While the winter meetings generated less noise than the national baseball world hoped, it turned out to be productive for the White Sox. They picked up a young outfielder, added to their starting pitching depth, and took a crack at a catcher in the Rule 5 draft.
More importantly, at least to us on the outside looking in, we have a firmer idea of what the White Sox intend to do with 2014. Entering the week, Jerry Reinsdorf said the Sox were well under their budget number, and the Sox spun their wheels by re-signing Paul Konerko, so kept the door slightly ajar for a "last ride" scenario.
That left the trade of their expendable starting pitcher(s) as a bellwether, and when Rick Hahn swapped Hector Santiago for unproven Adam Eaton, that confirmed that the Sox are planning more for 2015 than 2014.
In line with this rollback, Doug Padilla said the Sox could end up lopping anywhere from $20 million to $30 million off their $118ish million payroll.
When we last checked in, the Sox had about $71 million committed to 2014 (when setting money aside for the players eligible for arbitration), although it was more like $81 million if you count Jose Abreu's signing bonus. The signings of Konerko, Felipe Paulino and Ronald Belisario bring the 2014 payroll to $76-77 million, which leaves anywhere from $3 million to $13 million for the rest of the offseason. However, if one of the arb-eligibles is moved for a league-minimum type, that basically pays for some combination of recent signings, and they're basically back to where they were a few weeks ago.
Some of the payroll slashing will go toward the much larger amateur and international budget pools, as the Sox will be able to spend something like $8 million more, thanks to their 63-99 record. The rest can be chalked up as a casualty of a season that required FEMA intervention.
That's fine, because if the Sox tried pushing this year, they'd just pop a blood vessel.
This payroll reduction feels purposeful. The opportunity cost justifies it. In order to make the pitching spending more efficient, Hahn traded Jake Peavy for Avisail Garcia. Garcia then made Alex Rios expendable. Then there are a few smaller measures, like Konerko being paid closer to what he's worth, and the bullpen veterans replaced by younger guys.
The Sox can still spend money if they want to. They sure could use a real replacement for Matt Thornton, catching is a dry well, and whichever infield position Marcus Semien isn't groomed for could be plugged, too. But there's no real pressing need to cram an ill fit for this window, because it's going to change even more at some point next year, whenever Adam Dunn and Konerko come off the books and depth chart.
And that picture changes dramatically if Abreu, Garcia, Eaton, Semien and Erik Johnson prove they can ball, because it's easier to rationalize using the freed-up cash on a premium free agent when he's the only one they need. That's a lot that needs to go right, and it probably won't, but at least they're affording themselves the opportunity, because it's the only one that could pay off in any meaningful way.
Really, the only thing a firmly reduced payroll does is close off some of the pie-in-the-sky open-endedness. Earlier in the offseason, Hahn and other members of the White Sox used the Red Sox as inspiration. For instance:
"We’re not writing off 2014 at all,’’ Hahn said. "You’ve seen a team as recently as this season in the Red Sox go from last to first. We also feel we have a strong enough pitching core, which is the hardest thing to get, that we’re in a good position as we re-tool this thing. We’re not necessarily turning a page and saying this is all about 2015, it’s more of a longer-term view that we’re trying to have this off-season.
But on Thursday, Hahn kept the comparison internal:
"Given where we’re at right now, given that we’re trying to get younger and with that comes a little bit more affordability, we don’t think that even a modest decrease in the total expenditures on the baseball side is necessarily going to hurt our competiveness."
As karkoVICE SQUAD said in the comments yesterday, it'd be damn near impossible to hurt their competitiveness, year to year. Dead organisms can't get deader.
That said, the roster should be hungrier, and it won't be relying on redemption for inspiration. There are at least five young players who are going to want to establish themselves, and that momentum can take over a team if enough hit on their talent. The Sox conducted an exhaustive search out of the organization to get a hitting coach, and the intent alone is heartening.
Given how poorly a $118 million roster played last year, it frames a cost reduction in a different way. I don't see it as cheaping out as much as paying with sweat equity. Improvement remains vital, but this time around, far less expensive players stand a far better chance of doing it.