BA6’s Offseason Plan

PREAMBLE

The Chicago White Sox are coming off of their most exciting season in over a decade and are poised to increase their payroll to $150MM. That is, until Jerry Reinsdorf calls a meeting to share his “economical” approach to this offseason following a season in which no fans attended games – he wants you to keep payroll under $140MM. All of a sudden, the White Sox have less cash than expected to build a World Series contender.

The White Sox have a core that is positioned to contend for a title in 2021, but the club needs to address a few issues:

  • Lack of production out of RF
  • Need for at least one SP
  • Depth, depth, depth

Note: I didn’t show the Sox signing a top free agent such as George Springer, Trevor Bauer, Marcus Stroman, or Michael Brantley. Their names have been in a number of offseason plans, and rightfully so as they would be excellent additions to this club. I’m using this as an opportunity to brainstorm potential other additions to the White Sox.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE PLAYERS

Since I am assuming that free agency will be somewhat suppressed this year, I believe that the players’ union will work to partially reconcile FA contract losses by pushing for and achieving arbitration method #2.

  • Nomar Mazara: $5.6M | $5.9M | $5.7M Non-Tender
  • Carlos Rodón: $4.5M | $4.5M | $4.5M Non-Tender
  • Lucas Giolito: $2.5M | $5.3M | $2.5M Tender
  • Reynaldo López: $1.7M | $2.2M | $1.7M Non-Tender
  • Evan Marshall: $1.3M | $1.9M | $1.4M Tender
  • Adam Engel: $1M | $1.4M | $1M Tender
  • Jace Fry: $800K | $1M | $800K Tender
  • Yolmer Sánchez: Uncertain Non-Tender, bring back on MiLB contract

Nomar Mazara’s 2020 struggles followed four years of mediocrity in Texas. Even with a reduced payroll, the Sox shouldn’t settle for below average with both the bat and glove in RF in 2021. His $5.9MM can be better applied elsewhere.

Since his Opening Day 2019 start in Kansas City, Carlos Rodon has thrown 42.1 innings for the White Sox over the past two seasons, to the tune of an 80 ERA+ and a 1.465 WHIP. As a reminder, he has only thrown 42.1 innings! Rodon’s inefficiency on the mound and inability to stay healthy make this an easy decision. He will be picked up by another club as a project, but likely for much less than his projected salary through arbitration.

Reynaldo Lopez was a key piece in the second trade of the rebuild, but trying to force his success is futile. Lopez’s challenges on the mound give him next to no chance to make the 2021 squad and also mean that his trade value is likely non-existent with a $2.2MM price tag following a pandemic season. He finds himself among many MLB players in 2020 to not be tendered a contract given the financial pressures of the pandemic.

Yolmer Sanchez is welcome to return on a minor league contract, which is likely going to be his market this offseason. The Sox lack organizational infield depth, so having Yolmer available in Charlotte could be a benefit come summertime.

CLUB OPTIONS

Write “pick up” or “decline” or “rework” after the option.

  • Edwin Encarnación: $12M Decline
  • Gio González: $7M ($500K buyout) Decline
  • Leury García: $3.5M ($250K buyout) Decline

Leury Garcia is the only one who could cause much debate. Assuming rosters are back down to 26 next season, the White Sox are likely to carry 4 position players on the bench. With Adam Engel and Danny Mendick / Yolmer Sanchez in the fold, there’s little need for Garcia’s versatility, and the White Sox can apply Garcia’s $3.5MM elsewhere.

OTHER IMPENDING FREE AGENTS

Try to retain, or let go?

  • Alex Colomé (Made $10,532,500 in 2020) Let go
  • James McCann (Made $5.4M in 2020) Let go
  • Jarrod Dyson (Made $2M in 2020) Let go

Alex Colome was the only proven ninth inning option on the 2020 squad and pitched extremely well for the club. With the full $150MM payroll, I would push to bring Colome back for a contract around 2 years / $20 million, which feels feasible in this market. However, the Sox have a number of electric arms in the pen who can audition for ninth inning duties, and can also use this offseason as an opportunity to bring in other arms to re-shuffle the bullpen.

