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In a way, I’m approaching this offseason plan as if COVID-19 never happened. My expectation (or maybe my hope) is that the financial impacts of the pandemic wont significantly change the White Sox’s plans for 2021. They might depress salaries for free agents and arbitration-eligibles, but in my mind, a $135 million payroll cap in this universe vs. $150 million in the happier alternate one doesn’t make a ton of difference in the competitive landscape.
Either way, now is the time to attack. This is a team that could have easily won the division had they not suffered an improbable collapse, but I don’t think they would’ve looked as good over 162 games. The cracks in the foundation were obvious over that 3-9 stretch in the season’s final quintile, but the sample size just wasn’t long enough for the whole house to cave in.
Now the Sox have an opportunity to become AL Central favorites, but to get there they need to turn their weaknesses into strengths. Unsurprisingly, the shopping list is almost identical to last year’s: right field, designated hitter, and two rotation spots.
Now is not the time for half-measures (Nomar Mazara). Now is not the time to be complacent with in-house options (Cease/Dunning/Kopech all in the rotation). For the White Sox to shoot their shot, they have to be bold. With that, I present to you a bold plan.
I’m working with MLB Trade Rumors’ 162-game extrapolated arbitration estimates, simply because those are the highest. Better to overestimate than underestimate.
- Nomar Mazara ($5.9M): Non-tender. Thanks for the 3 hits and a walk in 7 postseason PAs, but maybe the Sox would have won the division with a competent right fielder in the first place.
- Carlos Rodón ($4.5M): Non-tender. Even before Rodón’s woes as a reliever, it was already time to cut bait.
- Lucas Giolito ($5.3M): Tender. Tough call, but I think he’s earned it.
- Reynaldo López ($2.2M): Tender. I think he’s still got some value. But is it here?…
- Evan Marshall ($1.9M): Extend. (See below.)
- Adam Engel ($1.4M): Tender. No, he’s not a starting right fielder, but he looks increasingly fourth outfielder-ish, in a good way.
- Jace Fry ($1M): Tender. Fry settled in somewhere between his excellent 2018 and his gruesome 2019, and I think we can live with that.
- Yolmer Sánchez: Non-tender. Yolmer left Chicago in search of a starting job, and the moment the Giants cut him loose, the Sox rang him up and kicked Danny Mendick to the curb. It’s possible the same thing happens again, but until it does, Sánchez is not worth whatever arbitration figure he would command.
- Edwin Encarnación ($12M): Buy out. It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right…
- Gio Gonzalez ($7M/$500K): Buy out. I’m glad he finally got to live out his lifelong dream of pitching in a White Sox uniform. Now he’s free to seek out mop-up duties elsewhere.
- Leury García ($3.5M/$250K): Pick up. Leury got a bad shake in 2020, but I still think he’s useful on the bench. He’s got an adequate bat and a versatile glove, and I’d feel fine if he had to plug into the lineup for a week or two.
OTHER IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
- Alex Colomé: Let go. It’s so hard to say goodbye to Colomé. But his eight-figure salary is probably going to get a nice bump, and the one thing the Sox seem to do well is churn out good relievers. Let’s spread that money around.
- James McCann: Let go. McCann has been baseball’s best backup catcher, and his rapport with Lucas Giolito has been valuable. I’d love to bring him back, but I just don’t see how it works. Re-signing McCann would either significantly eat into Grandal’s time behind the plate, or it would lock in McCann as the primary DH. He’s a good hitter as a catcher, but DH is literally at the opposite end of the positional adjustment spectrum, and he just wouldn’t be good enough there. More importantly, McCann deserves to be a starting catcher. If his 2020 framing gains are real, some lucky team is going to get a great deal.
- Jarrod Dyson: Let go. Why pay for and roster a Jarrod Dyson for a full year when you can acquire one at the trade deadline for basically nothing?
- Manager: Bruce Bochy. I’m working toward being okay with A.J. Hinch. I don’t assign too much blame to him for not stopping the Astros’ sign-stealing. If your players were cheating with the blessing and active assistance of your bosses, what could you do other than resign? My greatest concern about Hinch is that the Houston baggage could follow him around in the media, creating an unwelcome distraction from the on-field product. Bochy is a future Hall of Fame manager who (a) has three World Series rings, (b) has not been tangential to a major cheating scandal, and (c) has managed eight major league seasons since Tony La Russa retired.
