Marginal spending has been a bugaboo for the White Sox in recent years. It doesn't compare to being saddled with the $103 million owed to the remains of Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy, but that $103 million is why marginal spending is an issue.
It's like anything else. If your car breaks down and your roof starts leaking in the same week, you might have to cancel your cable service or stop dining out for a while in order to absorb those unexpected bummer costs.
The White Sox arrived at similar crossroads this past season. For instance, Kenny Williams wants his fifth starter to be third-starter quality, and that costs a lot of money. Omar Vizquel cost considerably less, but that was $1.7 million to a guy who was closer to a coach than a player. The Sox gave Will Ohman a two-year, $4 million contract to be their third lefty in the bullpen.
Most teams use league-minimum guys (or close to it) to fill these positions. The White Sox spent $11 million. That might be smart spending in some situations, but it doesn't work for a team with multiple massive money pits.
So when Kenny Williams says that he'll have a little less money to spend this season -- and those money pits are growing more cavernous -- it stands to reason that the Sox are forced to clip 'n' save at other positions. It seems like everybody is on the same page with the starting pitching. Chris Sale and Phil Humber might not comprise the back end of the rotation on Opening Day, but people are prepared for that reality. Mark Buehrle is everybody's All-American, but he's also a luxury on the ledger.
In two other areas, this whole belt-tightening movement doesn't seem to be setting in. And that could be a good or bad thing.
The White Sox started the 2011 season with a bullpen that cost roughly $11.4 million (I'm including Jeff Gray and his league-minimum friends, since the six-man bullpen only lasted a week).
At this point, the 2012 bullpen will cost somewhere around $17.7 million. The Sox are set to spend $6 million more on an area that didn't require $6 million worth of fixing. That's why we can make such a big deal over a small deal that looks fine in a vacuum. Whether the Sox are going to trade a reliever or keep everybody, it means something. We just don't know what yet.
Here's another confusing development in the coverage of the offseason.
Juan Pierre is also expected to depart via free agency. Alejandro De Aza is projected to take his spot in left field, but he isn’t a prototypical leadoff man which is what the White Sox would still need after Pierre’s departure.
Trading right fielder Carlos Quentin could free up some salary to pursue a free agent who can play left field and lead off. Williams has said, though, that he is only interested in trading for major-league ready talent so a leadoff hitter who can play left figures to be one of his targets in a potential Quentin deal.
That's Doug Padilla. Scott Merkin wrote something similar, which means that 40 percent of the White Sox beat writers believe Juan Pierre left shoes to fill. If he did, here they are. I think we're going to be feeling Brett Ballantini's absence more, myself. This line of thinking befuddles me on multiple levels.
First, it treats Alejandro De Aza like 2011 never happened. He raked in Triple-A, he hit even better when the Sox finally called him up a month too late, and he played a far more confident outfield than either Pierre or Alex Rios. He did just about everything he could to prove himself as the team's best potential bargain for 2012, and he impressed the very same writers who are all set to marginalize him. In this scenario, there isn't a place for him to start.
Also, I don't need to be telling most SSSers this, but in case anybody who considers Pierre's departure a bona fide concern, a question.
WHICH PLAYER IS THE BETTER LEADOFF CANDIDATE?
Player X: .329 OBP, 61 percent stolen-base rate.
- Player Y: .388 OBP, 70 percent stolen-base rate.*
(I included De Aza's 2010 to beef up his sample size a bit. And damnit, I just gave it away.)
I mean, if the Sox really were hurting for a Juan Pierre that badly... they could just sign Juan Pierre. Scott Podsednik couldn't find a multi-year deal after he fared surprisingly well in 2009. Pierre is not going to be in demand. I'll stop before I give anybody ideas.
In a world where the Sox must cut costs, isn't De Aza a necessity until proven otherwise? He might not be a lead-pipe lock to produce, but the Sox already broke the bank on "proven" guys who keep crapping the bed. Now they're going to need to plug in the De Azas of baseball to fill the gaps, and the De Aza they have was kind enough to prove that he can really play, and for cheap.
His weakness is his spotty health history, which means the Sox will have to comb the waiver wire and minor-league free agent list for some Triple-A depth that might be able to step in, but that's how they got De Aza in the first place. And Podsednik before him. You know, the last leadoff man the Sox absolutely had to replace with outside help.
It means the money's-a-flowin'. Think about the players who have signed so far. Chien-Ming Wang signed for $4 million. Juan Rivera signed for $4.5 million. Ryan Madson was likely offered a deal for $11 million per season.
Middle relievers? The Giants picked up a $5 million option for their second lefty in the pen, Jeremy Affeldt. They might have seen the storm approaching. Looks like anyone who is competent out of a bullpen will be paid. [...]
Willie Bloomquist was the final piece of evidence. Dude got a two-year deal to keep him away from other teams. He's the free-agent canary in the marketplace coal mine -- this market is about to go insane. It seemed like a possibility early in the offseason. But I didn't know until this day ... that it was Bloomquist all along.
I don't know if this is this is the case, but it warrants watching. In this world, Frasor becomes more tradeable than he should be. So does Matt Thornton.
When Williams plays coy, though, he usually does either by omission, or leaving large loopholes. I'm not seeing either here:
With just over $91 million already committed to 13 players, it seems tough for the White Sox to make significant payroll reductions. Williams quickly pointed out that "chump change" wasn't being talked about in any sort of cuts, so "it's all significant."
"I have not been asked to do anything other than formulate the plan of attack and the best course of action for us as we stand here today," Williams said. "Do I have an idea where we are? Yes, and it's a little bit less than what we had last year."
So I don't see a situation where Williams spends more than he did last year, because that's not his style. Whether he can free up more cash than expected is a different matter, and he's leaving the door open on that one.