Yasmani Grandal wasn’t signed last offseason to the richest deal in club history just so that the Sox could re-sign James McCann after the 2020 season. Even if the Sox had the luxury of bringing McCann back, his struggles in the final month of the 2020 season as well as the second half of 2019 would deem him some sort of a risk on a multi-year pact. McCann should find a starting gig elsewhere and we can all look back fondly on his White Sox tenure.

Jarrod Dyson seems like a nice man.

COACHING STAFF

Here’s a first: Pick your manager and pitching coach, with any elaboration.

  • Manager: Bruce Bochy. Although the smart money is on AJ Hinch, don’t rule out Bochy, who is willing to listen to opportunities following his “retirement” in 2019. Giants fans still speak incredibly high of Bochy and most of them would probably take him back today if they could. Bochy has managed in 4 World Series (you probably forgot that he led the Padres to the Fall Classic) with arguably less talent than the Sox will field in 2021.
  • Pitching coach: Darren Balsley. Balsley was the pitching coach for the San Diego Padres from 2003-2019, meaning that he was around for Bochy’s final seasons in Southern California. More importantly, Balsley is beloved by players and known as one of the better pitching coaches in the game. He’s still in the Padres organization, but providing the opportunity to be a pitching coach again on a team in win-now mode with high potential arms has to appeal to Balsley.

FREE AGENTS

No. 1: Sign SP Mike Minor to a 1-year contract with a base salary of $5MM, with escalators to $11MM, and a 2022 club option for $11MM with a $1MM buyout.

Like it has been for many of us, 2020 was a miserable year for Minor, but at least things somewhat turned around after his trade to Oakland. Nonetheless, the soon-to-be 33-year old could be a bargain on a 1-year deal this offseason, as evidenced by his recent durability, a K/BB ratio hovering around 3x over the past two seasons (vs. White Sox 2020 starters averaging 2.23x, ranking 24th in the league), and his stark differences from some of the other back end of the rotation candidates as a lower velo left hander.

As for the contract structure, $5MM base seems fair given Minor’s struggles in 2020. The contract escalators are structured as follows: $3MM bonus for throwing at least 150 innings and a $3MM bonus if the Sox have at least 1 million fans attend their home games.(equates to 12,346 fans per game if fans are allowed at all 81 games).

No. 2: Sign RP Brandon Workman to a 1-year contract with a base salary of $4.5MM, with escalators to $8MM, and a 2022 club option for $8MM with a $1MM buyout.

Workman was lights out in 2019, but never looked the same in 2020. Things only got worse after he was sent to Philadelphia, city of bad relief pitching. Although I have Aaron Bummer slotted as my 2021 closer, the Sox would be wise to acquire a reliever with previous closing experience as Alex Colome leaves town.

Similar to Minor, proposed escalators for Workman include a $2.0MM bonus for at least 30 games finished and a $1.5MM bonus if the Sox have at least 1 million fans attend home games this season.

No. 3: Sign C Tyler Flowers to a 1-year contract worth $5MM.

The free agent backup catcher market is basically a choice between Flowers, Castro, and Romine. All of them should command similar 1-year deals and they are all better options than the in-house alternatives on the White Sox current 40-man roster. I’m going with Flowers given his pitch framing skills and somewhat respectable offensive production.

No. 4: Sign 3B Justin Turner to 1-year contract worth $12MM, with a club option for 2022 worth $10MM (no buyout).

Justin Turner is by no means the youngest player on the market as he heads into his age 36 season. He is not a versatile defender that can move around the diamond like he was years ago. But with Danny Mendick, Yolmer Sanchez, and Adam Engel in the fold, the White Sox don’t need Turner to play a super-utility role. The Sox need an experienced, capable DH that can also serve as Yoan Moncada insurance at 3B in the event that his covid-related fatigue continues into 2021 (hopefully it does not).

