White Sox can be pickier about potential cast-offs

One of the specific challenges to this year’s Offseason Plan Project was figuring out who the free agents actually might be. Rightly or wrongly, pandemic-ravaged balance sheets had the possibility of tilting a bunch of individual decisions in the direction of a declined option, a non-tender, a DFA. I had girded my loins for an expected record number of non-tenders, but I think Cleveland’s severing of Brad Hand — and the league’s unwillingness to claim him for a one-year commitment of $10 million or so — brought it into sharper focus.

Eric Longenhagen attempted to clarify it further. Over at FanGraphs, he compiled a big board of every team’s acute non-tender decisions, putting the non-locks into three buckets. The White Sox contributed to each column.

Longenhagen puts Nomar Mazara and Carlos Rodón in the “likely” column, listening Reynaldo López as a “tough call” and noting Adam Engel in the “unlikely” bin. I wouldn’t have listed Engel at all, since he’s a plus defender who’s hit .310/.355/.466 against lefties since the start of the 2019 season, but maybe he embodies just how unlikely the “unlikely” column is for the 29 other teams.

(Then again, he listed Renato Nuñez as an unlikely candidate for Baltimore, and they designated him for assignment.)

For most of the last decade, we could look at these lists and find a number of candidates at any position who could theoretically help the White Sox, or at least offer more upside than players already on the roster. On one hand, you have James McCann, whom the White Sox scooped up from Detroit after the Tigers non-tendered him for the greatest overachiever of the Rick Hahn era. On the other, just about every other free agent of the last seven years shows the White Sox get what they pay for. Gio González continued a lineage of starters who overstayed their welcome even on one-year deals.

It’s still worth perusing the lists, just because the White Sox have some specific, non-critical needs that can still be met by some potential non-tenders. It comes down to the order. If they picked up a non-tender right fielder before George Springer came off the market and called themselves complete, I’d point to a photo of Mazara and scream-cry. If January rolls around and they’re looking to fill out a bench or provide an extra option to keep a prospect from being absolutely necessary from the start, I can see paths toward fun and profit.

(I’m going to omit relievers, because the Sox have a history of finding the occasional diamond in the rough with non-roster invitees.)

Starters

Gray enters his final year of arbitration with a $6.5 million projection attached, one that no longer looks automatic given a 6.69 ERA. He’s fared more or less OK over his five years starting in Colorado. He’s topped out at 172 innings, partially due to injuries, and partially due to the shorter leash that Rockies pitchers work on due to environmental effects. His effectiveness tends to line up with whether he’s throwing 96 or 94, and his velocity lagged in 2020 due to shoulder inflammation. He’s worth a gamble if you think it’s due to the abbreviated ramp-up, but less so if it’s just a random pitching injury.

Velasquez has been a variant of López, in that he lives on his fastball and hasn’t been able to develop a go-to secondary pitch. Unlike López, he gets strikeouts. Like López, he has no business seeing a batting order a third time, so his future is either in the bullpen or with a manager who is flexible about starting pitcher expectations. Williams might’ve peaked early, because while his first two full seasons were average or better, he’s posted a FIP above 5 over his last two. He gave up 15 homers over 55 innings in 2020. The White Sox contributed three of those over six.

Backup catchers

Narváez is fascinating, if only because he has adopted three different forms over his last three seasons. With the White Sox in 2018, he was an OBP-oriented catcher with framing issues. After the Alex Colomé trade, he gave the Mariners a slugging catcher with framing issues for 2019. They then sent him to Milwaukee, where he was a framing-first catcher who offered zero offense. A team might want to see if they can get OBP and framing in the same season. The 22 homers from 2019 looks like a fluke, but so does last year’s strikeout-rate spike, and the latter was with a smaller, weirder sample.

Sánchez has a lot of things going wrong for him, which is why the Yankees might consider moving on. It seems like a rebuilding team would be able to live with his particular frustrations while giving the playing time he’d probably demand.

