Josh Nelson’s Irrational Fear Offseason Plan ($120 Million budget)

I’ve had an irrational fear before the restart of the 2020 season that Jerry Reinsdorf will tell Rick Hahn he can’t spend as much as he did last offseason. What fuels this fear how business owners are using the pandemic to justify cuts across the board. What makes it irrational is that the White Sox are coming off their first postseason appearance in 12 years, and made significant investments last year. Why would they slash payroll now?

Without fans in attendance, Reinsdorf and his fellow board members lost millions in revenue. That lost revenue would have to be made up by laying off staff, possibly furloughing whoever is leftover, and cutting player payroll. Sure, maybe the billionaires and millionaires who sit on Reinsdorf’s board could absorb the financial hit for once. Them taking the full brunt of that loss seems very unlikely to me.

It’s just not MLB that’s crying poor. Other business sectors are also preparing or have already made drastic changes in these “Unprecedented times.” One would think the profits made over the years were going to a rainy day fund or feeding into a war chest to prepare for these situations. More times than not, it isn’t, and businesses, no matter the size, are woefully unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic that will continue through the winter and into 2021.

I should have considered this possibility when writing about my original Offseason Plan when architecting a $135 million payroll White Sox team. It was nice to be optimistic that the White Sox front office could provide more pleasant surprises like signing Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel.

After reading James Fegan’s Q&A column on The Athletic, and Rob Manfred publically stating MLB lost billions this season, I can’t help but feel my irrational fear is more rational than I want it to be.

Instead of thinking with our hearts or guts, let’s think with our brains for a moment and try to answer the following question: What could the 2021 White Sox roster look like if they cut payroll? 

To help get started, let’s follow the Offseason Plan Project template again while providing a budget checkpoint at each stage. As Jim wrote on the launch post, the White Sox obligations were already $77.8 million before tendering arbitration players. For arbitration amounts, let’s say the two sides (Agents and GM’s) meet in the middle between Method 1 and Method 2 projections.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE PLAYERS
Tender

  • Lucas Giolito: $3.9M
  • Reynaldo López: $1.95M
  • Evan Marshall: $1.6M
  • Adam Engel: $1.2M
  • Jace Fry: $900K

By tendering these five players at those arbitration amounts, the White Sox 2021 payroll is at $87.35 million.

Non-Tender

  • Nomar Mazara
  • Carlos Rodón
  • Yolmer Sánchez

Not popular tender targets so far in the Sox Machine Offseason Plans. Let’s work with the notion that Nomar Mazara, Carlos Rodon, and Yolmer Sanchez will enter free agency early.
CLUB OPTIONS
Pick up:

  • Leury García: $3.5M

Buyout/Let Go

  • Edwin Encarnación: $12M
  • Gio González: $7M ($500K buyout)

By keeping Leury Garcia, who for $3.5 million can help cover multiple positions, and buying out Gio Gonzalez’s contract, that’s an extra $4 million on the 2021 tab.

Today, the trio of Alex Colome, James McCann, and Jarrod Dyson are free agents. The White Sox have until 4:00 pm CT Sunday, November 1st to place a Qualifying Offer on them. I highly doubt the White Sox are putting a QO on Colome, McCann, or Dyson.

Let’s assume which pre-arbitration players will make the 2021 White Sox roster getting paid around $580,000. My list would be Nick Madrigal, Danny Mendick, Dylan Cease, Jimmy Cordero, Matt Foster, Codi Heuer, and Garrett Crochet. Sure, maybe Zack Burdi and Dane Dunning find themselves on that roster, too. You figure seven pre-arb players on the 2021 roster, which adds $4.06 million to the payroll.

At this moment, the White Sox payroll is at $95.41 million before making any additions or trades, which leaves around $32.5 million to spend if the White Sox maintained the 2020 payroll.

For the White Sox, that’s a pretty good amount of budget space compared to previous seasons. But we are trying to answer the question: What if the White Sox cut payroll in 2021? What should that payroll target be?

In last year’s Sox Machine Offseason Plan Project, the cap was set at $120 million. Let’s say that cap is confirmed for 2021. Hahn would be telling Reinsdorf that he’s cutting $8 million from player payroll to help offset business losses but will find a way to build a competitive team. It’s a similar pitch that middle managers across all business sectors are making to their bosses today as fiscal year closures are approaching. Cut costs but maintain operational status.