As for his performance, Turner’s wRC+ over the past four seasons have been 151, 154, 132, and 140. He’s has been even more effective against righties, as evidenced by a 2020 slash line of .340/.419/.495 with a wRC+ of 154. Turner would be an excellent addition to the 2021 White Sox as a 3B/DH and emergency 2B.

I didn’t include performance/attendance related escalators in Turner’s contract, as I feel that his 2020 performance warrants the full $12MM salary, and the suppressed market tradeoff for Turner is taking a 1-year deal with a club option that has no buyout.

No. 5: Sign 2B Jonathan Villar to a 1-year contract worth $5MM, with escalators to $8.2MM (matching his 2020 full season salary).

I don’t know if Villar is willing to take a utility type of role for next season, but if he is, he would be a strong addition to the White Sox roster. After all, he was non-tendered last offseason by the Baltimore Orioles. Although he struggled in his 52 games played during the 2020 season, Villar is switch hitter who is capable of hitting for some power and playing both middle infield positions. It’s more likely that Villar wants to take a starting gig, even with a rebuilding club, in order to build up his value for next offseason, but the White Sox would be foolish not to try to acquire him on the open market. You could even argue that he could split time with Nick Madrigal at 2B, and I’m sure some fans would much prefer to give Villar the starting nod.

Villar’s $3.2MM in contract escalators are half driven by games played (81) and half driven by fan attendance in 2021, as I believe the pandemic will significantly impact his market coming off of a down season.

TRADES

No. 1: Trade SP Dane Dunning, SP Matthew Thompson, and C Zack Collins to the Pittsburgh Pirates for SP Joe Musgrove.

Picking up a 1-year fix such as Minor is nice, but this White Sox team needs a more dependable, experienced arm, preferably one that is under team control for a number of years (Musgrove is controlled through 2023 via arbitration). Musgrove’s career BB% of 5.8% will fit well within a White Sox rotation that struggled with command last season (ranked last in the AL with a BB% of 10.2%) and provides some stability to the middle of the rotation.

I anticipate that the biggest issue with Musgrove is actually acquiring him. He’ll be a coveted asset for many teams that aren’t looking to spend for Bauer and Stroman at the top of the market. The Pirates are likely to seek a top catching prospect in return for Musgrove’s services, but I believe that the White Sox can offer an enticing deal centered around two highly regarded pitchers and a former first overall pick that isn’t a top catching prospect but is still hopeful to play that position in the majors.

The decision to trade Dane Dunning was not an easy one. Dunning showed glimpses of future major league success this season, and was one of the few White Sox young starting pitchers that fans could say progressed this season. But the Sox need a Musgrove type of starter today and cannot afford to wait a few years to develop one. Also, with no data being shared out of Schaumburg, the Pirates aren’t moving Musgrove for completely unknown commodities, and can benefit from having film of Dunning pitching in the majors and they even watched him throw 6 shutout innings in their own ballpark in September.

You may be wondering, why trade talent for Musgrove when Bauer and Stroman are available for just money? It’s an excellent question, but one that is grounded in contract structure itself. In addition to Jerry’s declaration that payroll must stay under $140MM for 2021, Musgrove’s salary via arbitration over the next three years is expected to be significantly less than the marquee free agent starters, even in a suppressed free agent environment, and provides payroll flexibility for the 2021 and 2022 offseasons.

No. 2: Trade SP Konnor Pilkington and 1B Gavin Sheets to the Chicago Cubs for RF Jason Heyward, RP Ryan Tepera and $36.25MM cash.

Hear me out. It is a rainy late October evening in Cincinnati. During a rain delay, Jason Heyward gives a passionate speech, and the White Sox win game 7 of the World Series over the Reds in the 10th inning.