Left-handed infielders

Choi found a niche with the Tampa Bay Rays, whose greatest strength is creating niches for limited players. Shaw delivered 30-homer power for the Brewers in 2017 and 2018, but was non-tendered by Milwaukee after his performance cratered in 2019. He rebounded somewhat with Toronto, but not enough to make him a Plan A (.239/.306/.411). If he has to settle for a minor-league contract, he could do worse than the White Sox, who offer paths to playing time for a multi-position lefty who can take pitches and homer occasionally.

Left-handed outfielders

Rosario’s final arb-year projection is $12.9, and Twins Daily only sees Rosario returning if he finds a lower number palatable. He’d be a better idea for the White Sox in 2021 than Nomar Mazara was in 2020, because he slugs over .500 against right-handed pitching without many strikeouts. Points against him: He doesn’t walk at all, he’s stretched anywhere besides left field, and there are signs that his all-out pursuit of fly balls has diminishing returns. There’s a way to make it work, but it involves a left field/DH rotation rather than everyday work in right.

* * * * * * * * *

Hindsight says that it should’ve been obvious that the White Sox would protect Jake Burger from the Rule 5 draft, because they seldom move on from any first-round pick until it’s glaringly obvious, and there’s enough to like about Burger’s bat to keep him around for one more year. An argument against him would be stronger if the team were facing a 40-man roster crunch, but his presence isn’t preventing the Sox from acquiring more intriguing players at the moment.

That said, if they decided to leave him open for the picking, they wouldn’t have been alone in exposing a recent first-round pick. Baseball America rounded up the list of notable prospects left unprotected, and three clubs decided they hadn’t seen enough from their 2017 first-round picks to warrant the use of a roster spot.

None of them quite match Burger’s pedigree of a top-half pick, although Kendall was at one point a front-runner for the White Sox at No. 11 in the mock drafts. All of them have actually played hundreds of games (or a hundred-plus innings) since Burger last played. This could be the one benefit from Burger not being able to play at all over the last three years, because nobody can make a convincing argument about whether he can hang if healthy. The mystery surrounding him probably bought him a year, and the small but notable benefits that 40-man protection affords.

(Photo by All-Pro Reels Photography)

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Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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knoxfire30

Rosario is still tempting, I wish I knew the sox plan with vaughn cause if they have him up opening day its a tougher sell, if they think he needs few months in the minors or want to manipulate his service time a dh/lf rotation with rosario and jiminez is a nice buy low situation to add some lefty pop to the lineup

Eagle Bones

I said the same thing about SP, but I think it applies in OF/DH as well. Assuming they are going to make a legit run at Springer (which I and I’m sure others are hoping for), I think they need to go get one of the cheaper guys (Joc, Rosario, Brantley, etc.) early in the offseason to insulate themselves from the chance that Springer goes elsewhere and they’re left picking through the bargain bin at the end of the offseason. Joc in particular makes sense. If they manage to get Springer, great Joc can be the strong half of a DH platoon until Vaughn comes up. If not, he and Engel can platoon in RF.

knoxfire30

I like your premise for sure in terms of free agency but I think they are insulated by a likely robust trade market for a left hand hitting corner outfielder. We have gone over a lot of the names who might be out there and I think if they feel like they really missed out on a guy like springer they may be able to turn their attention to trade. Again if the plan is for Vaughn to get some extra work in the minors then a OF/DH type makes all the sense in the world and Brantley, Rosario definitely fit that mold.

Eagle Bones

Which names are you referring to? If they’re decent, wouldn’t we expect them to move earlier in the offseason?

knoxfire30

some more likely than others but i would assume in the right package mini yaz, gallo, nimmo, conforto, blackman, bientendi, heyward could all be had

gibby32

I have been resisting saying that I would like to give Mazara another shot, only because of the anticipated ridicule. But hey: I’ve got a strong self image. I still would not tender him because it likely would result in a too-high salary. But I would approach him about a contract. He was injured shortly before the season started which likely contributed to his power shortfall and overall performance; his defense was better than anticipated; he offers a possible useful platoon with Engel; he would offer a one-year cover while the team determined during 2021 whether Rutherford is real; and there’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal. Now, obviously, if the team is a player for Springer, which I doubt, all of the above is inoperative.

asinwreck

I wouldn’t mind a slightly less optimistic approach toward Mazara: sign him to a minor-league deal with the intent to start him at Charlotte while pursuing a more attractive option in RF. If he shows the ability to actually drive the ball again, he’s worth a callup. Given the market this winter, he might take such a deal.

