- “White Sox GM Rick Hahn is open for business on just about his entire roster,” more than one general manager tells Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. As MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes noted in his recent Offseason Outlook piece about the Sox, the looming question over Chicago’s winter plans is whether the team intends to rebuild or try to contend in 2017, and Cafardo’s news would seem to hint at the former.
MLBTR is publishing Offseason Outlooks for all 30 teams. Click here for the other entries in this series.
After a fourth straight losing season, the White Sox have not revealed their organizational strategy. Do they finally commit to a roster tear-down? Or will the team spend another winter attempting to add the right veteran pieces to complement its talented core?
- James Shields, SP: $44MM through 2018. Shields can opt out after 2016 World Series. If Shields does not opt out, White Sox are responsible for $20MM for 2017-18. Contract includes $16MM club option for 2019 with a $2MM buyout; White Sox would be responsible for buyout.
- Melky Cabrera, LF: $15MM through 2017.
- Jose Abreu, 1B: $34MM through 2019. Can opt into arbitration system for 2017.
- David Robertson, RP: $25MM through 2018.
- Chris Sale, SP: $13MM through 2017. Includes $12.5MM club option for 2018 with a $1MM buyout and $15MM club option for 2019 with a $1MM buyout. 2019 option increases to $16MM with Cy Young from 2016-18.
- Jose Quintana, SP: $16.85MM through 2019. Includes $10.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout for 2019 and $10.5MM club option for 2020 with a $1MM buyout. 2020 option can reach $13-14MM based on 2016-19 Cy Young voting.
- Adam Eaton, RF/CF: $19.9MM through 2019. Includes $9.5MM club option with a $1.5MM buyout for 2020 and $10.5MM club option for 2021 with a $1.5MM buyout. 2021 option can reach $13MM based on 2016-20 MVP voting.
- Nate Jones, RP: $5.85MM through 2018. Includes club options for 2019-21, with salaries depending on games finished and on whether Jones requires right elbow surgery by end of 2018 season.
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; link to MLBTR projections)
- Miguel Gonzalez (5.073) – $2.6MM
- Todd Frazier (5.071) – $13.5MM
- Brett Lawrie (5.055) – $5.1MM
- Dan Jennings (3.171) – $1.2MM
- Avisail Garcia (3.167) – $3.4MM
- Zach Putnam (3.135) – $975K
- Jake Petricka (3.044) – $900K
- Jose Abreu (3.000) – $12MM (educated guess, outside of arbitration model)
- Non-tender candidates: Lawrie, Garcia
In early October, Robin Ventura announced he was stepping down as White Sox manager after five seasons. Ventura’s contract was up anyway, and it’s not clear whether the Sox had any intention of offering him a new contract. The team almost immediately promoted bench coach Rick Renteria to manage the club, on a term that has not yet been reported. GM Rick Hahn chose not to interview other candidates, as Renteria was atop the team’s “living document” of potential future managers. Renteria had a difficult experience with the Cubs, managing them in a 2014 rebuilding season, doing well enough to warrant a second year, and then getting fired when Joe Maddon became available.
I don’t know if the hiring of a less experienced manager like Renteria is an indication that he will preside over a 2017 rebuild for the White Sox, as Hahn has chosen not to tip his hand on the team’s offseason direction. Hahn did posit in August that “by the time we make our first or second transaction, publicly it will be fairly clear as to our direction.” As White Sox fans await this odd reveal, I’ll tackle this post from each direction.
