Will the White Sox move past the black eye of the Tony La Russa hiring and upgrade the team in a bid for the first back-to-back playoff appearances in franchise history?
- Yasmani Grandal, C: Three years, $54.75MM
- Dallas Keuchel, SP: Two years, $37.5MM. Includes $20MM club/vesting option for 2023
- Jose Abreu, 1B: Two years, $34MM
- Tim Anderson, SS: Two years, $17.75MM. Includes $12.5MM club option for 2023 and $14MM club option for 2024
- Leury Garcia, IF/OF: One year, $3.5MM
- Eloy Jimenez, LF: Four years, $35.5MM. Includes $16.5MM club option for 2025 and $18.5MM club option for 2026
- Yoan Moncada, 3B: Four years, $65MM. Includes $25MM club option for 2025
- Luis Robert, CF: Five years, $48.5MM. Includes $20MM club options for 2026 and ’27
- Aaron Bummer, RP: Four years, $15MM. Includes $7.25MM club option for 2025 and $7.5MM club option for 2026
Arbitration Eligible Players
Note on arb-eligible players: this year’s arbitration projections are more volatile than ever, given the unprecedented revenue losses felt by clubs and the shortened 2020 schedule. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, who developed our arbitration projection model, used three different methods to calculate different projection numbers. You can see the full projections and an explanation of each if you click here, but for the purposes of our Outlook series, we’ll be using Matt’s 37-percent method — extrapolating what degree of raise a player’s 2020 rate of play would have earned him in a full 162-game slate and then awarding him 37 percent of that raise.
- Adam Engel, OF: $1.0MM
- Jace Fry, RP: $800K
- Lucas Giolito, SP: $2.5MM
- Reynaldo Lopez, SP: $1.7MM
- Evan Marshall, RP: $1.4MM
- Nomar Mazara, RF: $5.7MM
- Carlos Rodon, SP/RP: $4.5MM
- Non-tender candidates: Rodon, Mazara, Lopez
- Exercised $3.5MM club option on IF Leury Garcia
- Declined $12MM club option on DH Edwin Encarnacion
- Declined $7MM club option on SP Gio Gonzalez
- Edwin Encarnacion, James McCann, Alex Colome, Gio Gonzalez, Steve Cishek, Ross Detwiler, Jarrod Dyson
The rebuild is officially over. The White Sox reached the playoffs this year for the first time since 2008, falling to the A’s in the three-game Wild Card series. Eleven days later, the team fired manager Rick Renteria and longtime pitching coach Don Cooper. When GM Rick Hahn told reporters the ideal managerial candidate would have “recent October experience with a championship organization,” the club initially seemed primed to hire A.J. Hinch or Alex Cora.
Instead, it became clear that White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf had his heart set on righting what he saw as a 34-year-old wrong, bringing back Tony La Russa as manager. La Russa began his managerial career with the White Sox in 1979 and was fired in 1986, after which he achieved legendary status and Hall of Fame induction for his work at the helm of the A’s and Cardinals. La Russa had retired from managing after his 2011 Cardinals won it all, taking on front office roles for the Diamondbacks, Red Sox, and Angels. So much for “recent” October experience. The White Sox didn’t interview Hinch or Cora; their second choice was former Giants and Padres skipper Bruce Bochy, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan said it well regarding the hire: “He inherits a team brimming with young, dynamic talent — a team that, in many ways, represents a new epoch of baseball whose principles and priorities run antithetical to La Russa’s.” I still felt that the talented White Sox players would be able to overcome that apparent mismatch. But then came news of La Russa’s February DUI arrest, of which the White Sox were aware before hiring him. La Russa already had a 2007 DUI on his record. To this point, a Twitter campaign from some White Sox fans has not convinced La Russa to step down or Reinsdorf to move on. Reinsdorf hasn’t commented on the matter, and the team’s statement was sparse. The entire situation is a black eye for the team of Reinsdorf’s doing, but he doesn’t seem to care. Perhaps one day the White Sox will run through a normal managerial hiring process.