At this point, if you are a fan that always screams at the White Sox for not spending like a big market team, I suspect you’re already tugging at your hair, or steam is beginning to spew from your ears. I’m with you. Yet, we know how a Jerry Reinsdorf operation works.

A $120 million payroll would leave Hahn around $24.5 million to plug in the gaps for starting pitching, right field, designated hitter, and maybe finding another reliever to help the bullpen. We can already cross Trevor Bauer and George Springer off the list as both are rumored to be asking for $25+ million per year deals. Probably Marcus Stroman, too.

Before picking out targets, let’s revisit what Hahn said at his press conference about this offseason.

“We’re going to have to wait and see how the market plays out. It’s going to be a market that’s very likely obviously impacted by these factors that we’ve never seen before in sports and even in society. So we’re just going to have to wait and see how the market plays out. And hopefully at some point get a better understanding of what next season is going to look like in terms of length, in terms of fan attendance, in terms of revenues and all that will factor in to how will we make moves.”

“Wait and see how the market plays out,” suggests to me that the White Sox might not jump ahead of the market as they did for Grandal. Instead, sitting back and wait to see who is getting offers or not in December might be Hahn’s play. This strategy could mean another trip to the clearance rack picking players who could upgrade from what the White Sox got in 2020 but come with a high-level bust risk.
Free Agents

  • Sign Joc Pederson – two years, $16 million ($8 million AAV) 

I’m not a big fan of Pederson, but as he displayed during the World Series, he can mash fastballs. Pederson had an average exit velocity of 94.9 mph against heaters in 2020. The problem is the fastball is the only pitch he smashes. Still, Pederson would be more likely to string together some bombs, unlike Nomar Mazara.

As far as salary, Pederson was scheduled to make $7,750,000 in 2020 but ended up with a prorated amount of $2,870,370. The $8 million amount seems fair for his market.

  • Sign Alex Wood – one year, $6 million 
  • Sign Taijuan Walker – one year, $6 million 

The thinking behind signing both Alex Wood and Taijuan Walker adds more depth to the starting rotation initially. They are not game-changers, but Wood and Walker should provide the White Sox four to six innings per start. At least until Dane Dunning, Dylan Cease, and Michael Kopech figure out how to be consistent in the majors.

Wood hasn’t pitched more than 150 innings since 2018 and only made two starts in 2020. If Wood wants to start games moving forward, the White Sox have that opportunity for him. If Wood intends to stay with the Dodgers, I’m sure they would be happy to have him, but mostly as a reliever. That flexibility of bouncing between starting games and coming out of the bullpen makes Wood an attractive option. Especially with how well he performed this postseason (6.2 IP 5 H 1 ER 8 K 3 BB).

Walker was healthy and good in 2020 as he finished with a 1.3 bWAR and a 161 ERA+. A lot of that success was after being traded from the Diamondbacks to the Blue Jays, as Walker had a 1.37 ERA in six starts helping them reach the postseason. The injury risk is high with Walker, who has never started 30 games in his career, last pitched 150+ innings back in 2017, and only appeared in four games total in 2018 and 2019. Any team signing Walker has to understand that there is a very high chance he’ll end up on the IL at some point during the season. The hope with Walker is he bottled that success finishing 2020, and carry some of that over to 2021.

Wood was to make $4 million in 2020. Walker had a $2 million base salary plus incentives based on innings pitched and days active. The $6 million might be a slight overpay. Still, I’m expecting both to have plenty of suitors because they are on the cheaper side compared to Bauer and Stroman.

  • Sign Erik Kratz – one year, $1 million

Carryover from my original offseason plan.

  • Sign Daniel Bard – one year, $3 million

To help bolster the bullpen with Alex Colome leaving, I think signing Daniel Bard to a one-year deal could be worthwhile for the White Sox. Bard’s story in 2020 was nothing short of excellent, going on to win Comeback Player of the Year. He was a bright spot for the Colorado Rockies in 2020. Despite being 35 years old, Bard was one of the league leaders in fastball velocity and spin rate. Even though I would like to see Codi Heuer get a crack at closing games, it’s not a terrible idea to add a veteran like Bard, who has experience in that role.