In a rebuild scenario, the team could move a host of players that clearly won’t be part of the next good White Sox team: Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera, Miguel Gonzalez, David Robertson, Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia, and James Shields. Frazier, 31 in February, is coming off a career-best 40 home runs and a career-worst .225 batting average. MLBTR projects a $13.5MM salary for 2017, after which he’ll reach free agency. The White Sox could get something useful in return, but only a handful of contenders are seeking third basemen, and the free agent market features Justin Turner and Luis Valbuena. Cabrera is also an above-average hitter, but his value is limited by his poor defense and $15MM salary. Robertson struggled with his control and blew seven saves on the season, but his two year, $25MM commitment would appeal to teams not willing to pay full freight for Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, or Mark Melancon. Gonzalez bounced back as a solid back-end starter, which is hard to come by in the 2016-17 free agent market. Lawrie, Garcia, and Shields have little to no trade value, but moving Cabrera and Robertson would clear $40MM in commitments, and trading Frazier and Gonzalez would free up $16MM+ that would have been spent on their arbitration salaries. It seems likely that Avisail Garcia’s time with the White Sox will come to an end soon, as the 25-year-old has shown few signs of being a useful Major Leaguer after 409 career games, 356 of which came with the White Sox.
Trading players like Frazier, Cabrera, Robertson, and Gonzalez might return a handful of decent prospects and free up payroll space but would do little to change the long-term trajectory of the White Sox. To truly reboot the franchise and try something different, Hahn and executive vice president Kenny Williams will have to entertain trades for any or all of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Jose Abreu. Sale and Quintana are immensely valuable assets. Sale is among the ten best starters in baseball, and Quintana has to be in the top 20. Both lefties will enter the 2017 season at just 28 years of age, with clean bills of health. Both have extremely team-friendly contracts. On the open market, Sale would be worth over $100MM for 2017-19 alone. Instead, he’ll be paid $40.5MM at most. Quintana will be paid at most $40.35MM over the next four seasons, which would also be valued over $100MM. To top it off, there is no one remotely similar to Sale or Quintana in this year’s free agent market.
Nearly every team in baseball would have interest in Sale and Quintana. Teams with a strong need for starting pitching this winter, like the Marlins, Braves, Astros, and Angels, would obviously be interested. Others, who may add on the “only if it’s an ace” condition, like the Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Yankees, would be in as well. According to an August report from Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago, the Red Sox were unwilling to part with center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. for one of the White Sox aces at the trade deadline. That gives you an idea of a potential headliner, though – an established, five-win under-30 player who is under control for four more years. Other centerpiece examples could include Starling Marte, George Springer, or Christian Yelich. The White Sox could also try for less-established, but extremely valuable young players like Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, or Andrew Benintendi. The question is whether Hahn would enter the offseason hellbent on trading one or both of his aces to kick off a true rebuild, or if he’d set a price and only make the trade if that price is met. The latter approach makes more sense, since both pitchers will still be very valuable at the July trade deadline as well as next offseason (and beyond).
In the event of a rebuild, the White Sox must also consider trading first baseman Jose Abreu, who might earn $40-45MM through arbitration over the next three seasons. While Abreu’s power has slipped since his rookie season, he’ll turn 30 in January and has a good $20MM of surplus value in comparison to market prices for power hitters. Teams such as the Red Sox, Orioles, Rangers, Rockies, Astros, Yankees, and Blue Jays are a few possible matches. Right fielder Adam Eaton would have immense trade value, with five years of potential control remaining. However, I see Eaton as a potential source of stability, someone who can anchor the roster even if the front office starts shipping out other top players.
We haven’t even mentioned Carlos Rodon, Tim Anderson, and Nate Jones yet. Plainly, the White Sox have too many good or great players to sell most of them off in a rebuild. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf is 80 years old. Shouldn’t this team be going for it? Let’s look at what that might require.
The White Sox have had Opening Day payrolls in the $115-120MM range in three of the past four seasons. They peaked at about $128MM in 2011, so that might be the ceiling. The Sox have about $74MM committed to eight players under contract for 2017. Add another $19MM for Frazier, Gonzalez, Jennings, Petricka, and Putnam, and we’re at $93MM for 13 players.
First and foremost on the agenda should be a catcher. The White Sox pretty much have to go outside the organization for a backstop. They could sign one of Matt Wieters or Jason Castro in free agency, or trade for the Yankees’ Brian McCann. Signing Castro to a two-year deal in the $15MM range would be a measured way to fill the void.
