Last year, the White Sox had five arbitration-eligible players, and all of them looked like easy tenders. Turns out the White Sox disagreed about Tyler Flowers, and I hope the Sox front office is more embarrassed about its judgment than I am with mine.
At any rate, with the Sox interfering with my instincts and more players coming to the table, this isn’t as easy an exercise as it once was.
Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors posted their projected arbitration earnings for all eligible players save two — Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig. As we’ve talked about before with Abreu, he can opt out of the guaranteed back half of the deal and go year to year in arbitration, but that doesn’t look as advantageous as it once did. Dierkes says he will address the Cubans’ cases individually.
The White Sox have nine players besides Abreu eligible for arbitration (*denotes prorated salaries):
MLBTR’s system usually does a good job of projecting arbitration salaries as a group, as individual fluctuations cancel each other out. Last year, they were a little high on Garcia and a little low on Putnam and Jennings, but along with nailing the first year of Nate Jones’ new deal, the system projected total earnings of $4.78 million, just a smidge over their actual salaries of $4.7 million.
The White Sox have eight players under contract for roughly $75 million (including Abreu), and if they offered contracts to everybody, you’d get a projected payroll around $105 million payroll. Fill in the remaining spots with pre-arb players, and you’re looking at $110 million. (If Abreu goes through arbitration, that shouldn’t change the math for 2017 all that much.)
That only allows the Sox about $10-15 million between their “floor” and the territory where Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams start feting Jerry Reinsdorf for his magnanimity.
But the Sox don’t have to bring everybody back. The majority of this group should receive contracts, but there are a couple easy non-tenders on the other side. In between, there are a couple of players who could change the shape of the payroll if the Sox looked elsewhere.
No-brainers ($17.3 million)
*Todd Frazier ($13.5M): He’ll officially be making big-boy money in the last year of his contract, but he earned it last season, as uneven as it may have been.
*Miguel Gonzalez ($2.6M): I was curious about this figure, since the Orioles initially gave Gonzalez a $5.1 million contract for his second year of arbitration, but were only officially on the hook for 45 days’ salary after cutting him late in spring training ($1.25 million). The Sox signed him to a minor league contract and thus were only responsible for a prorated total of the league minimum. Under this projected version, he’ll make less than Mat Latos did in 2016.
*Dan Jennings ($1.2M): Jennings was the only lefty in the bullpen after the Zach Duke trade, and after September call-ups ... he was still the only lefty out there.
Probably, unless health ($1.8 million)
*Zach Putnam ($900K): This represents a pay cut, which he could suffer since injuries keep cutting into his availability (he’s gone from 54 innings to 48 to 27). Those 27 innings last year were good ones, though, so his figure could be a bit higher. Either way, he had elbow surgery, but only to remove bone chips, so he should be ready to go at the start of 2017.
*Jake Petricka ($900K): I thought this might be a bit higher because Petricka does have part-time work as a closer in his past, but a hip impingement and the subsequent surgery limited him to just eight innings, and ugly ones at that. Hahn said that Petricka also shouldn’t have any restrictions when spring training starts.
Nope ($1.6 million)
*J.B. Shuck ($1M): He hit just .205/.248/.299 in 2017 over 81 games, most of which he played in center field despite not being good there. The result: a -1.8 WAR.
*Daniel Webb ($600K): The cost isn’t a factor, but while he was out with Tommy John surgery, guys like Tommy Kahnle and Michael Ynoa passed him on the depth chart. He may still be around, but there isn’t a need to hold a roster spot for him.
*Brett Lawrie ($5.1M): He’s the most trustworthy of the second base options, assuming that an offseason will allow his mysterious lower-body injury to heal. However, this salary would’ve been the biggest free agent acquisition last year, which is why I wonder whether the Sox can afford the luxury of second base depth that has a history of missing months. I’d imagine the question isn’t so much whether they should tender him, but whether they should trade him, even if the return figures to be less than what the White Sox gave up to acquire him.
*Avisail Garcia ($3.1M): Even with a bit of an increase in power, Garcia still can’t get his OPS above .700. The Sox are so short on outfielders that I don’t think a non-tender is realistic, but, like Lawrie, they can justify acting aggressively on these second-level salaries. An initial payroll without Lawrie and Garcia is an eight-figure one, which theoretically creates room for the kind of outside investment they were loath to make last year.
As with every post discussing the offseason ahead, this assumes the White Sox are on track to make one more push with Abreu, Adam Eaton, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. If they choose to sell, then the matter of arbitration salaries becomes far less important.