Now that players have arrived at camp and spring workouts have begun in full, it's time to take a look back at the moves the White Sox have made this offseason and see how all the pieces fit together. It's possible the White Sox have another move forthcoming to solidify the roster, so keep in mind that there may still be some wiggle room to the 'final' evaluation of the winter.
I'm excluding minor league signings and waiver claims from the individual move assessments because even though some may have a real impact on the 2016 team, they generally boil down to either "no risk, but with upside" or "a little extra depth can't hurt". They do, however, matter for the final grade.
Here's an explanation of the grading scale. An "average" grade is on the C+/C borderline. An "A" is a move that looks like a complete win, through and through. The best example I could give of an "A" move from recent years is the acquisition of Kevin Youkilis in 2012 for Zach Stewart and Brent Lillibridge. An "F" is a decision with very little, if any, redeeming qualities. Trading Nick Swisher for Jeff Marquez, Wilson Betemit, and Jhonny Nunez comes to mind as a severe "F". An "A" is the highest possible grade.
Keep in mind when considering these grades that most moves that a given team makes are helpful in some way. A "C" decision is generally preferable over doing nothing, even if it's unremarkable or has some drawbacks.
I'm making one material change to the structure of this compared to last year's review. The way I handled the tender/non-tender decisions was admittedly confusing last time around. To better reflect that these (along with team options) are separate either-or decisions, each will be given its own pass/fail grade except those inseparably tied to a subsequent move.
Alright. Let's get to it.
No. 1: Declined $10 million option on SS Alexei Ramirez, electing $1 million buyout
Ramirez didn't come close to earning that figure on the open market, so regardless of whether you believe the White Sox should have brought him back for 2016, rejecting him at that price was the correct call.
Decision Grade: Pass
No. 2: Signed C Alex Avila for one year, $2.5 million
When Geovany Soto officially moved on in late November, the Sox had a need for a backup catcher and immediately pounced on Alex Avila to fill the void. Avila is coming off a down season and has a decorated injury history complete with three concussions. He's since altered his catching stance to protect his head, and there's been a coincident downturn in his framing numbers behind the plate. On offense, Avila will both strike out and walk a lot, and no one saw more pitches per plate appearance than he did last season (min 200 PAs). He's a sensible solution at an area of need in a part-time capacity, though his health concerns made the fit less-than-ideal when considering what the White Sox did next.
Decision Grade: C
No. 3: Non-tendered C Tyler Flowers, signed C Dioner Navarro for one year, $4 million
Flowers is one of the best pitch framers in baseball, contributing an estimated 1.7 wins to the 2015 White Sox from his framing alone, per Baseball Prospectus. Despite his shortcomings, Flowers has been pretty close to league-average each of the past two seasons. The White Sox decided not to retain him for 2016 (and forfeited the rights to control him in 2017) for a projected arbitration salary of $3.5 million, per MLB Trade Rumors.
By contrast, Navarro has graded as a very poor framer in most seasons in which he's carried a heavy workload. Navarro's .775 career OPS against left-handers makes him a decent platoon partner for the left-handed Avila in theory, but it's tough to platoon catchers, particularly when one guy (Avila) has durability issues. Navarro's health is no sure thing either as a 32-year-old catcher who has been tasked with this sort of expected workload just once in the past six seasons. Though some pitchers have said Navarro is great to work with, the same is true of Flowers (to the point of the best player on the White Sox directly contacting the general manager about cutting ties with him).
When it comes to production from the catcher position, the White Sox seemed more concerned with shape rather than size. There's ways in which Navarro is better than Flowers, most notably hitting for contact and pitch blocking. However, when taking framing into account, Flowers has been the superior player. Here's their respective recent valuations using Baseball Prospectus' Wins Above Replacement Player for 2014-15 combined:
Flowers: 4.3 WARP
Navarro: -0.2 WARP
The Navarro signing would have been palatable had Flowers not been right there for the taking, but it's impossible to view this decision as anything but a straight choice between two players. The White Sox chose the one who's older, worse, slightly more expensive, probably less durable, and comes without a pre-existing positive reputation for working with most White Sox pitchers. Defenses of this move are rooted in the White Sox knowing something we don't about framing or conjecture that they can teach it to Navarro. Using data that's publicly available, it registers as a mistake.