At second base, the White Sox must decide whether they would like to bring the perennially disappointing or injured Lawrie back for $5MM or so through arbitration. I’d vote no, because payroll will be tight and they can plug in Tyler Saladino for a much cheaper solution while possibly getting similar production. It seems likely that Lawrie can bring back some kind of spare part in trade prior to the non-tender deadline. Free agent options at second base include Neil Walker, Chase Utley, and Sean Rodriguez, if the White Sox want to go that route.
Center field is one of the more obvious areas of upgrade for the White Sox. Adam Eaton had an excellent season as the team’s primary right fielder and should probably stay there. Dexter Fowler, a player to whom the Sox made an offer last winter, is a free agent again and remains a strong fit. One big concern is that Fowler will come with a qualifying offer attached, meaning the Sox would have to surrender the #12 pick in the 2017 draft if they sign him. Unless Fowler comes at a serious discount from our projected lucrative four-year contract, he’s not an ideal addition. Ian Desmond comes with a similar concern. Instead, the White Sox could roll the dice on Carlos Gomez, who struggled mightily for parts of the last two seasons but showed promise in about a month’s worth of time with the Rangers at the end of the season. Gomez could sign a one-year deal for around $13MM in an attempt to rebuild value in Chicago, assuming they’re willing to tangle with agent Scott Boras. The relationship between Boras and the White Sox has had contentious moments dating back to the 90s. While it has softened in recent years, I don’t know if they would be able to get together on a free agent deal for players like Gomez, Wieters, or Kendrys Morales.
To balance out the lineup, the White Sox could use a left-handed designated hitter. Call it the Justin Morneau/Adam LaRoche role. This could be filled by a switch-hitter as well, with free agents such as Carlos Beltran and Kendrys Morales fitting the bill. If the goal is more to find a bat that can hit right-handed pitching well, then certainly Edwin Encarnacion is worth considering. However, a contract for Encarnacion would annihilate Abreu’s franchise record of $68MM and bust the payroll. Even the $12-14MM types like Beltran and Morales could be excessive for this bat-only role. Free agents who have been solid against righties over the past three years and would come with palatable price tags include Adam Lind, Luis Valbuena, Pedro Alvarez, Chris Coghlan, and Brandon Moss. None of those acquisitions would excite White Sox fans, but a high-priced designated hitter is a poor allocation of limited payroll space. One could argue that the White Sox are already paying good money for a pair of DH-types who are dragging down the defense, in Melky Cabrera and Jose Abreu. Another possibility would be to pencil Cabrera in for most of the DH at-bats, plugging the hole in left field with a defensively superior addition like trade candidate Brett Gardner.
So far we’ve added three players (or player types) to fill position player holes, and it would require about $27MM in salary for 2017. This conservative offseason approach already requires $120MM for 16 players. Accounting for minimum salary players, it’s difficult to see room for more significant additions. Payroll will be tight, making the $10MM owed to James Shields in 2017 all the more painful. Attempting to dump some of Cabrera’s salary is worth considering. Given his subpar left field defense, he’s not providing good value to the White Sox on a $15MM salary. Still, he was an above average hitter in two of the last three seasons, so the Sox might be able to find a team to take $8MM or so of the commitment. The problem is that the savings might have to be reallocated to a new left fielder. Eric Thames, coming off three huge years in Korea, could be a cheap roll of the dice for a team that would need some things to break their way to reach the playoffs.
I think the White Sox would find a taker for the majority of the $25MM owed to Robertson over the next two years, though his loss would create a hole in the bullpen. Robertson just had minor knee surgery, while Putnam had elbow surgery in August and Petricka had hip surgery in June. A good case can be made for adding to this bullpen rather than subtracting from it. A late-inning lefty would be a good fit, with Brett Cecil, Travis Wood, Boone Logan, Mike Dunn, and Jerry Blevins looking like the better free agents.
The White Sox look very strong in the first four rotation spots, with Sale, Quintana, Rodon, and Gonzalez. Shields, 35 in December, was brutal in 22 starts for the White Sox after being acquired in December, and his contract presents a real problem. If not for the $22MM the Sox owe Shields over the next two years, he’d be a release candidate. The contract might force the club to give him a look as their fifth starter heading into 2017, though cutting Shields now might be better for the team’s record. It seems unlikely that the White Sox could bite the bullet and release Shields and also pour additional money into the rotation opening.
