This is the latest post of MLBTR’s annual Offseason in Review series, in which we take stock of every team’s winter dealings.
The White Sox pinned most of their offseason hopes to signing Manny Machado, and instead wound up adding a series of largely unexciting veteran players.
Major League Signings
- Kelvin Herrera, RP: two years, $18MM
- Jon Jay, OF: one year, $4MM
- James McCann, C: one year, $2.5MM
- Total spend: $24.5MM
Trades and Claims
- Acquired P Manny Banuelos from Dodgers for IF Justin Yurchak
- Acquired RP Alex Colome from Mariners for C Omar Narvaez
- Acquired SP Ivan Nova from Pirates for P Yordi Rosario and $500K in international bonus pool money
- Acquired 1B Yonder Alonso from Indians for OF Alex Call
- Claimed RP Josh Osich off waivers from Orioles
Notable Minor League Signings
- Ervin Santana. Brandon Guyer, Randall Delgado, Ryan Goins, Evan Marshall, Matt Skole, Donn Roach, Chris Johnson, Preston Tucker
- Avisail Garcia, James Shields, Omar Narvaez, Matt Davidson, Kevan Smith, Hector Santiago, Ryan LaMarre, Ian Clarkin
Of MLBTR’s top ten free agents this winter, the White Sox reportedly showed some level of interest in at least seven of them. Their most high-profile pursuit was that of Manny Machado. Prior to the Winter Meetings, GM Rick Hahn tried to make it clear to reporters that he couldn’t “guarantee by any stretch that we’re going to convert on these targets.” Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel notwithstanding, the dust has settled on the offseason, and the White Sox failed to convert on any premium player they were targeting.
Looking at what the team actually did, this was a fairly typical recent White Sox offseason. It’s just that fan expectations tend to balloon when front office brass is meeting with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, we know the team can afford either player, and it’s about that time where a rebuilding process draws to a close. The club hung around in the Machado bidding til the bitter end, strangely acquiring Manny’s brother-in-law Yonder Alonso and good friend Jon Jay presumably to help close the gap on an offer that fell far short. Here’s White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams attempting to defend the team’s eight-year, $250MM final offer, as reported by Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times: “People are lost on the fact that on a yearly basis, our offer was more than San Diego’s. The average annual value was $31 [million] and change. So it was about years guaranteed. 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.” This is almost comical, as is Williams’ assertion that if the team had gone further financially, fans would have been “much more disappointed in our inability to keep this next core together.” The key piece of that core, Eloy Jimenez, remains a minor leaguer for the purpose of gaining control of his 2025 season. The team’s “next core” literally hasn’t reached the Majors yet, but giving Machado an extra two years would break it up?
Chicago’s offer to Machado came in a full $50MM shy of the contract he received from the Padres. The Sox thought this star free agent was going to be swayed by a ridiculous $100MM in additional non-guaranteed money, or by the acquisition of his buddies? Going into free agency, there was never a reason to think $250MM would get the job done for Machado or Harper, so why even try? Hahn’s claim that the Sox made a “very aggressive offer” is patently untrue. With every large market team sitting out Machado’s market and the price coming in much lower than it could have been, the White Sox still never got close. After losing out on Machado, Hahn pledged, “The money will be spent. It might not be spent this offseason, but it will be spent at some point. This isn’t money sitting around waiting to just accumulate interest. It’s money trying to be deployed to put us in best position to win some championships.”
Perhaps Hahn said that so that Sox fans will dream about signing Anthony Rendon or Xander Bogaerts next winter, but the Machado progression hardly inspires confidence that White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is willing to outspend the field for a premium free agent. When Reinsdorf last did that by signing Albert Belle – over 22 years ago – Bud Selig and the owners were stunned that “the owner who’s railed the loudest and longest about curbing player salaries has just broken the bank,” wrote Jon Pessah in his 2015 book The Game. There’s little reason to think Reinsdorf will shatter precedent again.
Given the self-imposed $250MM limit on Machado, the White Sox knew they weren’t going to get close on Harper. The White Sox certainly explored other avenues, including upgrades at catcher. They made a multiyear offer (terms unknown) to Yasmani Grandal, according to Robert Murray of The Athletic. And the Sox were “in the mix” for J.T. Realmuto, according to Ken Rosenthal. The White Sox had moved on from last year’s tandem, Omar Narvaez and Kevan Smith, deciding someone new should pair with Welington Castillo in 2019. They went with non-tendered former Tigers catcher James McCann. Patrick Nolan of Sox Machine disparaged the choice, writing, “The White Sox’ young pitchers have had the misfortune of throwing to tiny strike zones and guys who let the ball get away, and McCann’s poor receiving and pitch-blocking will help continue that trend.” It’s particularly painful to see a pitcher’s dream backstop, Martin Maldonado, sign with a division rival for the same contract (although Maldonado’s asking price at the time McCann signed had not yet fallen to this level).