Decision Grade: F
No. 4: Non-tendered RHP Jacob Turner, signed RHP Jacob Turner for one year, $1.5 million
Rather than simply retaining Turner as an arbitration-eligible player, the White Sox non-tendered him and re-signed him for $1.5 million, which is likely below what he would have received in arbitration when taking into account his prorated signing bonus. It was a weird set of decisions, and this comment from Larry likely explains it; this route guarantees Turner the full salary and prevents the White Sox from being able to cut him and only pay a portion of it as they did last year with Dayan Viciedo.
At the time, the move seemed like a strange, but reasonable upside play. However, after the additions of Matt Albers and Mat Latos, Turner looks like the eighth-most important bullpen guy and the seventh-most important starting pitcher. Furthermore, he's out of options, so he can't simply be stashed in the minor leagues. Turner could serve as insurance against someone getting hurt in the spring but it seems like the money could have been put to better use elsewhere. On the one hand, it's only $1.5 million. On the other hand, it's roughly ten percent of the White Sox' free agent expenditures.
Decision Grade: D
No. 5: Tendered contracts to:
- Avisail Garcia -- Grade: Pass
- Nate Jones -- Grade: Pass
- Zach Putnam -- Grade: Pass
- Dan Jennings -- Grade: Pass
No. 6: Acquired 3B/2B Brett Lawrie from the Oakland Athletics for RHP J.B. Wendelken and LHP Zack Erwin
The White Sox entered the offseason with both a need to build a competitive team and projected infield starters of Mike Olt, Tyler Saladino, and Carlos Sanchez. There was a serious need for a starting-caliber major league infielder and the White Sox delivered with Lawrie. Lawrie was originally ticketed to solve the third base hole, but his ability to play second base as well came in handy, as it allowed the White Sox to continue to pursue Todd Frazier. Lawrie's defense at second is a question mark, but if he remains healthy he should be able to hit enough to give the Sox respectable production.
Erwin and Wendelken may become useful major leaguers, but they weren't high on the prospect totem pole and neither has much star potential. The White Sox netted two years of a cost-controlled league average-ish infielder when they were desperate for one, and did so at minimal cost to the farm system. It's really hard to see any downside here.
Decision Grade: A
No. 7: Acquired 3B Todd Frazier from the Cincinnati Reds in a three-team deal, for RHP Frankie Montas, "2B" Micah Johnson, and CF Trayce Thompson
The hot corner has been a problem for the White Sox pretty much since 2007, and the White Sox fixed it by acquiring by far the best third baseman available in Todd Frazier. There's concerns about Frazier's on-base percentage, but he's a power bat that should fit nicely in the middle of the White Sox order while providing plus defense at third base. He's another star to add to the White Sox core for the next two seasons.
The White Sox have the pitching depth to stomach the loss of Montas, and Johnson had practically played himself out of the picture. While he wasn't considered the best player the Sox gave up, it's Thompson that really stings in the near-term due to the Sox' lack of outfield depth. Even if he only wound up being a fourth outfielder, Thompson could have provided cheap value with upside for the White Sox for at least the next two years, and that value lost partially offsets what the White Sox gained with Frazier.
That said, it's really hard to get a player like Frazier without giving up something you'd really rather keep. This trade was one of those rare exhilarating offseason moments when the White Sox shot for the stars and succeeded.
Decision Grade: A-
No. 8: Extended RHP Nate Jones for three years, $8 million, with 2019 and 2020 team options and 2021 mutual option
The White Sox placed a bet on the oft-dominant, oft-erratic, oft-injured Jones by buying out his first year of free agency and potentially controlling him for two more years with team options at reasonable prices. If Jones stays healthy and blossoms into a relief ace, this deal will be a massive bargain. Even if Jones has trouble staying on the mound or he doesn't develop consistent command, this deal won't burn the White Sox too badly.
Decision Grade: B-
A review of the remaining moves along with an overall evaluation of the offseason will be posted tomorrow (barring unforeseen circumstances).