Most of the proposed roster solutions here have come from free agency. In reality, Hahn will certainly look at the trade market. The White Sox remain light on prospects, and would have to consider trading top names like Carson Fulmer, Zack Collins, Spencer Adams, or Zack Burdi to bring in Major League talent. Trading from this group seems like digging a deeper long-term hole.
Whichever path Reinsdorf, Williams, and Hahn choose, I don’t expect a major organizational shift from the White Sox this offseason. I can’t picture a $150MM+ payroll and a free agent megadeal or two, nor do I expect the team to clean house by trading Sale, Quintana, Abreu, and others. This front office has taken the middle road before; perhaps there is enough talent on the roster to try it one last time.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- The White Sox have outrighted outfielder J.B. Shuck to Triple-A Charlotte. Shuck has over 1,000 major league plate appearances to his name, and 406 of those have come with the White Sox since last season. In 241 PAs this year, Shuck batted a woeful .205/.248/.299.
2:51pm: The White Sox formally announced that Albers’ option has been declined and also announced that right-hander Daniel Webb has been released. The 27-year-old Webb pitched just one inning for Chicago this season before hitting the disabled list with an arm injury that ultimately proved to be a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Webb had Tommy John surgery this past June.
The hard-throwing Webb had a nice season with the ChiSox in 2014, posting a 3.99 ERA in 67 2/3 innings out of the ’pen. However, his 7.7 K/9 rate was lower than one would expect of someone that averaged better than 95 mph on his heater, and Webb also averaged 5.6 BB/9 that year. He labored through an unsuccessful 2015 season (it’s not known how much, if at all, the arm troubles impacted that year) prior to his abbreviated 2016 season.
While he’ll miss at least the first half of next season, Webb could be an interesting option as a depth piece/reclamation project for a team seeking bullpen help. He’s controllable through at least the 2020 season via arbitration as it stands and could almost certainly be had on a minor league pact this winter.
12:37pm: The White Sox will decline their $3MM club option on right-hander Matt Albers, reports SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (via Twitter). Albers will instead earn a $250K buyout and once again enter the free-agent market in search of a new club.
Albers, 34 in January, pitched 51 1/3 innings out of the Chicago bullpen this season but struggled through the worst results of his career, logging a 6.31 ERA along the way. Typically a ground-ball specialist, Albers saw his ground-ball rate dip from 58.6 percent in 2015 to 48.6 percent in 2016, and his K/9 rate (6.8 to 5.3) and BB/9 rate (2.2 to 3.3) each trended in the wrong direction as well. On the plus side for Albers, he did recover the velocity he lost in a 2015 campaign that was shortened by a broken finger. After averaging 89.7 mph on his heater in 2015, he was back up to 92 mph in 2016 — not far off from his career average of 92.6 mph.
While the 2016 campaign was nightmarish for Albers, it’s worth pointing out that he’s long been a quality bullpen piece prior to this year. From 2012-15, Albers logged a stellar 2.32 ERA with 6.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and a ground-ball rate near 60 percent in 170 2/3 innings of work with the Astros, D-backs, Indians, Red Sox and White Sox.
White Sox closer David Robertson underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a damaged meniscus in his left knee which plagued him for a portion of the 2016 season, reports MLB.com’s Scott Merkin. The White Sox expect Robertson to be at full strength come Spring Training 2017, Merkin adds.
Robertson, 32 next April, pitched to a 3.47 ERA in 62 1/3 innings this year in the second season of a four-year, $46MM pact inked at the 2014 Winter Meetings. That marks the second straight season with a mid-3.00s ERA for Robertson, which likely falls shy of the White Sox’ expectations upon signing him, though his strikeout rate remains excellent and his ground-ball rate bounced back in 2016 after a sudden drop-off in 2015. Robertson’s chief problem this past season was that his control eluded him; his 4.6 BB/9 rate was the highest its been since 2011, when he had only just begun to establish himself as one of the American League’s premier relievers.
