After a couple of years of seeking out power bats on the free agent market and paying retail to land them, this year's plan chooses a more austere route. And just in time for the Apocalypse.
Arbitration Eligible - The options for all arb-eligible players will be exercised except for Avisail Garcia and J.B. Shuck.
Contract Option - Buy out Matt Albers for $250,000.
Impending Free Agents - Let Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, and Justin Morneau walk.
- Colby Rasmus, OF (3 years, $33M) - While Rasmus has more swing-and-miss in his game than I prefer, his 2016 defensive metrics suggest that his glove can at least partially mask this deficiency. His numbers in LF were particularly impressive as he posted a 31.8 UZR/150 and 14 DRS over 672 1/3 innings. While these numbers are likely a bit fluky, it doesn't take much imagination to see Rasmus as a pretty clear defensive upgrade over Melky Cabrera in left. Rasmus can also play the other outfield spots well enough in case of injury or to give manager Rick Renteria lineup flexibility.
- Jason Castro, C (3 years, $16.5M) - Castro is pretty easily the best framer on the free agent market even if his bat (career .307 wOBA) is nothing to get excited about. If this combo gives you haunting flashbacks of Tyler Flowers, please know that as an average blocker and thrower, Castro profiles as a more complete defensive player. I'm sure Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon will appreciate the uptick in strikes that Castro will help provide.
- Pedro Alvarez, DH (2 years, $14M) - Alvarez hit 22 home runs in 376 plate appearances in 2016 and, not surprisingly, 21 of those came against right-handed pitching. Mashing righties is the one and only baseball skill that Alvarez possesses as he should not be allowed to take the field for defense. Still, adding another player to your roster who can hit 25 bombs or better is plenty useful. His limited skill set should make him reasonably affordable.
- Boone Logan, RP (3 years, $12M) - As LOOGY's go, Boone has enjoyed quite a nice career since being shipped to Atlanta as part of the Javier Vazquez/Tyler Flowers trade. Given the escalating market for relievers, it's possible that Logan would not agree to these terms. But it seems to me a justifiable cost for a pitcher who would give the Sox bullpen a sorely needed lefty who would likely top out at about 45 innings pitched.
- Jhoulys Chacin, SP (1 year, $1M) - If you take a gander at Chacin's Fangraphs page, nothing in his statistical profile will likely impress you. But the same thing could have been said about Miguel Gonzalez a year ago (or even today). In fact, the two have pretty similar K/BB ratios, swinging strike, strand, and contact rates. Like Gonzalez, if he gives us about 150 innings of LAIM-type production, he'll easily outperform his salary.
- Bud Norris, SP, (1 year, minor league contract) - This signing would be purely for organizational depth should some of these other options require lengthy stays on the disabled list or otherwise implode. You can never have too many pitchers, don't ya know.
No. 1 - SP Jose Quintana to the Washington Nationals for SP Lucas Giolito and OF Victor Robles - It's always tough to part with a player that became one of the best at his position playing for your team after two other organizations gave up on him. But if you can bring back two young talents like these, you have to pull the trigger. With Quintana, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals would have one of the most feared troika of pitchers in all the game. With Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez rounding out the rotation, the Nats would be primed to repeat in the NL East.
As for the Sox return, Giolito was widely considered the best pitching prospect in the game coming into 2016 with many experts expecting Giolito to become a fixture in the Nats rotation. Alas, he only pitched 22 1/3 innings. Although a tiny sample size, Giolito walked more batters than he struck out and served up a whopping 7 home runs. Still, he won't turn 23 until Bastille Day. Given his pedigree, you have to figure that whenever he flips the switch, he'll emerge as one of the game's top hurlers.
Speaking of pedigree, Victor Robles has earned rave reviews for his defense in center field. While one should avoid scouting stat lines, his strikeout rate has remained solidly in the mid-teens throughout his young professional career. He has yet to play any baseball above the high A level but Baseball Prospectus pegged him as a 2018 arrival prior to the 2016 season. If the reports of his maturity have any merit, he would be the rare prospect whose rapid ascension through the White Sox system would actually be warranted. Watching Tim Anderson and Robles at the top of the order for a few years could be quite the treat.