This winter’s market made me think of a fun trade idea for a much more expensive RF. Trade whichever of Collins and Mercedes plus López to the Cubs for Kris Bryant, and plug Bryant into RF during his walk year. The Cubs are cutting salary and value cost-controlled MLB talent, so they might actually do something like this.

As Cirensica

I actually kept him in my Off-Season plan. The White Sox offense won’t be a problem in 2021, even if Mazara stays. Top dollars should be used on pitching which is a glaring need for the Sox. Maybe on a DH. Maybe Mazara rebounds. I know I can’t believe what I am going to say, but Mazara looked very good during the playoffs. If we can get that Mazara for fractions of the dollar, then, let’s go. If he sucks again, well, we have Engel and plenty offense everywhere else.

Soxfan2

I just don’t see the benefit of keeping Mazara at this point. He’s handedness is the only thing of use for the White Sox. I will say in a small sample size, he actually did grade out as a good defender (2 DRS, 2.5 UZR). Though again, for the 5th straight year, the bat wasn’t there. He finished with a 68 wRC+ and previous to this year was never a good defender. For maybe $8-$9M, I think you can bring Jackie Bradley over to play RF.

Trooper Galactus

He didn’t even hit right-handed pitching, ffs.

Eagle Bones

If they really need to go cheap at that spot, there will be better players available in FA for what he’ll cost in arb. There is zero point in bringing him back at these projected numbers.

Oddvark

I’ve been wondering lately — as I get less hopeful that we’ll sign/trade for a stud RF or SP — how competitive the Sox would be if they made basically the bare minimum of changes from last year — tender Mazara, resign Colome, replace Encarnacion with Vaughn, replace Gonzalez with Kopech — and started 2021 with:

C: Grandal
1B: Abreu
2B: Madrigal
3B: Moncada
SS: Anderson
LF: Jimenez
CF: Robert
RF: Mazara
DH: Vaughn

Back-up C: Collins
INF: Mendick
OF: Engel
UTIL: Garcia

SP1: Giolito
SP2: Keuchel
SP3: Kopech
SP4: Dunning
SP5: Cease

Closer: Colome
SetUp: Bummer
SetUp: Marshall
RP: Fry
RP: Heuer
RP: Cordero
RP/LR: Crochet
RP/LR: Lopez

And to be honest, this doesn’t fill me with dread. I’d love it if they signed Springer, I expect that they will add at least one reasonable back-end veteran starter, and I hope they do more. But even if they don’t, this is still a roster I’d tune in to watch. The core is solid, I really want to see what Kopech/Dunning/Crochet/Vaughn can do, and there is still a smidgen of hope that Cease/Collins/Mazara/Lopez can take at least small steps forward and make positive contributions.

denman

I tend to agree with you about offering Mazara a contract. No doubt his 2020 offensive production was a serious disappointment. Still, he was clearly attempting to make major changes in his approach under the instruction of Menechino and Coolbaugh. Menechino seemed puzzled, given how hard Mazara worked on altering his approach, that he failed to break out. Considering the hitters who struggled mightily during this pandemic shortened season (JD Martinez, Yelich, and Altuve, for example) giving up on Mazara’s “untapped potential” after only 150 PAs with his “new approach” seems premature. While I’m not keen on an Engel/Mazara platoon as the first option for 2021, I can see the sense of keeping Nomar in the organization to see how his next couple of hundred ABs play out.

MrStealYoBase

1. The Sox got very unlucky with the Burger pick. There’s really no way to judge it properly because of the injuries. But, looking at the rest of the 2017 first round picks, it doesn’t seem like they missed out too much. I was way aboard the Kendall train before the draft. But of the guys selected behind Burger, only Evan White and Nate Pearson look to be plus major leaguers. (Of course, missing out on Jo Adell and Keston Hiura by 1 and 2 picks respectively stings a bit.)