It’s not known to what extent the meniscus damage impacted Robertson’s 2016 performance, but it didn’t appear to be significant enough to deter him from taking the hill with regularity over the season’s final months, and he performed quite well down the stretch. Robertson logged a 1.64 ERA with 26 strikeouts against 11 walks in his final 22 innings on the season. The strong finish and the seemingly minor nature of the procedure bode well for his 2017 status.
As Merkin notes, Robertson could potentially be a trade chip this offseason if the White Sox do ultimately decide to sell off veteran assets rather than make another run at contending. However, with a core of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton and Tim Anderson all under control for another three seasons or more, there’s plenty of reason for the Sox to continue their attempt to put a winning product on the field. Any of their most frequently cited trade assets — namely Sale and Quintana, but also Robertson to a lesser extent — should still be marketable next summer or next winter. Additionally, outside of the Indians, the AL Central doesn’t look especially imposing at the moment. The GMs of both the Tigers and Royals have suggested that their teams will scale back the payroll this offseason, and the Twins finished the 2016 season with baseball’s worst record.
Nonetheless, if the Sox do look to shed some veterans in either a partial or total tear-down this winter, Robertson’s operation doesn’t seem serious enough that it would do any major damage to his trade value. He’d be one of many appealing late-inning options for interested parties, as the free-agent market features the likes of Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon, while the trade market could see names like Wade Davis or Francisco Rodriguez added to the list of available relievers.
The White Sox announced today that they’ve claimed outfielder Rymer Liriano off waivers from the Brewers. The addition of Liriano gives Chicago a full 40-man roster.
Liriano, 25, was long rated as one of the top prospects in the Padres’ farm system but was traded to Milwaukee last offseason. Liriano seemed to have a decent chance at getting a look with the rebuilding Brewers, but he was struck in the face by a pitch in Spring Training and didn’t recover in time to even play a game in the minors this year. His most recent work in Triple-A was impressive, though, as he batted .292/.383/.460 with 14 homers and 18 steals in 131 games back in 2015. In total, he’s a .311/.399/.483 hitter in parts of two seasons at Triple-A.
Liriano did get a brief trial run with the 2014 Padres, but he managed just a .555 OPS in 121 plate appearances and looked overmatched as a 23-year-old, striking out in nearly a third of his plate appearances. Strikeouts haven’t been a major problem for him throughout his minor league career, though, and he’ll give the ChiSox a somewhat intriguing option in the outfield this season if he’s ultimately able to rebound from last spring’s frightening injury.
White Sox right-hander James Shields will not opt out of the remaining two years of his contract, tweets SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo. Much like last night’s official report on Yoenis Cespedes planning to opt out of his deal, this news was widely expected, as Shields’ considerable 2016 struggles made it extremely unlikely that he’d forgo the remaining $44MM on his contract in search of a new deal.
Shields, 35 in December, was one of the marquee free agents of the 2014-15 offseason on the heels of a strong two-year run with the Royals and a four-year platform during which he averaged 233 innings of 3.17 ERA ball to go along with 8.0 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. That lengthy stretch of excellence led to a four-year, $75MM contract originally signed with the Padres. That deal afforded him the right to opt out after his first two seasons in search of a larger contract, but Shields’ decline seemingly began the moment the 2015 season opened.
While his 2015 campaign was respectable, Shields’ numbers took a hit, as he logged a 3.91 ERA with 3.6 BB/9 and 1.5 HR/9. He still managed to clear 200 innings that year, though, and he averaged well over a strikeout per inning, giving some optimism that he could rebound in 2016. Instead, Shields struggled through the worst season of his career this year, logging a 5.85 ERA with 6.7 K/9, 4.1 BB/9 and a 40.4 percent ground-ball rate in 181 2/3 innings. Each of those numbers, including his innings total, was a career-worst for Shields dating back to his first full big league season in 2007. Further complicating matters was a fastball that averaged just 90.4 mph — a continuance in his velocity’s decline and almost certainly a factor in his stunning susceptibility to home runs (1.98 HR/9).
