will offer. I think this route is most likely, and I see a team offering Rodon $15+ million AAV over four seasons. I don’t see that being the White Sox.
- Billy Hamilton – I wouldn’t mind circling back to Billy Hamilton if he doesn’t have a home come Spring Training, but he’s not part of my 26-man roster plans.
- Leury Garcia – More on him later.
Plan: Re-sign Ryan Tepera
Ryan Tepera had an interesting contract for 2021. He signed for a base salary of $800K with the Cubs and earned the following bonuses based on games appeared in:
$50,000 for 30 and 35 games
$100,000 for 40 and 45 games
$150,000 for 50 and 55 games
$200,000 for 60 games
Tepera appeared in 65 games with the White Sox and Cubs in 2021, and thus, his incentive payout was more prominent than his base salary ($950K incentives vs. $800K salary). With a $1.75 payroll salary in 2021, I think Tepera is due for a raise. My offer would be two years, $6 million ($2.5 million in ‘22, $3.5 million in ‘23).
I’m laying this plan out how I would operate in order.
After re-signing Ryan Tepera and considering the other contracts of arbitration and pre-arbitration players, I’m already at a $140 million payroll. With a budget of $170 million, which would be the largest White Sox payroll budget ever, I’ve only got $30 million left for moves.
That’s not enough money to make a big splash. My 26-man roster is at 20 players needing to figure second base, right field, bench players, and bullpen. The first objective is to free up some additional budget by moving a couple of players. Let’s talk about Craig Kimbrel.
Plan: Pick up Craig Kimbrel’s club option ($16 million), and trade him to the Philadelphia Phillies
This trade idea is influenced by a column from NBC Sports Philadelphia stemming from USA Today’s / White Sox Media Megaphone Bob Nightengale’s tweet about the White Sox plan to pick up Kimbrel’s option and trade him.
The Phillies had an interest in Kimbrel before the trade deadline. They didn’t have a Nick Madrigal-type player to pull off the deal. In my mind, now in early November, I think a deal could be struck between the White Sox and Phillies. As I mentioned before, the payroll budget is at $140 million before Kimbrel comes back. I cannot see the White Sox paying both Kimbrel and Liam Hendriks premium salaries as relievers.
Dave Dombrowski knows he needs to give manager Joe Girardi a dependable closer, and the options are very limited in this free agency class. That’s why I think the Phillies are a good trade partner for Kimbrel.
Many White Sox fans would be disappointed in the return I thought of, but honestly, the most significant benefit of trading Kimbrel is freeing up cash. In exchange for Kimbrel, I would ask for LHP Jose Alvarado and RHP Adonis Medina.
Both pitchers can help with innings out of the bullpen, and in Medina’s case, he would add some starting pitching depth for the White Sox. It’s not a sexy return, nor is it anywhere close to what the Cubs got for Kimbrel, but Alvarado and Medina are better than spending $1 million on a buyout. I have a hard time seeing any team give up anyone significant for Kimbrel this offseason.
Next, let’s talk about Dallas Keuchel.
Plan: Trade Dallas Keuchel
After adding Alvarado and Medina to the payroll, I’m around a $143 million payroll budget. I really could use some money to come off the payroll, and that’s where Dallas Keuchel comes into play.
Honestly, I think Keuchel pitches for the White Sox in 2022 because his trade market is limited. No matter what deal I drew up, it requires the White Sox to eat salary. Not ideal, because again, I’m looking to free up payroll. Paying another team to take on Keuchel to pitch is not the best way to spend money. I would need to find a partner that has A) a need for starting pitchers B) Like the Phillies, has a controlled player who is cheap and can address a roster hole.
Enter the San Francisco Giants.
This offseason, the Giants have to find four starting pitchers. I think they bring back Kevin Gausman, but that still leaves them needing three more starters. My thought process is that with Keuchel, the Giants would get an experienced veteran to join an established clubhouse and was healthy enough to start 30 games. I don’t think the Giants would pay $18 million for a pitcher like Keuchel, but the going rate after last season was around $10 to $11 million for veteran starters. If the White Sox committed $8 million in a deal that would lower the Giants fiscal responsibility to $10 million. Would that be good enough for San Francisco? The possible vesting option of $20 million if Dallas Keuchel throws more than 160 innings in 2022. That could be another hurdle to negotiate over.