2. A trade package of Lance Lynn and Joey Gallo would go a long way to filling the holes on this roster. But apparently Texas was asking for 3 top prospects from the Padres for that tandem. If they bring their asking price back down to earth the Sox should jump all over it.

Trooper Galactus

I don’t know that the White Sox could outbid the Padres for the two of them if San Diego is motivated enough to make a trade, though. They need a new outfielder with Profar moving on, and their two best OF prospects are 19 years old and nowhere near the majors. Unlike the Sox, they aren’t relying too heavily on their minor league system as heavily to fill holes on their major league roster in the immediate future, so their ability to make a trade is significantly higher.

mikeschach

I see what you did there – so let’s cut to the chase
When they released Brad and he was Handed his walking papers, did he get any Severance pay?

Soxfan2

I actually think that Choi would be a perfect 1 year deal for the Sox. Assume you let Vaughn get half a season in AAA, Choi can be the DH for at least half the year. He has a career 125 wRC+ against righties which includes a 13% walk rate. If he hits, you can keep him as a lefty bench bat. If he sucks, then cut him.

GrinnellSteve

I loved watching Choi stretch for throws. He was amazing.

christmastime

By all that is holy don’t let Rodon and Lopez out of the building. We paid more than 6 million for Csick last year and for that you can have 2 young and unproven starters. Last year would have been a better time to cut bait with Carlos, Why pay for the 1st year of a Tommy John surgery and not pick up the 2nd recovery year. Rodon is still one of the Sox top 5 starters now. 6 million shouldn’t keep the Sox from adding Paxton or Tanaka or Morton. Can we have 2 many starters for a change a the beginning of the season so Detwiler isn’t starting games by late June. White Sox lack depth at every position beside 1st base and possibly starting pitcher don’t deplete that for the price of a veteran relief pitcher …..Please

As Cirensica

Rodon’s issues aren’t quality. Rodon can’t stay healthy. The only time he passed 150 innings was in 2016. We are on a contending window. We can’t afford to have reclamation projects, waiting for a dead cat bounce, etc type of players.

Trooper Galactus

Agreed. With every penny counting at this point, I don’t see any reward in handing $4-6 million to a guy who averaged 17 starts and 97 IP from 2016-19 with a 100 ERA+, never mind that he couldn’t even stay healthy through a fraction of a 60-game season. That’s basically committing pretty heavy resources to half of a back end starter at best.

oldtimer

I’m late coming to this discussion so nobody may see this. But here goes. I’ve been thinking a Cubs trade for Heyward could work out pretty nice. You would have to balance the player(s) & $$. The Cubs might be willing to eat significant $$ if they get a couple of good prospects. More realistically, the more $$ the Sox take on, over the life of the contract, the lesser the package in return. You all are much more knowledgeable about $$/WAR. So put your pencils to work to figure out what Heyward has left in the tank and what $$ we would be willing pick up. I think the Cubs would be OK with Lopez and perhaps one of Lambert/Stiever. Mix and match as you will, but I want only to add to the MLB roster. I don’t see Lopez as a starter. The Cubs appear to want to dump salary. Heyward is an excellent outfielder, good not great hitter and a solid pro!! Well???

Soxfan2

Heyward has three more years on his contract at $65M. Assuming $9M/WAR, he’s projected to produce about 5 wins over the next three years so his true value is about $45M. That mean he has negative value of $20M. If the Sox took the whole contract, the Cubs would have to throw in another player for the Sox. I see no benefit to adding Heyward unless we can get him for less than $10M a year. Even then, I don’t want him on our payroll for three years.

knoxfire30

Rays making blake snell available….. has 3 years at 39 mil left on his deal…..

Choi being let loose and Mckay likely being viewed more as an arm then a dh/1b at this point you can pretty easily lineup a vaughn for snell rumor. Which side would say no, or need to add????