The White Sox made reasonable efforts to address their bullpen this winter, trading Narvaez for Colome in November and signing Herrera in January. Colome is under team control through the 2020 season, though his salary in that season will climb even higher than this year’s $7.325MM. He’s a solid reliever who stands a good chance of serving as the team’s closer. They also signed Herrera to a two-year deal with a vesting option for a third season. Herrera had surgery in September to repair a torn Lisfranc ligament in his foot, but he’s made his Cactus League debut, implying the procedure may not affect him during the 2019 season. Herrera’s got some other red flags, such as 2018’s declining strikeout and ground-ball rates, but the 29-year-old still throws 97 miles per hour and has a chance to be a major asset to Chicago. Along with holdovers Nate Jones and Jace Fry, this could be a decent bullpen, especially compared to the cumulative work of last year’s unit. The White Sox reportedly showed interest in Adam Ottavino, Andrew Miller, and Joe Kelly before they signed elsewhere.
With highly-regarded pitching prospect Michael Kopech out for 2019 due to Tommy John surgery and James Shields gone to free agency (though technically still unsigned), the White Sox reportedly poked their head in on free agents Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, and Nathan Eovaldi, before ultimately trading for Ivan Nova in December. Nova, owed $8.5MM in 2019, is a pitch-to-contact, homer-prone veteran who projects for an ERA around 4.60. If you’re looking for a veteran starter who could potentially be flipped for something interesting in July, Nova doesn’t qualify. Nor does Ervin Santana, who signed a minor league deal but seems likely to eventually earn the team’s fifth starter job.
“Fundamentally this is a baseball deal,” Hahn told reporters upon acquiring Alonso from the Indians in December, but that claim hardly stands up when looking at the types of contracts that comparable first-base-only sluggers received this offseason (MLBTR Free Agent Tracker link). I again turn to Patrick Nolan of Sox Machine, who explains that adding Alonso at designated hitter will “either eat into Daniel Palka’s plate appearances or force everyone to watch Palka play the outfield more often,” while it also “helped out a division rival with $8 million in cash relief.” That’s a little harsh, but in Nova and Alonso, the White Sox took on $17.5MM for a pair of players projected by Steamer and ZiPS to be worth about one WAR apiece in 2019. It feels like spending money just to spend money.
Jay, his friendship with Machado aside, is an acceptable veteran stopgap for a club that parted ways with longtime right fielder Avisail Garcia. Top prospect Eloy Jimenez will start the season at Triple-A after being optioned just hours ago — presumably to “work on his defense” or another semi-vague reason that will be resolved once he cannot accrue a full year of service time in 2019 (as is commonplace throughout the league with this caliber of prospect). Until Jimenez arrives, none of the White Sox outfielders look like part of their next contending team.
The truly baffling aspect of Chicago’s offseason additions is that had they simply condensed the money offered to that patchwork collection of stopgaps, those resources could’ve been utilized to up the offer to Machado — a transformative player who’d move the needle considerably more not only in 2019 but in the long term. The near-$50MM they spent on this offseason’s group is worth much more than $50MM in 2028-29 dollars. Perhaps the Padres would’ve been willing to further increase their proposal had the ChiSox presented a legitimately competitive offer, but the approach would’ve been much more understandable.
2019 Season Outlook
Fangraphs projects the White Sox as a 70-win team this year, virtually no different from the Tigers or Royals. Given the team’s run at Machado, this may seem like an incredibly disappointing offseason, but go back to something Hahn said in September 2017: “I think even under the most optimistic projections of our ability to contend, certainly ’18 and ’19 don’t include the bulk of the time when we anticipate having a window open to us.”
So, it seems the club was willing to sign Machado or Harper at a relative bargain price and maybe make a little noise in ’19, but that duo’s free agency was always coming a year before the White Sox thought their team would be ready. The White Sox have just $12.5MM committed to two players for the 2020 roster, so they’ll again enjoy major payroll flexibility in the offseason. Generally, you don’t get a fourth year for an intentional rebuild, so it’s 2020 or bust for this group.
How would you grade the White Sox’ offseason? (Poll link for Trade Rumors app users.)