Okay, okay, enough about that. So why is Heyward at all enticing? Well, here are some of the things that the White Sox could use in their lineup:

  • Better run production vs. RHP. Heyward’s wRC+ of 153 vs RHP in 2020 vs. White Sox wRC+ of 106 vs. RHP in 2020.
  • Improved OF defense. With Eloy Jimenez entrenched in LF for the better part of this decade, the White Sox would be wise to have plus defenders at the other two outfield positions. Thankfully they have plus defense with Luis Robert in CF, and could make their defense even better by acquiring Heyward.
  • Plate discipline. Another year, another offseason of complaining about the White Sox lack of plate discipline, this year ranking 27th in walk rate. Heyward is a notoriously patient hitter, as evidenced by his career 10.5% walk rate that spiked to 12.7% over the 2019-2020 seasons.

The biggest challenge with Heyward is exactly the reason why the payroll challenged Cubs would be eager to move him – his salary. Heyward is owned a cool $72.5MM over the next three seasons. I am proposing that the Cubs pay half of his salary, which I believe they would be willing to do in order to reduce payroll and re-apply their cash to keep some semblance of their core together. You could argue that $11.75MM is a hefty price tag for Adam Engel’s platoon partner, but you could also argue that he’s the perfect platoon partner.

Ryan Tepera was a solid contributor in the Cubs bullpen this season and is owed a raise through the arbitration process. It is no secret that the Cubs are focused on reducing payroll, and this is an easy way to offload Tepera’s salary while not having to non-tender him, therefore receiving nothing in return.

As for the pieces going to the Cubs, neither projects to be a significant contributor for the White Sox in 2021 and therefore are expendable to fill out the roster.

SUMMARY

Here is my 26-man Opening Day roster (new additions are in italics):

Starting Lineup:

SS Tim Anderson $7.25MM

3B Yoan Moncada $6.8MM

1B Jose Abreu $17.67MM

LF Eloy Jimenez $4.33MM

DH Justin Turner $12.0MM

C Yasmani Grandal $18.25MM

CF Luis Robert $3.5MM

RF Jason Heyward $11.75MM

2B Nick Madrigal $0.5MM

Bench:

OF Adam Engel $1.4MM

IF Yolmer Sanchez $0.5MM (he made the team!)

C Tyler Flowers $5.0MM

IF Jonathan Villar $5.0MM

Rotation:

SP Lucas Giolito $5.3MM

SP Dallas Keuchel $18.0MM

SP Joe Musgrove $4.4MM

SP Mike Minor $5.0MM

SP Dylan Cease $0.5MM

Bullpen:

CP Aaron Bummer $2.0MM

RP Brandon Workman $4.5MM

RP Codi Heuer $0.5MM

RP Evan Marshall $1.9MM

RP Matt Foster $0.5MM

RP Jace Fry $1.0MM

RP Garrett Crochet $0.5MM

RP Ryan Tepera $1.5MM

TOTAL: $139.55MM

The White Sox 2021 Opening Day Roster has two new established starting pitchers, an upgraded platoon in RF, and more depth than the 2020 edition. Also, Jerry is happy because the payroll is below $140MM (barely), and he is so happy that he may even give us some flexibility at the trade deadline, when inevitably the White Sox will need to add at least one bullpen arm and potentially another bench player.

Speaking of depth, here are some players who will start the season in the minors but could contribute to the big league club during the 2021 season. Note that this is in addition to any players that the Sox could add on minor league contracts with invites to spring training.

Pitchers: Michael Kopech, Jonathan Stiever, Jimmy Lambert, Zack Burdi, Bernardo Flores Jr.

Position Players: Andrew Vaughn, Danny Mendick, Yermin Mercedes, Micker Adolfo, Luis Gonzalez

Although the White Sox didn’t acquire any headline free agents this offseason, they’ve much improved the roster and should be projected to make consecutive postseason appearances for the first time in franchise history. Additionally, the South Siders will have payroll flexibility come next offseason, which is arguably a much stronger class than this winter’s free agents (albeit one that would take some creativity given that many of the superstars in that class play Tim Anderson’s position). Hopefully the Sox can trade for one of those stars at the 2021 trade deadline to push for a title next season, and then lock that player up long-term before they hit the open market.

Hope to see you all at the ballpark in 2021 so that we can enjoy winning White Sox baseball together and help Mike Minor, Brandon Workman, and Jonathan Villar make some extra cash!

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