Shields actually got off to a solid start to the season and had a 3.06 ERA as late in the year as May 25, but he was shelled for 10 runs in 2 2/3 innings on Memorial Day. That brutal outing didn’t deter the White Sox from swinging a trade to acquire Shields and a hefty amount of cash to offset some of his contract shortly thereafter. The Sox sent righty Erik Johnson (who recently underwent Tommy John surgery) and minor leaguer Fernando Tatis Jr. to the Padres in exchange for Shields and about $31MM, which covered more than half of the $58MM he was still owed at the time of the trade.
At the time, the White Sox were in first place in the American League Central thanks to a hot start but were in need of some stable innings behind Chris Sale and Jose Quintana in the rotation. Highly touted young lefty Carlos Rodon was inconsistent early in the season, and right-hander Mat Latos was released in early June when he tanked after a strong start to the year. However, Shields was unable to function even as an innings eater in his new environs. He did have a nice seven-start stretch from late June through late July (2.11 ERA in 47 innings), but his overall work with the South Siders resulted in a 6.77 ERA in 114 1/3 innings.
The $31MM that the Padres included to facilitate the deal makes the White Sox’ remaining commitment to Shields a bit easier to stomach, as they’ll pay him $10MM in each of the next two seasons and will also be on the hook for the $2MM buyout of his 2019 option. While that’s certainly not an enviable financial obligation, it shouldn’t be entirely ruled out that Shields can rebound to at least eat up innings at the back of the Chicago rotation. The Sox aren’t paying him like the front-line pitcher he once was and don’t need him to perform as such, either, given the presence of Sale, Quintana and a seemingly improving Rodon ahead of Shields in starting mix. While it certainly seems likely that the Sox will shop Shields’ contract around this winter, it goes without saying that he’s a difficult piece to move, so the team’s best bet may simply be to hope for a better performance in 2017. If he can return to even his 2015 level of performance, he’d justify the $10MM that the Sox have committed to him in each of the next two seasons. If, however, 2017 brings more of the same, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Shields cut loose entirely.
- Former big league infielder Chris Getz spoke to reporters, including the Chicago Tribune’s Colleen Kane, about his new role as director of player development for the White Sox over the weekend. Kane writes that Getz knew he wanted to move onto the front office track upon wrapping up his playing career even in the final years that he was active. The former ChiSox draftee considers the city and organization his home and is excited to return: “The relationships I was able to build, it was something that will always be in my heart, something that always will be in my DNA,” he explained before continuing to discuss his new position. “…It is carrying out the vision of the scouts. It’s a commitment by both the player and staff members to create an environment for (each) player to reach their ceiling.”
Three years ago, the White Sox signed Cuban slugger Jose Abreu to a franchise-record six-year, $68MM contract. Abreu kicked off his MLB career with a monster 2014 campaign, winning Rookie of the Year and finishing fourth in the MVP voting. His offensive production has declined steadily since then, but still remains above average. Now, Abreu is presented with an important decision that will impact his future earnings. Within five days of the conclusion of the World Series, Abreu and his agents must decide whether he will opt out of his existing contract and into MLB’s arbitration system — a right that is afforded to him via a clause in that six-year pact. (Note: Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig finds himself in a similar situation, albeit coming off a weaker year. His situation will be addressed separately from Abreu here at MLBTR.)
If Abreu keeps his current contract, he will earn $34MM from 2017-19. That includes salaries of $10.5MM in 2017, $11.5MM in 2018, and $12MM in 2019. Abreu’s agents must determine whether their client can do better in arbitration, without the luxury of a precedent for a situation like this.
Abreu’s baseline 2016 salary, for the purposes of arbitration, appears to be $11.66MM. That figure is calculated by taking his $10MM signing bonus, dividing it by his six-year term, and adding it to his $10MM salary from 2016. That’s a critical difference, as arbitration paydays are based largely off of the previous year’s salary. However, there is some gray area in this all-important baseline figure, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement does not provide clarity. First, does it make sense to divide the signing bonus by six years, even when Abreu is opting out of the last three? An agent could argue for dividing the bonus by three years, setting Abreu’s 2016 salary at $13.33MM. Second, even if the six-year term is used, the Players Union tends to calculate net present value on the signing bonus, which could put Abreu’s 2016 salary around $11.88MM.
