Ok, this is going to be long. In fact, the topic probably belongs as a front-page entry by Cheat but, since he's still brushing confetti out of his hair, I thought I'd take a first crack.
The parade's over and the champagne is dry. I'm not suggesting we move off the elation of winning the Series just yet (or ever) but it's time to start thinking about next year. The Sox have some significant challenges this Winter but they also have some strong cards to play with. What Williams and his staff do between now and February will determine whether the Sox are realistic contenders to repeat or whether we go down as (glorious) one-year wonders.
Any discussion of roster construction has to begin with money. Dave van Dyck has a decent, if somewhat superficial, article in the 10/28 Tribune. Williams is quoted as saying intelligent things about having to work in Anderson and McCarthy but also mouths platitudes about loyalty. I recommend the article as background for the discussion:
So the first thing we have to do is figure out our budget. I'll take van Dyck's estimate of $85 million. This year's payroll was ~$75 mm and, between increased revenues and a emotional attachment to the team that won, I'm guessing Reinsdorf goes up $10 mm. Anyone who thinks $85 mm is too much or too little should tell me why.
Second, we need to get a handle on the likely `06 salaries of the `05 Sox. In the following chart (please forgive crappy formating), I list the salary in millions of our current roster. In the `06 column, I put the fixed number if it exists and a parenthetical number if I'm estimating. If you disagree with my estimates, let me know.
PLAYER 05 / 06 (est)
Thomas 10.0 / 3.5 buyout + (5.0)
Konerko 8.75 / (12.0)
Garcia 9.0 / 10.0
Contreras 7.0 / 8.0
Buehrle 5.75 / 7.75
Everett 5.0 / 5.0 or 0.5 buyout
Dye 4.0 / 5.0
Hernandez 3.5 / 4.5
Garland 3.4 / (7.0)
Iguchi 2.3 / 2.4
Pierzynski 2.25 / (4.5)
Uribe 2.15 / 3.15
Rowand 2.0 / 3.25
Hermanson 2.0 / 3.0
Vizcaino 1.3 / (1.5)
Marte 1.25 / 2.25
Perez 1.0 / (1.2)
Politte 0.9 / 1.2
Blum 0.575 / (0.6)
Podsednik 0.550 / 1.9
Widger 0.5 / (0.5)
Crede 0.4 / (2.0)
Harris 0.365 / (0.5)
Cotts 0.33 / 0.4
Ozuna 0.33 / 0.6
Jenks - / 0.33
TOTAL 74.6 / 97.0
So there it is. If you want to bring back this year's team to defend the title, you're at least $10mm over budget. I don't see it happening. So what do we do? Well, if you let Konerko go and replace him with a minimum wage guy like Ross Gload, that solves your problem right there. Except, of course, that dumping the best hitter on a mediocre offensive team is excellent way for us to fall to third place. I reject that option. If we are not going to re-sign Konerko (and there are some good reasons not to), we have to do better than just bringing back everyone else.
The two greatest assets that Williams has to control his payroll are McCarthy and Anderson. Both are ready to be major league regulars and, better yet for this exercise, both are really cheap (0.33 for `06). They have to be on the roster and Williams knows it. If you slot McCarthy for El Duque and Anderson for Everett, you cut almost $8.5 mm off the payroll. (Van Dyke asserts that Hernandez is untradeable unless we eat a lot of his salary. I'm not convinced of that. I think we could trade El Duque and his mystique for a grade C prospect from some team that was looking for post-season mojo and has money. (Yankees? Angels? Mets? Phillies?)) If you let Thomas go as well and replace him with Gload, you can re-sign Konerko and your payroll is right on budget at ~$85 mm. That means our DH becomes a rotation of Gload and whichever of our 4 main outfielders isn't playing. This option is pretty conservative and would probably play well with media and call-in radio yahoos since you're bringing back Konerko and everyone seems prepared to cut loose Thomas, the best player in franchise history.
You can tinker a little by letting guys like Perez and Vizcaino go and replacing them with cheaper, younger players (i.e., Borchard, Bajenaru) who will probably give you the same value. Actually, I'd really like that but I'm guessing that risk aversion and loyalty will cause Kenny to bring them back. It'll be a good sign if he doesn't.
There is another factor at work here. The Sox payroll really blows up in 2007, especially if we re-sign Konerko. Contreras, Buehrle, Iguchi and Dye all become free agents and many of the others will either be free agents or will have arbitration crank up their salaries. So Williams has to consider not only `06 but also how to keep the team competitive long term. It is not an easy balancing act.
My thinking on all this is still evolving but generally, I favor bold action over standing pat. I also agree with Branch Rickey's tenet that you should trade players a year early instead of a year late. In any business, sell high is a good guideline. With that in mind, I think what the Sox should do is trade one of their stud starters and an outfielder for maximum value. Trade Garcia or Garland now before they become too expensive. Replace with McCarthy. Trade Podsednik, whose value will never be higher. Replace him with Anderson. Get rid of Everett, Perez, Vizcaino, Hernandez and Hermanson or Marte. You can find equivalent replacements cheaper. Re-sign Konerko for all the warm, fuzzy intangibles and, more importantly, because we need the big bat and there isn't going to be a comparable one on the market. Bring back Thomas as the DH on a make-good contract and pray really hart that he has an Edgar Martinez-like kick to end his career. Here's what the roster would look like:
PLAYER 06 (est)
[Everett 0.5 buyout]
This radical roster leaves us looking for 2 players (a fifth starter and a reliever). We've got almost $9 mm in the budget left in the budget to do it. I'd use some of the money to try to lock Buehrle up on a long term contract. We also have some serious chips to trade: Garcia, Podsednik, Hernandez, Hermanson and Vizcaino. I think Kenny could turn those chips into some pretty good looking loot, either in the form of prospects or a big-time bat (though you have to tell me where we'd play that bat). I don't think there's a chance that Kenny will actually do anything like this but it's my current best play.
Look, there are a lot of moving parts here. You could do a very long string just on whether or not to re-sign Pauley or whether Thomas is a good risk. But none of the parts can be considered in a vacuum. I've tried to lay out the essential data and the analytical framework. Now, let's have at it.