No. 2 - RP Dave Robertson and $12M to the Boston Red Sox for C Blake Swihart and 3B Rafael Devers - I wasn't as enthusiastic about Robertson's signing as most White Sox fans due mostly to a general aversion to large reliever contracts. But after the disaster that was the 2014 bullpen, I totally understood it. But seeing the kind of prospects landed in trade deals featuring elite relievers like Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, and Andrew Miller, it's impossible to imagine a better time to deal Robertson than now. True, Robertson is a tier just below that august group but he's good enough to bring back some intriguing pieces, especially with the White Sox throwing in some cash for almost half of the remainder of his contract. The Red Sox will acquire not only an excellent setup man for Kimbrel but a superior closer alternative should Kimbrel once again find himself on the disabled list.
Swihart had a mini-breakout in late 2015, hitting .310/.364/.457 with 4 home runs over 141 PA's from August 3rd through the end of the season. He appeared destined to be the Carmines' starting catcher for the foreseeable future. Then a mere six games into the 2016 season, Swihart was demoted in favor of framer extraordinaire Christian Vazquez. They even started giving Swihart reps in left field down in Pawtucket and he played there exclusively on the MLB club after being called up on May 20th. Then his season ended prematurely after almost catching this Michael Saunders foul ball in Fenway and breaking his ankle. While his subsequent surgery was a success and he expects to be ready for Spring Training, Swihart's future behind the plate became further clouded thanks to the BABIP-fueled emergence of Sandy Leon. If the Red Sox really don't want Swihart behind the plate, we ought to pounce.
Coming inot 2016, Devers was the #3 prospect in the Red Sox system according to Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America had him ranked 41st overall in their mid-2016 rankings. His calling card is basically hitting the crap out of the ball. Left-handed, he swats line drives in nearly all directions and has occasionally shown the ability to turn and burn. There remains debate among scouts whether he can stick at the hot corner. But since he only recently turned 20, his promise remains substantial.
- Starting Pitchers - Chris Sale, Carlos Rodon, Miguel Gonzalez, James Shields, Lucas Giolito/Jhoulys Chacin/Carson Fulmer/Bud Norris
- Relief Pitchers - Nate Jones (closer), Zach Putnam, Jake Petricka, Dan Jennings, Boone Logan, Tommy Kahnle, Daniel Webb
- Catchers - Blake Swihart, Jason Castro
- First Baseman - Jose Abreu
- Second Baseman - Brett Lawrie
- Third Baseman - Todd Frazier
- Shortstop - Tim Anderson
- Left Field - Colby Rasmus/Melky Cabrera
- Center Field - Charlie Tilson/Colby Rasmus
- Right Field - Adam Eaton/Coby Rasmus
- Designated Hittter - Pedro Alvarez, Melky Cabrera
- IF - Tyler Saladino, Carlos Sanchez/Matt Davidson
Total Estimated Payroll: $124M
Somehow, I've managed to skirt the central, burning question in this year's off-season plan project: to go for it or tear it down and rebuild. Were I truly doing the former, I would've offered tractor trailer loads of cash to Yoenis Cespedes and Edwin Encarnacion and called it a day. But that would've required expenditures far north of $130M. Then again, if I were going full rebuild, why are Chris Sale and Adam Eaton still on the team?
The best explanation I can offer is that I'm hedging my bets. The above roster is certainly superior to the one featured in 2016 and I have no doubt that it would produce a winning record. But would it make the playoffs? Certainly, if everything broke right. But as White Sox fans, we've all grown too weary of that damned phrase here in the twenty-teens, eh?
So, how about this? Let's set Memorial Day as the deadline. Not only is it a fine time to honor those who gave their lives in service of our country by grilling a wide array of tasty meats but enough games have been played by that point to draw reasonable inferences about the remainder of the season. Are we several games above .500 due to players performing at unexpectedly high but mostly sustainable paces? Then we can supplement the roster as need be to push for the division title. Are we still struggling to acquire more wins than losses? Then let the fire sale begin. Every player not named Carlos Rodon and Tim Anderson will be available, and at in-season inflated prices.