What would the White Sox get in return? While it was fun watching Seby Zavala have a three-homer game, I’m not too fond of the idea of either Zavala or Zack Collins being the primary backup catcher to Yasamni Grandal in 2022. I also know that Joey Bart is the future catcher for the Giants, and he’s ready to contribute to the majors in 2022. That makes catcher Curt Casali available, and if the Giants tender him a contract at $2 million, he’ll be part of the return to Chicago. Along with Casali, I would like LHP Sammy Long to be part of the deal. Long had mixed results after joining the Giants in June, but he would be another possibility in building the White Sox starting pitching depth. The White Sox are familiar with Long as he pitched for Kannapolis in 2019.
Final trade: Dallas Keuchel + $8 million to San Francisco for C Curt Casali and LHP Sammy Long. Again, not a sexy transaction, but the payoff is freeing up $8 million of the player payroll after adding Casali.
After this deal, I’m at a $135 million player payroll giving me $35 million to find a second baseman, a right fielder, and now another starting pitcher after moving Keuchel.
Let’s make another big offseason trade for starting pitching.
Plan: Strike a deal with Oakland.
I thought it was bizarre that the Oakland Athletics let manager Bob Melvin interview for the San Diego Padres job with a year left on his contract. My mind went numb when the Athletics let Melvin go to San Diego without any compensation. The rumors have been swirling that Oakland is selling this offseason because they are allergic to paying players entering their final arbitration years.
Two starting pitchers are entering their final arbitration season in Oakland: LHP Sean Manaea and RHP Chris Bassitt.
Either Manaea or Bassitt would be a great addition to the White Sox, but they wouldn’t be the only team in pursuit. According to MLB Trade Rumors, Manaea would make close to $10 million in 2022, while Bassitt is shy of $9 million. Very affordable for contending teams looking for an upgrade to their starting staff.
I believe that Bassitt would be more attainable for the White Sox. He’s 32 years old and coming off a pretty severe injury getting hit in the face by a line drive at Guaranteed Rate Field. The White Sox has a strong partnership with Rush Hospital, where Bassitt had his emergency surgery if additional rehab is needed. If complications arise, the White Sox have the resources nearby. Hopefully, that wouldn’t be required, and the White Sox can add another dependable starting pitcher to their rotation similar to Lance Lynn last offseason.
Now the cost. To outbid other teams, I would plan to give the Athletics two players who can contribute in the majors at a fraction of Bassitt’s cost.
Those players would be 1B/DH Gavin Sheets and RHP Reynaldo Lopez.
I know. The White Sox may have found a left-handed power bat in Sheets, and I’m already trading him. I contemplated Andrew Vaughn in this deal for a minute, but I still think highly of him. While 2021 wasn’t great for Vaughn, I think he showed flashes of what is to come. Between him and Sheets, I’d like the White Sox to keep Vaughn.
If Oakland churns out their roster, Matt Olson is probably on the move, opening a spot for Sheets to take over first base at the low cost of $600,000 in 2022. Lopez can either be a back-end starter for the Athletics or swingman out of the bullpen for $2.2 million. The Athletics would free up $6 million in this deal while adding two players who’ll be on their 26-man roster in 2022. I believe this exchange is more than what the White Sox gave up for Lance Lynn.
Adding Bassitt puts the player payroll budget at $144 million, leaving me $26 million to sign some free agents. Let’s go shopping.
Plan: Sign Starling Marte
Those who played in right field for the White Sox in 2021 combined to hit .223/.297/.374, which is awful. There are two internal options the White Sox could take addressing right field in Adam Engel and Andrew Vaughn. Engel continues to improve as a hitter, but now there’s serious concern about his ability to stay healthy. Multiple hamstring injuries make me wonder if Engel is not someone who can’t physically handle an entire season’s workload and is better suited as a fourth outfielder.
I’m impressed that Vaughn didn’t drown in left field while Eloy Jimenez was on the IL. Perhaps spending more time in right field during Spring Training can get Vaughn more acclimated to how fly balls and line drives play from that angle. If you believe in Vaughn’s bat, playing every day in right field should improve last year’s overall slash line.
But if the White Sox can find a suitor for Dallas Keuchel to free up more money, why decide between Engel and Vaughn? Just get an already accomplished veteran like Marte.
In 2021, Marte was a 4.5 WAR player between Miami and Oakland, according to Baseball-Reference, hitting .308/.381/.456 with 12 home runs and 55 RBI. Impressively, Marte went against today’s grain of not swiping bases and stole 47 bases. Adding Marte to the White Sox lineup, in my opinion, would be like having another Tim Anderson.
One area of concern regarding Marte is his groundball rate. As a leader of the “Ball In Air” campaign, Marte’s 54.9% ground ball rate goes against that mantra. Nicholas Castellanos will be a better fit if the goal is adding hitters who hit more flyballs. Castellanos career GB rate is 37.1%.