At any rate, hiring La Russa certainly suggests the team will take further steps to improve in the short-term after an active 2019-20 offseason and successful shortened 2020 campaign. So, what does the team need? Right field stands out, after Nomar Mazara struggled in his 149 plate appearances. Though he doesn’t turn 26 until April, Mazara will likely be non-tendered. The best option in free agency is George Springer, who will likely command a contract in excess of $100MM even in a depressed market. Even for a lineup that already skews right-handed, Springer would be a huge addition for the White Sox as a 31-year-old five-WAR type player. And there’s hardly a concern with Springer hitting right-handed pitching, against which he has a 139 wRC+ since 2018. But with Reinsdorf on record claiming losses “in the nine figures,” will he really go for one of the winter’s most expensive free agents?
There are more affordable options, of course, such as signing Joc Pederson to platoon with Adam Engel in right field. Hahn could also try the trade market, which could include Joey Gallo and Wil Myers. The Sox don’t seem to be in a position to acquire a bounceback candidate, but Gregory Polanco, Hunter Renfroe, and Dexter Fowler likely wouldn’t be hard to pry loose. Adam Eaton is a free agent, but there’s a lot of history there and not much upside. The White Sox could also look to get creative and acquire a player who hasn’t played much or any right field, such as Andrew Benintendi, Marcell Ozuna, Tommy Pham, Michael Brantley, Brett Gardner, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jurickson Profar, or Mark Canha. In some cases it would result in shaky corner outfield defense, but at least they have a Gold Glove center fielder in Luis Robert.
With 2019 third overall pick Andrew Vaughn basically penciled into a first base/DH rotation with Jose Abreu, right field seems the only clear place for the White Sox to upgrade on the position player side. Certainly the team could hold off for most of 2021 on Vaughn, who has yet to see Double-A pitching, but the team’s brass seems to think he’s close to ready after spending 2020 at the team’s alternate site. If they were to wait with Vaughn, perhaps players like Nelson Cruz or Michael Brantley would become more viable.
What about the starting rotation? As James Fegan of The Athletic put it, “October revealed a need for upgrades at the top, not the back end,” after the team was forced to try a bullpen game in Game 3 of the Wild Card series. At the top end of the market sits Trevor Bauer, though he’d likely require most of the team’s available payroll space. There’s also the question of whether Bauer would be impressed with La Russa, but the better question might be how he’d gel with new pitching coach Ethan Katz. Katz was Lucas Giolito’s pitching coach in high school and had a hand in his turnaround in 2019. If the White Sox are willing to spend the money and let Bauer pitch every fourth day, they’d certainly have a shot.
If the White Sox consider Bauer out of their price range, they could look at a collection of free agent starters who could slot into their hypothetical playoff rotation: James Paxton, Corey Kluber, Chris Archer, and Charlie Morton. The first three have to prove they’re healthy, while Morton may have geographical preferences that don’t include Chicago. A market limited on October-worthy starters may require considering lower-ceiling free agents like Masahiro Tanaka, or hitting the trade market in pursuit of players like Lance Lynn or German Marquez. The White Sox don’t necessarily need to make a major move in the rotation, with Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease, and Dane Dunning penciled in and Michael Kopech expected to rejoin the team in spring training.
Like just about any playoff hopeful, the White Sox could look to augment their bullpen. With Colome hitting free agency, the team has several interesting young arms but lacks veteran depth. Overall, the White Sox could have over $30MM to work with if they maintain last year’s payroll, but that’s no sure thing.
Thus far, the White Sox have done an excellent job locking up their core pieces to position themselves for sustained success. They have four more years of control of Anderson, and at least five of Robert, Moncada, Jimenez, Vaughn, and Nick Madrigal. On the pitching side, ace Lucas Giolito is under control through 2023 as an arbitration eligible player. Giolito is primed for his first multi-million dollar payday in his first trip through arbitration this winter, though there’s great uncertainty as to how salaries will be affected by the 60-game season. I have a feeling the White Sox would jump at something close to Aaron Nola’s four-year, $45MM contract.
Aside from the La Russa hire, the White Sox could hardly be in a better position heading into 2021. The club would be well-served to bring in a few more impact players this winter, especially with the majority of teams expected to be conservative.