The White Sox will surely argue against interpretations that assign Abreu a higher number for his 2016 salary. I think they would agree that for the purposes of establishing an arbitration baseline, he earned $11.66MM this year, unless there is something in the contract that calls for the exclusion of the signing bonus in determining his 2016 salary.
Is there any argument to be made that based purely on statistical merit, and not prior salary, Abreu should earn more than $11.66MM in 2017 through arbitration? Nope. Abreu seems to be in the range of Giancarlo Stanton’s first three years, which earned him $6.5MM for his first arbitration year in 2014. Even with inflation, Abreu wouldn’t get past $11.66MM.
Since Abreu “deserves” a salary well below $11.66MM through arbitration, can the White Sox argue for cutting his salary? Using the maximum allowable cut of 20 percent, the team could theoretically argue for a $9.33MM salary for Abreu for 2017. However, salary cuts are extremely rare in the arbitration process, so much so that MLBTR’s automated model doesn’t even consider them. Ian Stewart’s pay cut in 2012, after an awful season, is not relevant here. So I think the worst case scenario for Abreu if he opts into arbitration is getting a repeat of that $11.66MM salary for 2017. That would be a win for him, since his contract would otherwise pay him $10.5MM in 2017.
Can Abreu actually score a raise for 2017, beyond the $11.66MM baseline, though? It’s possible, especially once appearances come into play. It would look bad for the White Sox to try to cut Abreu’s salary for 2017, but it also might not look great to the public if they suggest he does not deserve a raise. Do you think Rick Hahn would try to explain all of the above to White Sox fans, in justifying an argument against giving Abreu a raise? Abreu’s agent, on the other hand, can feign mock outrage to the media that the White Sox don’t think a cornerstone player such as Abreu, with a .299 average, 91 home runs, and 308 RBI in three seasons, deserves a raise. The White Sox could consider giving Abreu $12MM or more to save face.
Abreu gains upside by opting into arbitration. He’s still in his prime, and he plays in a hitters’ ballpark. Abreu could put up strong baseball card numbers in the coming seasons, maybe even reversing his declining power trend. Even just normal Abreu performance, combined with token arbitration raises each year, could earn him $40-45MM from 2017-19, instead of the $34MM his contract would have paid.
Abreu’s downside, on the other hand, is limited. I don’t think a salary cut at any point is likely, so he could simply get repeat salaries three times and still come out with $35MM for 2017-19. The one risk factor would be in the White Sox non-tendering him after the 2017 or ’18 season, in which case he’d become a free agent. The White Sox would only do so if his performance truly cratered, and even then, Abreu would make back most or all of the lost earnings in free agency.
Ultimately, I do expect Abreu to opt into MLB’s arbitration system, and I believe he’ll get a salary of about $12MM for 2017.
We’re just a few months away from this winter’s Rule 5 draft, so it makes sense to take a look back and see how things shook out from the 2015 selections. Several organizations found useful players, even if the most recent class didn’t include an Odubel Herrera-esque breakout sensation. Some of the most recent draftees have probably locked up MLB jobs again for 2017, though others who stuck on a major league roster all year may head back to the minors for further development. (Once a player’s permanent control rights have been secured, his new organization is free to utilize optional assignments as usual for future years.)
Here’s a roundup of the 2015 draft class with the 2016 season in the books:
- Tyler Goeddel, OF, kept by Phillies from Rays: The 23-year-old struggled with the aggressive move to the big leagues, carrying a .192/.258/.291 batting line in 234 trips to the plate, but showed enough for the rebuilding Phillies to hold onto him all year long.
- Luis Perdomo, RHP, kept by Padres (via Rockies) from Cardinals: It didn’t look good early for Perdomo, but he showed better after moving to the rotation and ended with a rather promising 4.85 ERA over twenty starts. Though he struggled to contain the long ball, and only struck out 6.4 per nine, Perdomo sported a nifty 59.0% groundball rate on the year.
