"Ozzie you're my manager and I love you. But don't ever take sides with Joe Cowley against the White Sox again. Ever."
The 2011 Sox are pining for the fjords. They were all "I think I'll go for a walk" but then the Tigers were all "you'll be stone dead in a moment," clubbed them in the head and threw them on the cart with the rest of the bodies. It was a real joy to watch all the way around.*
And the best part is that they're going to do it all over again in 2012. The Sox have $89M already committed in contracts to players for next season, not including Danks, Quentin and Buehrle. Bring back all three and they'll be paying about $120M to be a slightly above average team. I doubt that's tenable considering the likelihood that Jerry Reinsdorf lost money on this season. Or maybe Jake Peavy's insurance money got a lot of it back? There's a lot we don't know, but the weight of the evidence suggests we should expect some attempts at cost saving.
Let's start with the super obvious: Frasor's a luxury on a team that's already got 4 very good end-of-game options. Oh and Tony Pena blows. So they're gone. From there the consensus seems to be that Quentin is gone. It makes sense. Viciedo, Lillibridge and de Aza will all make significantly less money and replace some of his value, possibly all depending on Q's health and whether or not you believe in the Bridge. Don't expect too much in return though. It'll probably be some young former prospect who's since disappointed. Given the Sox' track record, let's hope it's a pitcher rather than a position player.
Ditching Quentin and keeping Buehrle and Danks cuts about $7M from the ~$120M starting point. For a team expected to win something like 79-84 games--it's hard to nail down exactly at this point--I would guess they'd still be in the red and not breaking even. If that's actually the case, where would the cuts come from?
Two are out of the question: Dunn and Rios. They'll cost $26.5M next season and $28M for the two following. That'll buy you about 5 wins in each of those seasons on the free agent market. So the only way a team would want them is if they came with a 5 win player or two making nothing.** Obviously the Sox aren't obligated to send both to the same team. I think Chris Sale would be enough to get rid of one or the other. We might even get some money in that deal. But the whole problem with this team is it's had to pay market price for too many of their players. Getting rid of the few cheap guys we have just perpetuates the problem and kicks the can down the road.
Well then, who's left to ditch? AJ has 10-and-5 rights, so he's not going anywhere unless he says so. Plus he's only making $6M next year and is coming off one of his best seasons with the bat. Among the position players, there really aren't any obvious targets to deal. They're either old and getting paid or young and underperforming.
Tyler Flowers is a possibility if he convinced an MLB club that he's a starting catcher with his performance this season. I think (and Kenny presumably does too) that he's backup material. But the idea here is to emphasize the most efficient route to cost cutting. A challenge trade could pay some dividends, but more likely than not you're running in place and you have to buy a backup catcher. Brent Morel I suppose could be in a similar position, but without the "sell high" part. Opening up holes on the major league roster in order to close others isn't likely to be a winning proposition.
The best move is probably to let Buehrle walk and have Sale replace him in the rotation. That'd put the Sox under $100M with a good chance to replace Buehrle's production from 2010. Insert Addison Reed and there's a pretty decent chance that Sale+Reed = Sale+Buehrle+$14M. The problem there of course is that Mark Buehrle is the best White Sox since Frank Thomas, has an outside chance at the Hall of Fame and is more popular in Chicago than obesity in America's heartland.
Some other relatively expensive pitcher then? Peavy's making $17M next season and not going anywhere until the Sox prove they can keep him healthy; the earliest they can trade him is midseason. It would also help if his bad luck on the mound ran out. It's not totally out of the quetion, but it's hard to pull off.
He'll earn 10-and-5 rights*** in 2012 and he's already got a partial no-trade clause. Not to mention unless a non-Sox team was running away with the division they'd have media-types going nuts about white flags in the middle of a pennant race and all that. I'm not saying it's impossible; it's actually fairly likely as long as the Sox aren't great and Peavy doesn't implode.
Who's left? Gavin, Danks, Crain and Thornton. Of them Gavin has the best combination of contract and replaceability. Danks could be gone after 2012. In the very least he'll be paid free agent prices, which means you won't get that much for him. Gavin's team option in 2013 is very team-friendly and he could actually return a legitimate prospect or two. Crain and Thornton would just be salary dumps, though one or the other could be ably replaced by Addison Reed.
If the package for Gavin could include an Addison Reed-esque arm, they could dump Crain too. That'd put the Sox at about $105M and keeps the Sox in that 79-84 win range according to the eyeball test. Given the crapitude of the division and the fact that Alex Rios and Adam Dunn used to be legitimate major league talent, that could still be enough for a rebound a la 2008. But if they're asked to cut payroll further, major holes will open up and the .500ish team will drop significantly below.
In actuality I'd be surprised if they have to go much further and I'd expect JR will authorize final spending some number above $105M. But I'd be very much surprised if it was much more than $120M at the end of the day. Assuming the Sox actually get some value from their major FA signing in 2012, that puts them in the 82-87 win range and we're more or less back where we started: All In and not quite good enough.
I have to say I hoped I could come up with some moves that were a little more imaginative than those that'd been raised in the community already. But there's just no room for it. Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf have backed themselves into a corner thanks to their relative lack of success in the draft, their various problems and setbacks in Latin America and, more specifically, trading Dan Hudson for no good reason. Without a glut of young, cheap players or much deeper pockets, the Sox simply won't be able to field teams that consistently win 90+ games. And if they can't do that, they won't be making the playoffs with much regularity without serious competence issues throughout the rest of the division. It's nice to stay in contention through August, but it would be even nicer to come out on top more than one time in three, right?
*Or so I hear. I had a bad feeling about the whole thing and watched Michigan football instead. Sunday too. I've already seen the game 3 times all the way through. Thanks DVR!
**So Kenny could trade them both to somebody along with a 3 year loan of Don Cooper and Herm Schneider and be even.
***That's what I get for reading Cot's uncritically. Thanks U-G