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Having completed a three-season rebuilding period, the White Sox must make significant additions and field a competitive team in 2020. With the Yasmani Grandal signing, they’ve already got a strong early start.
- Yasmani Grandal, C: $73MM through 2023
- Jose Abreu, 1B: $50MM through 2022.
- Kelvin Herrera, RP: $9.5MM through 2020. Includes club option for 2021.
- Eloy Jimenez, LF: $37MM through 2024. Includes club options for 2025 and ’26.
- Tim Anderson, SS: $21.75MM through 2022. Includes club options for 2023 and ’24.
Arbitration-Eligible Players (projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Alex Colome, RP – $10.3MM
- James McCann, C – $4.9MM
- Leury Garcia, OF – $4.0MM
- Carlos Rodon, SP – $4.5MM
- Evan Marshall, RP – $1.3MM
- Non-tender candidates: Yolmer Sanchez (outrighted)
In the three weeks since the World Series ended, the White Sox have already made several notable offseason moves. The first was to ship catcher Welington Castillo to the Rangers, giving up $250K in international bonus pool space as a way of saving $500K in real money in the form of Castillo’s buyout. As James Fegan of The Athletic wrote, the question is “why a seemingly paltry amount of the major-league payroll is being prioritized over a significant portion of the international bonus pool,” as this is not the first time the White Sox have done so. To hear White Sox Senior Vice President/General Manager Rick Hahn tell it, the team’s international staff did not have any further signings they wanted to make, so he then set out to exchange the club’s bonus pool space for some benefit. The shedding of international bonus pool space invited skepticism in some corners, including from Jim Margalus of Sox Machine.
As this outlook was in progress, the White Sox signed the #7 free agent on the market, catcher Yasmani Grandal, to a four-year, $73MM deal. The contract surpasses Abreu for the largest in franchise history, a major commitment to a player who fits the team like a glove. The Sox have added perhaps the best hitter and pitch framer among all MLB catchers. And unlike last year’s failed pursuit of Manny Machado, Hahn and company proved that they actually are willing and able to win the bidding on a top free agent. While he’s not a $300MM player, Grandal offers a huge boost behind the plate over incumbent James McCann, perhaps on the order of four additional wins in 2020. McCann could stay on as a somewhat overqualified backup for Grandal (he did make the All-Star team this year), but he becomes a pretty clear trade candidate, especially given Zack Collins’ bond with Grandal.
Earlier this month the White Sox made the fairly reasonable decision to give Jose Abreu a qualifying offer, which served the dual purpose of cementing their longstanding interest in retaining him, and of creating a drag on the idea of another team signing him. The widely expected multiyear agreement didn’t happen by the November 14th deadline for Abreu, so the player chose to accept the strong $17.8MM salary on a one-year deal for 2020. At that point first base was filled for 2020, and the White Sox didn’t have to commit beyond Abreu’s age-33 season. Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf can be loyal to a fault, however, and the team chose to overwrite that one-year deal with a three-year, $50MM pact that surely had much to do with Abreu’s clubhouse presence as his production at the plate. Chalk this one up as a win for Abreu, who was unlikely to find this level of a contract on the open market. Should White Sox fans complain? Only to the extent that Abreu’s unnecessary new deal prevents them from upgrading the rest of the roster, which doesn’t seem likely at least this offseason.
One other notable move happened this week, with the club removing second baseman Yolmer Sanchez from the 40-man roster. Sanchez seemed unlikely to make it past Monday’s non-tender deadline anyway, but now the path is clear for prospect Nick Madrigal.
Due to the team committing over $123MM before Thanksgiving, this is beginning to read more like an offseason review than an outlook. However, there’s plenty of speculation left to do. One clear remaining area of upgrade for the White Sox is right field. While there’s a slight preference for left-handed bats, perhaps the addition of a switch-hitter like Grandal reduces that. Options in free agency include Nicholas Castellanos, Kole Calhoun, and Yasiel Puig. Both Marcell Ozuna and Eloy Jimenez seem limited to left field, making Ozuna a difficult fit. Nor have Corey Dickerson or Brett Gardner played much right field. On the trade market, one consideration is Mookie Betts, a potentially huge one-year rental if Hahn could pry him loose from the Red Sox. Perhaps of equal or greater acquisition cost would be the Mariners’ Mitch Haniger, who is under control for three more seasons. The trade market could also offer Josh Reddick, Nomar Mazara, Stephen Piscotty, and Hunter Renfroe, none of whom would be considered a clear upgrade.
The Sox are also wide open at designated hitter, and a few interesting options abound if the team is willing to use the spot mostly for one player. Chicago was considered the speculative favorite for J.D. Martinez if he’d chosen to opt out, with the thinking that the Red Sox wouldn’t necessarily have minded gaining relief from Martinez’s contract. If the White Sox indeed like Martinez, I wonder if they’d attempt to take him and his three-year, $62.5MM commitment off Boston’s hands. One issue could be Martinez’s ability to opt out after the 2020 season, which brings downside risk for the White Sox. It’s also plausible that the White Sox could attempt to use their financial flexibility to acquire Khris Davis and most of his $33.5MM commitment from Oakland. A simpler move would be to simply sign a free agent who could be plugged in as a regular DH, such as Edwin Encarnacion or Hunter Pence.
The White Sox will almost certainly add starting pitching this winter, with Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, and Reynaldo Lopez penciled in plus interesting options like Carlos Rodon and Michael Kopech. Even with Jake Odorizzi off the board, the free agent market is flush with options. Though they’ve never given out a $100MM contract, the White Sox have at least attempted to dole out a $200MM deal, and they could certainly compete on Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg if Reinsdorf so chooses. They’re also viable suitors for Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel, Cole Hamels, and just about any other free agent. Signing Grandal early could have a benefit here: the White Sox have signaled they’re not messing around, and presumed “contenders only” names like Bumgarner, Ryu, and Hamels could get on board. The trade market doesn’t appear overwhelming, but certainly a Matthew Boyd, Chris Archer, or Jon Gray would be attainable for the Sox. If you want to get a little more fantastical with trade ideas, we can again speculate on financially bailing out the Red Sox, with David Price or even Chris Sale. The White Sox re-acquiring Sale would be particularly entertaining, but with a $145MM commitment and an elbow injury ending his season in August, it’s the ultimate long shot.
Like most teams, the White Sox could also stand to improve their bullpen. Colome, Herrera, and Aaron Bummer are guaranteed spots, while Evan Marshall and Jimmy Cordero will surely be in the mix. It remains to be seen how aggressively the White Sox will address the bullpen given their other needs, though the Braves have already scooped up Will Smith and Chris Martin from the top end of the free agent market. Plus, the Sox already can expect to pay Colome and Herrera around $19MM for their 2020 efforts.
Even after signing Grandal and Abreu, their projected commitments sit around $80MM. With so many big-market teams crying poor this winter, the White Sox are in excellent position to add several more impact free agents and make a major push into contention for 2020 and beyond.