Bard signed at league minimum in 2020 ($563,000). The $3 million price point is $1 million more than Trevor Rosenthal signed with Kansas City last year.

************

After signing a right fielder (Pederson), two starting pitchers (Wood and Walker), a backup catcher (Kratz), and a reliever (Bard), there is one more move to make.
TRADE

  • Send Reynaldo Lopez to Milwaukee for Daniel Vogelbach

At this moment, we don’t know if there will be Universal DH in 2021. For the Milwaukee Brewers, it could mean the end of Ryan Braun’s tenure with the ballclub without a DH. It would also mean they wouldn’t have a spot for Vogelbach as they don’t trust his glove at first base.

I think any trust left in Reynaldo Lopez becoming a starting pitcher is spent for the White Sox. Dunning and Cease are better, and I don’t believe Lopez will beat out Kopech in the future. That means Lopez’s future with the White Sox is pitching out of the bullpen.

Instead, this trade gives both teams what they are looking for on the cheap. The Brewers get another fringe starting pitcher they can place in the backend of their rotation, and the White Sox get their left-handed designated hitter. Hopefully, Vogelbach is more like the hitter in Milwaukee (.328/.418/.569) than in Seattle (.094/.250/.226). If he duplicated his 2019 numbers (30 HR, .208/.341/.439), that would be a significant boost at DH for the White Sox since Daniel Palka’s wild 2018 ride.

Total budget after proposed moves: $119,045,000. 

************

If the White Sox went down this route, it would be a busy offseason. Much more active than most of the league is projected to be this winter. But it wouldn’t move the needle much for their contention hopes.

That’s why the best attack plan is taking advantage of the current market and increasing payroll to add high-impact players to the roster. I genuinely believe that’s the only way this franchise can meet their already lofty expectations in 2021. Sportsbooks have already put the White Sox win total around 90 wins and giving them the third-best World Series odds after the Dodgers and Yankees before making any moves.

We might have to wait until February to see how this offseason truly unfolds for the White Sox. I hope that this irrational fear of a slashed payroll doesn’t come to fruition. If it does, I don’t see how they can add any players on the tier of Bauer, Springer, Stroman, or even Michael Brantley. Who I think they need to sign a couple of those four for a shot of making the World Series in 2021.

Projected Lineup

  1. Tim Anderson, SS
  2. Yasmani Grandal, C
  3. Jose Abreu, 1B
  4. Eloy Jimenez, LF
  5. Yoan Moncada, 3B
  6. Joc Pederson, RF
  7. Luis Robert, CF
  8. Daniel Vogelbach, DH
  9. Nick Madrigal, 2B

Projected Starting Rotation

  1. Lucas Giolito
  2. Dallas Keuchel
  3. Taijuan Walker
  4. Alex Wood
  5. Dylan Cease

Projected Bullpen

  • Daniel Bard
  • Aaron Bummer
  • Jace Fry
  • Evan Marshall
  • Jimmy Cordero
  • Garrett Crochet
  • Codi Heuer
  • Matt Foster
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Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson is the host and producer of the Sox Machine Podcast. For show suggestions, guest appearances, and sponsorship opportunities, you can reach him via email at josh@soxmachine.com.

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karkovice squad

Let’s call this the “payroll is covered by the local TV deal and league revenues are banked as profit” plan.

stevev

Vogelbach is interesting and I gave him some thought. At least one site (sorry, no link handy) thought Milwaukee would want to keep him around pending what happens with DH in NL.

GrabSomeBench

Why get Vogelbach? Isn’t he just a fat Zack Collins?

stevev

A little more ‘proven’ success this past season and likely affordable step up from myth of EE. It’s tough finding $$ for DH when you need it for pitching and other. Kind of interesting to me in that because no-one ‘starts’ their career as a DH, options skew older and thus more $$. Speculating…

karkovice squad

He has more power than Collins which could be useful off the bench.

If they’re that $ constrained I think I’d rather spend that little bit elsewhere and give the DH PAs to Mercedes and Vaughn, even with the team’s struggles against RHP.