The White Sox took a rare foray into the high-end free agent market this winter but came away empty-handed in their attempts to sign either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. Machado ended up signing a ten-year, $300MM deal with the Padres, while Harper landed the most guaranteed money in baseball history ($330MM) on a 13-year contract from the Phillies.
In the wake of those enormous deals, White Sox executive VP Ken Williams defended his team against criticism from fans and pundits that the Sox should have spent more to come away with one of the two superstars. “It’s a shame if it’s being portrayed that we were on the cheap on this thing,” Williams told Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times. “That’s really interesting because, holy s—, that’s a quarter of a billion dollars we offered [Machado] with a chance to be higher than what he’s getting.”
In regards to Harper, the White Sox had meetings with the outfielder and agent Scott Boras, but the team ultimately felt Harper’s asking price was simply too high, though Williams liked Harper personally. With Machado, however, the Sox made a much more ardent push, including the contract Williams referenced.
Chicago’s top offer to Machado was a reported $250MM in guaranteed money over eight years, plus a pair of $35MM vesting options for the 2027 and 2028 seasons. Additional escalators and incentives could have maxed the deal out at $350MM over the decade-long span. Based just on the guaranteed years, Machado would’ve received an average annual value of $31.25MM per season, topping the $30MM AAV he’ll receive in San Diego.
“People are lost on the fact that on a yearly basis, our offer was more than San Diego’s….So it was about years guaranteed,” Williams said. “So there is an argument that could be made that our offer was the better of the two. It certainly had more upside for him. All he had to do was basically stay healthy.”
Williams shared in the fanbase’s disappointment that neither player was signed, saying that, “Rest assured that no one is feeling what Rick [White Sox GM Rick Hahn] and I are feeling because every single day since June of last year, this is what we had planned for, the pursuit of both Harper and Machado.
“Harper [was] well out of our range. With Machado, we extended ourselves as far as we could without jeopardizing what we’re going to need to do in the future….Our fans would have been much more disappointed in our inability to keep this next core together. We would have overextended ourselves had we gone to an uncomfortable level.”
Williams isn’t wrong in suggesting that a $250MM offer is a major commitment — after all, prior to Nolan Arenado’s extension with the Rockies and the Harper/Machado signings, only three contracts in baseball history had ever topped the $250MM guaranteed money threshold. The most obvious counter-argument, of course, is that if the Sox were willing to go that far in their offer, it seems short-sighted to then ask Machado to absorb the risk for the vesting option years. It’s no small feat for any player to “basically stay healthy” in their mid-30’s, and it’s hard to imagine any player passing on that guarantee from the Padres for 2027-28 in order to chase the opportunity for only $20MM-$50MM more in salary from the White Sox. (I say “only” since that amount wouldn’t seem particularly enticing to a player like Machado who’d already amassed a fortune. By that same token, an extra $1.25MM in AAV is something of a drop in the bucket someone already making $30MM.)
The comments about how a Machado deal could impact future contracts might be tougher for White Sox fans to swallow. After all, the team has just $15.25MM on the books for the 2020 season, and Tim Anderson is the only player guaranteed money in 2021 and beyond.
As Van Schouwen notes, young stars like Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon, and Anderson won’t start to get expensive for years. Anderson is already signed to an extension through at least 2022, Rodon has two arbitration years remaining, Moncada won’t be arb-eligible until 2021, Kopech has barely pitched at the MLB level, and Jimenez has yet to even make his Major League debut. Even all five of these players did develop into stars, extensions for all on top of a ten-year Machado contract shouldn’t have been much of a stretch for a club that plays in a major market like Chicago (and just landed a new broadcasting rights contract).