- Pitching coach: Brian Sweeney. Admittedly I don’t know enough about coaches to make a fully informed decision, but poaching the Indians’ young upstart bullpen coach seems like a good place to start. Sweeney has spent three years on Terry Francona’s staff and relies heavily on data in decision-making and preparing pitchers for their competition. He’s the kind of hire I’d like the Sox to make, in tune with the new generation of pitchers, and he’d provide the added bonus of a little Cleveland juju.
Before we get underway with the wheelin’ and dealin’, I’d like to address the contract status of a few players already in the organization.
- Attempt to extend Lucas Giolito. I’m all for locking the team ace into an extension, but I think if it was going to happen, it would have already happened. Given his short track record of success, Giolito might be content to go year-to-year with just three seasons left until free agency. However, if he’s open to a long-term deal, this has to be one of the top priorities of the winter.
- Sign Evan Marshall to a 3-year, $12 million extension with a club option. Take the last two years combined, and Marshall might be the best reliever the Sox have. He’s down to just two years of team control, and he’ll turn 31 in April, so he may be amenable to a longer commitment in exchange for the security.
21: $2.5M / 22: $3.5M / 23: $5M / 24: $7M club option ($1M buyout
- Make Tim Anderson a White Sox for Life with a 7-year, $100 million extension with a club option. Anderson followed up his batting title with an even better season. He’s become the nationwide face of the team. He’s moved to Flossmoor full-time and is deeply involved in the Chicago community. He oozes confidences and flips bats like toothpicks. He’s a big part of what makes this team fun, exciting, and likeable. He should never be allowed to leave.
21: $8.5M / 22: $10.5M / 23: $13M / 24: $15M / 25: $15M / 26: $17M / 27: $18M / 28: $21M club option ($3M buyout)
No. 1: OF Michael Brantley (3 years, $51 million). Grandal was a popular offseason plan target last year because he checked off so many boxes for the White Sox. This year, I see Brantley as that guy. The Sox crush left-handed pitching, but they’re still short on quality lefty bats to take on right-handers. They could stand to inject more walks into their lineup and cut down on strikeouts. They need a corner outfielder who isn’t a defensive liability. Brantley just makes too much sense, and approaching his age-34 season, he shouldn’t require an overly long commitment.
21: $16M / 22: $17M / 23: $18M
No 2: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (3 years, $48 million + club option). Trevor Bauer is too expensive, and I’m not torn up about avoiding the circus that follows him. Instead I’m opting for Tanaka, who hasn’t quite been the star pitcher the Yankees were hoping for when they backed up the Brink’s truck to outbid the Sox and others for his services. He has, however, been a quietly consistent and solidly above-average pitcher since coming over from Japan. I think he would slot in really nicely as the team’s #4 starter. (Stay tuned.)
21: $14M / 22: $15M / 23: $16M / 24: $18M club option ($3M buyout)
No. 3: C Sandy León (1 year, $2.5 million). With McCann heading off to greener pastures, the Sox need a new backup catcher, and I don’t think Zack Collins is cut out for that role on a club with championship aspirations. León isn’t much of a hitter, but he’s a solid defender and an average framer, plus he carries a reputation as an excellent game-caller from his time with the Red Sox and Indians. Maybe he can be Giolito’s new caddy.
No. 4: RHP Anthony DeSclafani (MiLB). The Sox are going to need some extra arms on the fringes just in case things go horribly awry. DeSclafani had a rough season; he was bumped from the Reds’ rotation and then left off their Wild Card Series roster. He seems likely to be non-tendered, but he’s not that far removed from success as a major league starter. He throws five pitches, including a mix of fastballs and sinkers around 94, and has a wicked slider when he can find it.
No. 1: Trade 1B Andrew Vaughn, RHP Reynaldo López, C Zack Collins, and RHP Andrew Dalquist to Texas for OF Joey Gallo and RHP Lance Lynn. This is the kind of bold move that I think could take the Sox over the top. Parting with Vaughn is tough, but you’ve got to risk it to win the World Series biscuit. Gallo and Lynn don’t have much team control left, but they also don’t cost a lot of money—Lynn is due just $8 million in the final year of his contract, and Gallo’s second-year arbitration estimate is $6.8 million. Getting two star-caliber players on affordable deals makes it easier to swallow giving up the best prospect left in the system.