I can’t forget last season, though, and it’s better to prepare for the worst again. That “worst” is losing Luis Robert for a significant period in 2022. If that were to happen and let’s all take a moment to punch a wooden object that it won’t, Marte could cover center field while the White Sox go back to either Engel or Vaughn in right field.
What is it going to take to sign Marte?
My offer would be four years, $62 million. Like most MLB contracts these days, it’s not as straightforward. The breakdown would be:
2022: $15 million
2023: $15 million
2024: $16 million
2025: $16 million club option or $5 million buyout
So really, it’s either $51 million for three seasons of Marte or the $61 million over four seasons. Rumor has it that Marte was hoping for a deal in Miami in the $50 million range during contract extension talks, but it never happened, and the Marlins traded him to Oakland.
After signing Marte, I’m around a $159 million player payroll. Let’s address second base next.
Plan: Sign Eduardo Escobar
I still find myself snickering at how the rumors about Eduardo Escobar being traded to the White Sox was a foregone conclusion, how it felt underwhelming for the White Sox to acquire Escobar when Adam Frazier was still with the Pittsburgh Pirates. After the Cesar Hernandez deal, I even thought that was a better idea than Escobar.
Let’s check the results:
Adam Frazier: 57 G .267/.327/.335, 1.0 bWAR with San Diego
Cesar Hernandez: 53 G .232/.309/.299, -0.8 bWAR with White Sox
Eduardo Escobar: 48 G .268/.342/.458, 0.3 bWAR with Milwaukee
Now, the Brewers didn’t use Escobar at second base. He played 34 games at third base and the other 18 at first base, which was odd. The White Sox could have used Escobar’s offensive production at second base during the postseason run. Against Atlanta in the NLDS, Escobar was 3-for-10 with a double. Hernandez did reach on base six times in 11 plate appearances to his credit.
It wouldn’t be popular, but I could see the White Sox bringing back Hernandez for another shot in 2022 because he’s cheapish at $6 million. My offseason plan would give me more budget left to sign another arm or two to help bolster the bullpen, or maybe even bring back Leury Garcia.
Or, the White Sox could decide to let Hernandez go and re-sign Garcia thinking he will start at second base for a similar salary in 2021 ($3.5 million). More money would be available to add more arms to the bullpen or better bench bats.
Instead, I’d like to bring Escobar into the fold. The shortened 2020 season wasn’t good for Escobar, but I’m hoping he could produce as he had in 2019 (35 HR, 118 RBI .269/.320.511) and 2021 (28 HR, 90 RBI .253/.314/.472). With a career 37% groundball rate, Escobar fully embraces the Ball In Air lifestyle.
Escobar will be 33 on Opening Day. A short-term deal of two years, I think, will do the trick to land him. My offer would be two years, $16 million paying Escobar $8 million in both 2022 and 2023. It buys a little time for the White Sox to develop another internal solution at second base. Perhaps someone from Romy Gonzalez, Yolbert Sanchez, Lenyn Sosa, or Jose Rodriquez can find themselves ready and worthy for the role.
After signing Escobar, my player payroll is around $167 million. Because of this, Leury Garcia would be let go with my plan. If Escobar were to sign elsewhere this offseason, I think it’s OK to bring back Garcia.
Last move: Sign Collin McHugh
For the final three million, I would add to the White Sox bullpen. How about a homecoming for Naperville native RHP Collin McHugh? He was great for Tampa Bay in 2021. A similar deal to Ryan Tepera should work at one year, $2.5 million.
I assume most just skimmed through my thought process and found themselves here for the TL/DR version. Let’s briefly recap my master plan:
- Re-sign Ryan Tepera
- Picked up Craig Kimbrel club option and traded him to Philadelphia
- Traded Dallas Keuchel and $8 million to San Francisco
- Traded Gavin Sheets and Reynaldo Lopez to Oakland for Chris Bassitt
- Signed Starling Marte
- Signed Eduardo Escobar
- Signed Collin McHugh
- Added Curt Casali and Sammy Long from Keuchel trade
- Added Jose Alvarado and Adonis Medina from Kimbrel trade
Let’s take a look at my 26-man roster:
|Zack Collins/Micker Adolfo/Romy Gonzalez / Jake Burger||Whomever you like best||$0.60|
Player Payroll: $162.81 million + $8 million in Keuchel trade = $170.81 million.
I love the lineup. The starting rotation has excellent potential, and the bullpen has a chance to be solid. I do not like my bench, but I don’t think it’s worth fretting. One lesson to take away from 2021 is we don’t know who will break out and surprise us in a good way with their limited playing time. I think it’s worthwhile to remain flexible to try guys out coming off the bench. If nobody does, well, there’s the July trade deadline to find help.