- Joey Rickard, OF, kept by Orioles from Rays: After opening the year with a bang, Rickard faded to a .268/.319/.377 batting line on the year but held his roster spot in Baltimore. He ended the season on the DL with a thumb injury, though, and may end up at Triple-A for some added seasoning.
- Joe Biagini, RHP, kept by Blue Jays from Giants: The only Rule 5 pick to appear in the postseason, Biagini was a great find for Toronto. He ended with 67 2/3 innings of 3.06 ERA pitching, with 8.2 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9, and now looks like a potential fixture in the Jays’ relief corps.
- Matthew Bowman, RHP, kept by Cardinals from Mets: Bowman rounds out a trio of impressive relievers. He contributed 67 2/3 innings with a 3.46 ERA and 6.9 BB/9 against 2.7 BB/9 to go with a monster 61.7% groundball rate.
Retained By Other Means
- Deolis Guerra, RHP, re-signed by Angels (who selected him from Pirates) after being outrighted: Guerra was in an unusual spot since he had previously been outrighted off of the Bucs’ 40-man roster when he was selected, meaning he didn’t need to be offered back. Los Angeles removed him from the major league roster and then brought him back on a minor league deal, ultimately selecting his contract. Though he was later designated and outrighted by the Halos, Guerra again returned and largely thrived at the major league level, contributing 53 1/3 much-needed pen frames with a 3.21 ERA on the back of 6.1 K/9 against just 1.2 BB/9.
- Jabari Blash, OF, acquired by Padres (who acquired Rule 5 rights from Athletics) from Mariners: Blash’s intriguing tools weren’t quite ready for the majors, but San Diego struck a deal to hold onto him and was surely impressed with his showing at Triple-A. In his 229 plate appearances there, Blash swatted 11 home runs but — more importantly — carried a .415 OBP with a much-improved 66:41 K/BB ratio.
- Ji-Man Choi, 1B, outrighted by Angels after Orioles declined return: The 25-year-old scuffled in the bigs but was rather impressive at the highest level of the minors, where he walked nearly as often as he struck out and put up a .346/.434/.527 slash with five home runs in 227 plate appearances.
- Jake Cave, OF, returned from Reds to Yankees: After failing to crack Cinci’s roster out of camp, Cave impressed at Double-A but slowed at the highest level of the minors (.261/.323/.401 in 354 plate appearances) upon his return to the New York organization.
- Evan Rutckyj, LHP, returned from Braves to Yankees: Sent back late in camp, the 24-year-old struggled in limited action on the Yanks’ farm after missing most of the season with elbow issues.
- Josh Martin, RHP, returned from Padres to Indians: In his first attempt at Triple-A, Martin posted 66 frames of 3.55 ERA pitching with 8.2 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9.
- Daniel Stumpf, LHP, returned from Phillies to Royals: Slowed by a PED suspension, Stumpf was bombed in a brief MLB stint with the Phils but dominated at Double-A upon his return to K.C., posting a 2.11 ERA with 11.0 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 in 21 1/3 innings.
- Chris O’Grady, LHP, returned from Reds to Angels: Sent back in late March, O’Grady compiled a 3.48 ERA over 95 2/3 innings in the upper minors, though he performed much better as a Double-A starter than he did as a Triple-A reliever.
- Zack Jones, RHP, returned from Brewers to Twins: The 25-year-old was out with a shoulder injury for most of the year, and ended up being sent back to Minnesota in late June, but has shown swing-and-miss stuff when healthy.
- Blake Smith, RHP, returned from Padres to White Sox: Smith ended up making a brief MLB debut upon his return to Chicago, but spend most of the year pitching well at Triple-A Charlotte, where he ran up a 3.53 ERA in 71 1/3 innings with 9.5 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9.
- Colin Walsh, INF, returned from Brewers to Athletics: After struggling badly in his major league stint with the Brewers, Walsh went to Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate and put up a .259/.384/.388 bating line over 245 plate appearances.