This is the second straight offseason that I’ve traded Vaughn. It’s no knock on him; I just think he’s a bit of an “excess” piece because of José Abreu’s MVP candidacy and the Sox’s tendency to accumulate DH-shaped players. He becomes the centerpiece for the Rangers, who could easily call him up in 2021, and they also get López and Collins, two young players who could be useful right now with a change of scenery. Dalquist is a bit of a lottery ticket to sweeten the pot.
The Sox can install Lynn in their rotation right between Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, and Gallo and his 14 percent career walk rate can split DH duties with Eloy Jiménez.
No. 2: Trade RHP Dylan Cease to the New York Mets for RHP Edwin Díaz. With the way the White Sox rotation is shaping up, Cease is now part of a pitching surplus, and his frustrating season is cause to squeeze him out of the plans. He’s far from flamed out, given his raw stuff and his five years of control, but the Sox have bigger things to worry about than overhauling his mechanics. The Mets are a team with a long track record of getting the most out of pitchers, so maybe they can find the key to unlock Cease’s potential.
Díaz was otherworldly with the Mariners, but he struggled mightily at the outset of this past season. The Mets moved him out of the closer’s role in August, but he gradually returned to form and took on high-leverage situations once again. He ended up striking out 17.5 batters per 9 innings, which is absurd. However, his early season issues and two years left before free agency might make the last-place Mets inclined to deal him.
Here’s your shiny new 2021 White Sox 26-man roster:
SS Tim Anderson (R)
3B Yoán Moncada (S)
C Yasmani Grandal (S)
1B José Abreu (R)
LF Joey Gallo (L)
DH Eloy Jiménez (R)
RF Michael Brantley (L)
CF Luis Robert (R)
2B Nick Madrigal (R)
This lineup is shockingly good. I didn’t realize how good it was until I wrote it out. No one is going to want to pitch to this team. There’s also a good amount of flexibility in how to stack the lineup, who to DH, etc., with both Gallo and Brantley able to cover center field in a pinch.
C Sandy León (S)
IF Danny Mendick (R)
OF Adam Engel (R)
UT Leury García (S)
Having four quality outfielders is going to seriously cut into Engel’s playing time, but I think he’ll still contribute as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement/once-a-week starter.
Lucas Giolito (R)
Lance Lynn (R)
Dallas Keuchel (L)
Masahiro Tanaka (R)
Dane Dunning (R)
My Plan A is to keep Michael Kopech in the minors to start the season and make him the first man up if someone gets injured, or if he’s head-and-shoulders above Dunning. I admit that there isn’t much depth beyond these six, but I guess you can’t have it all.
Edwin Díaz (R)
Aaron Bummer (L)
Evan Marshall (R)
Garrett Crochet (L)
Matt Foster (R)
Codi Heuer (R)
Jace Fry (L)
Jimmy Cordero (R)
Assuming he’s healthy, I think Crochet should stick in the bullpen. Is he more likely to help the Sox win a World Series by being a shutdown reliever now, or by stretching out in the minors for a year or two and then starting? I think the former. The window is open, so it’s time to act like it.
The White Sox team you see before you can achieve greatness. Trading away Andrew Vaughn and signing multiple marquee free agents could hamstring the team down the road, but if they’re going to play the game of cycling through competing and rebuilding phases, then they need to maximize their chances of competing in earnest. Risk and sacrifice are necessary parts of the process.
Of course, they might not be if the Sox weren’t abject failures at drafting and developing talent. The rate of attrition from the 2017-2019 top prospect lists is staggering. Replace Carson Fulmer, Zack Collins, or Jake Burger with another top 100 prospect, maybe sprinkle in another success or two in the Dominican, and suddenly the Sox aren’t so strapped for talent. Look at the Padres—they just acquired Mike Clevinger for a heap of literal spare parts. But alas, this is the hand we are dealt, and these are the constraints with which we must work.
I will give the White Sox credit for at least getting the big things right. Without acing all three of the Sale/Quintana/Eaton trades, or signing Luis Robert, or grooming Tim Anderson into a star, they wouldn’t have gotten this far in the first place. Now they need to go all-in to supplement this new core. Getting caught between winning and flexibility, and stopping short of building the best team they can right now, is not an option.
If I absolutely had to cut payroll, I’d probably switch out Tanaka for a starter on a one-year deal. (José Quintana seems like an obvious fit.) As it stands, though, the final payroll for this team in 2021 is right around $150 million, with $124 million committed to 11 players in 2022. Winning is expensive, folks.