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The White Sox end 2020 both advancing down the road of contention and spinning their wheels in the mud. The young core, on the whole, made progress. The holes in the roster at the end of 2020 are identical to the holes at the beginning of 2020.
I’m going into this exercise assuming that Jerry Reinsdorf is still the owner, Rick Hahn is still guiding the team’s philosophy, and the criteria Hahn stated in his end-of-year presser will shape the team’s moves. It is a challenge, as there is no Machado or Harper (or, sigh, Mookie Betts) in free agency, and the challenges of evaluating talent to trade are particularly tricky in a year with no minor league games. There are, however, some opportunities in this unusual year, and what I suggest should produce a team with the depth to make a longer postseason run in 2021.
I’m just going to assume the second calculation method MLBTR described will be in force for this process to give me less room to budget.
- Nomar Mazara: $5.9M Non-tender. His price is too high for both his production and remaining control. We’re going elsewhere for lefty-hitting RF in 2021.
- Carlos Rodón: $4.5M Non-tender. Hard Carl may well get back to form in 2021, but it will be for a lower price in a new home. His 2020 unfortunately made this a very easy decision.
- Lucas Giolito: $5.3M Tender. I’m going to offer him a 5-year $75 million contract before the arb hearing. I expect he will turn that down in anticipation of getting to free agency earlier should the new CBA slice off a year of service time for impending free agents, but if he signs, great.
- Reynaldo López: $2.2M Tender. His price is low enough to investigate whether there’s anything left to salvage. My plan assumes we will option him to Charlotte. If he looks good and Jimmy Lambert is still hurt, he gets the emergency starter call up ahead of Bernardo Flores Jr. and Jonathan Stiever. Or he joins the bullpen. If he earns innings, great.
- Evan Marshall: $1.9M Tender. This is going to be an interesting season for Marshall. If he has another year like 2020, what will his 2022 arb number be? And do you bring him back for it? That could be a hard decision, but this year’s decision is easy.
- Adam Engel: $1.4M Tender. This player is worth this salary. My roster construction should keep him from being overexposed.
- Jace Fry: $1M Tender.
- Yolmer Sánchez: ??? Not that it matters. Non-tender and give him a NRI if he doesn’t catch on elsewhere. Based on last season, I expect him to be available. Let’s say he is and sign him for $600,000 so he can serve as the second utility infielder after Mendick.
- Edwin Encarnación: $12M. This parrot has ceased to be. This is an ex-parrot. Decline.
- Gio González: $7M ($500K buyout). The world barely survived the apocalypse produced by Gio actually pitching for the Sox. Decline for the sake of all living creatures.
- Leury García: $3.5M ($250K buyout). Decline. Like Yolmer, he could potentially be back as a NRI. I’d be shocked to see him make more than $600,000 next year, wherever he lands.
OTHER IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
- Alex Colomé (Made $10,532,500 in 2020). Let go. I expect one of the Phillies, Rockies, or Angels to give him a raise. Rick Hahn’s plan sure seems to be giving Aaron Bummer and Codi Heuer more opportunities at the end of games, and maybe the new manager has different ideas of how to deploy relievers. I’ll describe my vision for the bullpen in my closing summary.
- James McCann (Made $5.4M in 2020). I make him an offer of 2 years/$12 million, which he will refuse unless he has an unhealthy emotional attachment to Lucas Giolito. Three catchers are getting paid this winter, and those three catchers are probably getting paid by the Yankees, Phillies, and Angels. After JT Realmuto breaks the bank, McCann and Mike Zunino should both get offers exceeding what Jason Castro got in 2016 (3/$24.5). There will be a bunch of veterans cut free, and I suggest replacing McCann with one of them. More on that below.
- Jarrod Dyson (Made $2M in 2020). Let go. I’m curious to see who will invite him to spring training. It won’t be the Sox.
- Manager: AJ Hinch. I’m assuming there’s already a deal in place for Hinch, per the oddly specific criteria Hahn gave and Dallas Keuchel’s tweeted enthusiasm about the future. Would Hahn give Joe Espada or Carlos Febles an opportunity? Maybe, but I think this job is going to a veteran manager with recent October success. Of the Banging Schemers, I’d prefer Cora, but expect he’ll be back in Boston. Davey Martinez just signed an extension, I doubt Dave Roberts is going anywhere, and I expect Bruce Bochy to stay retired. Hinch’s past front-office experience leads me to think he’ll have influence on the interface between the coaching staff and the analytics side. Billy Donovan firing several Bulls assistant coaches who are under contract leads me to believe Jerry Reinsdorf will give the next Sox manager a budget to bring in new coaches. That might shape the pitching coach choice, but since no names have been floated yet, I’ll suggest a plausible one from outside the organization.
