Leaving Las Vegas with More Questions

Baseball's Winter Meetings ended uneventfully for the White Sox. Oh sure, there was that extra $50K they got for losing Derek Rodriguez in the Rule 5 Draft, but only Jerry Reinsdorf and Larry care about that. The rest of us wonder what the White Sox will look like when they open camp in February. Will they make any more trades? Will they make a play in the free agent market? Where do the Sox go from here?

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I've been asking myself the same question ever since the Swisher trade. And when the Vazquez trade didn't return any player who figures to make a significant impact on the Sox '09 roster, I had to sit back and wonder if the Sox were in a full-on Circuit City-style liquidation sale. It's only now, as the Sox leave the Winter Meetings without making a deal, having spent most of their time in Vegas waiting for the phone to ring, that I am finally starting to get a hold on what the Sox are looking to accomplish this off-season.

Those two trades removed about $17M from the Sox projected '09 payroll. We've heard Kenny say, "Right now, we're bumping up against our [payroll] limit," even after removing those salaries. How did that happen?

It's the economy, stupid. Or at least that's the excuse you'll hear out of most teams right now. The Sox have some other issues at work, however.

They've got $10M tied up in a pitcher who, in the rosiest of scenarios, won't play a game until after the All-Star Break. They've got another $3M committed to Mike MacDougal, who was removed from the 40-man roster and could have been taken by any team in yesterday's Rule 5 draft. And then there's that $5M payment for right to bolt Tucson in favor of the shorter bus rides in the valley. $18M in expenses that don't figure to contribute to wins in '09; I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the those two numbers come out so neatly.

I've got the Sox payroll commitments right now at about $86M, but that's due to grow as they offer arbitration to Bobby Jenks and Dewayne Wise Friday, and should end up around $95M if you fill out the rest of the lineup with near-minimum contracts.

I don't really understand why the Sox would bother to tender Wise an offer. He seems like a perfect non-tender candidate to me, as essentially a walking definition of a replacement-level player. But the Sox tend to reward these fringy types with major league contracts (see: Ozuna, Pablo or Perez, Timo). I no longer have the will to argue about it anymore. I just accept that there will be $1M handed to a guy who should be the 26th man.

While we've all be trying to read between the lines, and waited for the next big salary to drop, it appears as though Williams has been speaking the slightly-varnished truth when meeting with reporters. He says he's trying to put the best team he can on the field, while remaining under that budget ceiling, but like he did in the '06-'07 off-season he's also focused on continuing to stock an under-productive farm system with some near-ready, high upside talent. That off-season brought the Sox John Danks and Gavin Floyd, but neither was ready to contribute to contender in '07, and the Sox had their worst record since the early 80's.

Now that Jermaine Dye has been dangled to numerous clubs for young pitching, with little interest, and the Sox linked to his replacement, it's time to question those first two salary-dumping trades.

In the Vazquez deal, it seems as though Williams passed on a young starter (presumably Jo-Jo Reyes or Charlie Morton) at the urging of his scouts, under the impression that he could move Dye to fill his young starter needs. But all of the players in that deal (even Lollipopguild) seem to have some upside. Which brings us back to the Swisher deal; why was it necessary to pull the trigger so quickly? for such a meager return? Why not hold out for the highest bidder at the meetings? Are we honestly supposed to believe that [Starter Candidate 5] is capable of stepping into the rotation as Danks did in '07? What happpens when he proves to be more like '07 Floyd? or worse?

If the Sox are unable to move Dye for young pitching, they might have to explore the free agent pitching market, hoping one of the dispatched '05 starters, or some other damaged goods (Pedro, Penny et al) are seeking a 1-year deal to rebuild their reputation. And even that option may force them to trim payroll elsewhere (Read: Bobby Jenks).

The Sox roster is far from complete. We'll just have to sit back and wait, and make fun of hoodie, to pass the time.

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