- Pitching coach: Ethan Katz. The Giants’ assistant pitching coach is reunited with Lucas Giolito after helping him make adjustments before 2019. Katz strikes me as a logical addition to what the Sox are already building on the pitching development sode, and he can offer input from what the Giants (a team that hired a few Driveline staffers after Zaidi took over) are doing. To hire a bullpen coach, Katz selects one of Everett Teaford or Matt Zaleski, with the guy who doesn’t get that job overseeing minor league pitching development.
Nothing. Really. What Sox players have trade value that aren’t central to the team’s future? I toyed with trading Nick Madrigal, but his possible ceiling exceeds what I think anyone else is going to trade for him. Andrew Vaughn is not being moved. Even if you were inclined to trade Garrett Crochet, Jimmy Lambert, or Michael Kopech, doing so with injury concerns for the first two and two years away for the other would be selling low. Reynaldo López and Zack Collins have no trade value given their production the past two years. The one guy opposing GMs might want to pry loose is Jared Kelley but even there I don’t see the return as worth the risk. It’s a terrible time for the Sox to build through trades.
This offseason should be the golden age of non-tenders, looking more like Bill Veeck’s vision of everyone becoming a free agent at once and driving prices down. In this market, the Sox are better equipped to sign guys rather than pursue trades.
Since I’m not making any trades, the new talent on the roster is coming from free agency. My #1 target in free agency was signed for the next decade by the Dodgers, so less-monumental talent will be coming to the South Side.
Marcus Stroman (four years, $76 million). Pretty much the Yasmani Grandal contract. I think this will get a deal done, given his past couple of years and Bauer being likely to generate the most interest among pitchers on the market. Stroman on the Sox would be fun, as I envision his sinker-slider combination slotting into the rotation either right before or after Giolito, with Keuchel on the other side. Even though he’s only 5’8”, he’ll complete a Big Three in the rotation that reduces pressure on Dunning, Cease, and Kopech while racking up quality innings.
Sung-Bum Na (three years, $18 million). This lefty slugger has consistently performed in the KBO, but between his age (31) and a 2019 knee injury, he will not command the highest price for a Korean player this offseason. (Kim Ha-Seong seems like the perfect candidate to replace Andrelton Simmons as the Angels’ shortstop.) Na can play RF fine, and is a good bet to surpass Mazara’s power production. The two worries about him are his strikeout rate has increased the past two years and his range may decline given his age and knee. I think he’s worth the risk. Na’s presence on the roster takes pressure off the younger players, and ought to keep Blake Rutherford and Luis González in Charlotte unless their offensive development merits promotion. Na would also be fun. If he comes to Chicago, and the team doesn’t cue up vintage Nancy Faust tape any time he knocks an opposing pitcher out of the game, then what are we even doing here?
That said, I don’t envision Na playing RF for 162 games. Na is my pick to start the season at DH as Andrew Vaughn spends a dozen or so very important games “developing” at Charlotte, after which Na will give Eloy, Vaughn, Abreu, and the new right fielder a game or two off per week. Having depth is important, especially since the new RF is injury-prone. He’s also the old RF.
Adam Eaton (one year, $3 million with performance incentives up to $10 million and a $10 million mutual option for 2022).
Yes, I thought about Michael Brantley, George Springer, and Joc Pederson, especially Pederson. Brantley’s quad issues are the kind of nagging injury that worsens with age, and Springer will likely command a five-year $120 million deal that I’d be happy to offer if he was three years younger. Until the post-season, Pederson looked like he was going to be a bargain, but his NCLS should boost his value beyond what would be a good idea for a hitter with his limitations. Instead, with Na already in the fold, I will turn to old friend Adam Eaton. Amid a two-year decline and a $10.5 million option, he’s probably going to get cut by the Nationals. He was terrible in 2020. He’s annoying as hell. But his skill set is unusually suited for this White Sox team. He’s a lefty hitter with strong OBP skills and more power than Mazara displayed who could slot in between Anderson and Abreu or go lower in the order. He’s a good defensive corner outfielder and baserunner. Keeping him healthy is a challenge, but that would be true of more expensive options like Brantley. An Eaton-Robert-Engel outfield in the late innings would be death to flying things, and should Robert miss time with injury, Eaton in right allows Engel to take over center field. Eaton is a risk to decline further at his age, and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t miss a couple dozen games due to injury. For those reasons, his guaranteed money should be reasonable. With Na also coming into the organization, the outfield should be deep enough to avoid throwing at-bats away on players who should not be in the majors like Luis González. A clubhouse led by Abreu, Anderson, and Giolito ought to keep Eaton from causing trouble, but maybe don’t bring Todd Frazier back or let anyone named LaRoche near the clubhouse.
Austin Hedges (one year, $1 million). I expect Cleveland to non-tender Hedges, letting him join Realmuto, McCann, Zunino, Robinson Chirinos, Alex Avila, Jason Castro, Tyler Flowers, Sandy Leon, Jeff Mathis, Matt Wieters, Yadier Molina, and probably a few other guys on the open market. I’d rather have Hedges as my #2 catcher over Collins, Mercedes, or Zavala, as I’m not convinced Collins and Mercedes can handle the job if Grandal gets hurt, and Zavala may have even less of a bat than Mathis does. If Hedges isn’t available, see if Tyler Flowers will come back. He draws walks, can hit the odd HR, and is a far better defender than Collins or Mercedes.
José Quintana (one year, $6 million, with a $10 million mutual option). Yes, I am proposing putting two-thirds of the guys traded for the rebuild back on the team. (If Chris Sale is throwing before the trade deadline, Chaim Bloom and I can talk.) This is a short-term depth play, allowing the Sox to give Dunning a few AAA innings, be cautious with Kopech, and keep the team from panic when somebody inevitably gets hurt. Quintana did not have the year he wanted going into free agency. As with Eaton, he can rebuild his value on this deal.
Oliver Drake (NRI). I have no idea which relievers will be cut loose, but NRIs and low-guarantee contracts to 2-3 of them will help with depth. Because his delivery is fun to watch, I propose one of these slots goes to Oliver Drake. The team should carefully investigate who gets designated for assignment this winter as you never know where the next Pete Fairbanks will be found.
Lineup ($74.63 M):
SS Tim Anderson $7.25 M
RF Adam Eaton $3 M guaranteed / $10 M if incentives are met
1B José Abreu $17.667 M
3B Yoán Moncada $6.8 M
LF Eloy Jiménez $4.333 M
C Yasmani Grandal $18.25 M
CF Luis Robert $3.5 M
DH Sung-Bum Na $6 M
2B Nick Madrigal $0.563 M
Eaton and Na ought to help address the team’s issues with right-handed pitching. Eaton has a lower ceiling but higher floor than Mazara. If Eaton’s only playable against right-handers, Engel can feast on lefties. If Eaton flames out entirely, Na’s the everyday RF sooner rather than later with Vaughn and Abreu splitting 1B and DH.
Bench ($3.563 M):
C Austin Hedges $1 M
INF Danny Mendick $0.563 M
INF Yolmer Sánchez $0.6 M
OF Adam Engel $1.4 M
This bench is constructed with defense in mind. Andrew Vaughn starts the season at Charlotte in a year when the usual service-time manipulations are joined by a desire to actually see him in the high minors for a dozen or so games. Charlotte’s lineup also includes Collins back at catcher, Gavin Sheets, Laz Rivera, Zach Remillard, and something like a Ryan Goins in the infield, and the island of misfit toys in the outfield. Does Jarrod Dyson like North Carolina? Having an adequate AAAA outfielder who can play defense is useful. Michael Taylor’s free, maybe sign him if he doesn’t get a major-league job.
Rotation ($48.875 M):
Lucas Giolito $5.3 M
Dallas Keuchel $18 M
Dylan Cease $0.575M
Marcus Stroman $19 M
José Quintana $6 M
I’ve slotted Stroman and Quintana in after Cease just for contrast of approach. If Giolito, Keuchel, and Stroman are healthy in October, they are the three horses to start playoff games. López ($2.2 M), Dunning, Stiever, Flores, and, if healthy, Jimmy Lambert, are all at Charlotte in case of need. If you’re more nervous about starting the season with Cease, swap him out for Dunning at Charlotte.
Bullpen ($7.726 M):
Codi Heuer $0.563 M
Aaron Bummer $2 M
Evan Marshall $1.9 M
Jace Fry $1 M
Matt Foster $0.563 M
Jimmy Cordero $0.574 M
Garrett Crochet $0.563 M
Michael Kopech $0.563 M
If healthy, Kopech and Crochet can have structured innings limits as they develop in the majors. I suggest piggybacking them onto starters. Give Kopech a couple innings after Keuchel and Crochet an inning or two after Dunning for contrast. Kopech can have the occasional start later in the year if he hasn’t been overworked. Bummer and Heuer have the late innings. Jimmy Cordero is the first guy in if there’s a runner on base. I suspect he’s a lot better if he’s not being driven into the ground. Oliver Drake is an option if anyone gets hurt during the spring, and Tyler Johnson, Ryan Burr, José Ruiz, and the Knights’ starters are down in Charlotte.
The 26-man roster comes to roughly $134,794,000. Add $2.2 million for López and $750K for the Gio and Leury buyouts, and this is all yours for a little under $138 million. Ideally, Stroman and Na are productive members of this team through the end of Tim Anderson’s contract. Quintana gives some breathing room for the young pitchers. By Halloween 2021, we should know more about Cease, Dunning, López, Kopech, and Crochet, including, I hope, how they fare facing more than a couple of batters in postseason play.