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Grading the 2015-16 White Sox Offseason, Part Two

An evaluation of the 2016 portion of the White Sox offseason, plus an overall assessment of the winter.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

In case you missed Part One of these offseason grades, you can view them here.

Here's some reminders about the structure of these evaluations, copied from Part One.

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 MarquezWilson 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.

No. 9: Signed RHP Matt Albers for one year, $2.25 million, with 2017 team option

Matt Albers is a good relief pitcher, and it's hard not to like the Sox adding him at this price. As a groundball pitcher, he fits U.S. Cellular Field well and adds further depth to the bullpen in an era in which competing teams are aggressively adding late-inning arms.

If there's a quibble with this move, it's that there were useful players being signed at positions of greater need in this price range around the time Albers was signed. The White Sox bullpen is better with Albers than without him, but arguably this money could have been better-spent elsewhere. Still, it's not nearly enough of a quibble to call this deal a mistake. There's a good chance it winds up being an important bargain.

Decision Grade: C+

No. 10: Signed RHP Mat Latos for one year, $3 million

With John Danks and Erik Johnson set to round out the rotation with little in the way of a safety net, the White Sox turned to free agency to add some depth. Latos is no longer the borderline-ace that he used to be, but he's a great bet to be worth significantly more than his $3 million price tag at the back of the White Sox rotation. Superficial stats (4-10 record, 4.95 ERA) imply that he took a big step back last year, but those were likely a product of a fluky 63.8 percent strand rate, second-lowest in the majors for pitchers that threw at least 110 innings. A bounceback in run-prevention is likely.

All that being said, there's a reason that Latos was available at this price. His past character issues are well-documented and he's shown himself to have the type of personality that can sow discord in a clubhouse. Yet, backers of Robin Ventura will be quick to tell you that he facilitates a great atmosphere for his players and there have been few publicly aired grievances under his reign. I'm not sure Ventura's previously been tested with a player with this sort of history, but if that's Ventura's true strength as a manager, the downside risk of employing Latos may be minimized. If Ventura can keep Latos in line, he'll have helped the White Sox secure important starter depth at a below-market rate.

Decision Grade: A-

Overall Evaluation

The White Sox entered the offseason in a difficult situation. On one hand, they have an enviable core of Jose Abreu, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, and Carlos Rodon set to make roughly $30 million this year and locked up together through at least 2019. The goal should be to maximize the quality of the team to capitalize on this opportunity. On the other hand, a couple of the building blocks put in place last offseason (Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche) have stumbled. With the departures of Jeff SamardzijaAlexei Ramirez, and Geovany Soto, the Sox rolled into November with more holes than they'd like and their three most expensive players receiving salaries that they aren't projected to come close to earning on the field.

With the apparent budget constraints in place and the long-term nature of their best assets, the White Sox faced a situation in which it'd be both tough to build an upper-tier playoff roster and tough to justify a full teardown. They (correctly) chose to give the former option what they felt was their best shot. With a couple savvy trades for Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie and a couple potential bargain signings in Latos and Jimmy Rollins, the White Sox did a mostly effective job of using what monetary flexibility they had to build a competitive roster. They project as a roughly .500 team in a division that should allow them a reasonable shot at the playoffs, and attaining that level is an accomplishment given that the starting point was a 76-win team that lost Samardzija, Ramirez and Soto.

That said, it's fair to question just what it is that the White Sox are trying to do here. The Sox are in Year-Whatever of the Howevermany-Year Window and are approaching the season in a weak division with a roster that's no better than average for the second consecutive year. Some of that is attributable to the returns from last offseason's spending spree leaving much to be desired, but a lack of financial boldness has been a theme all offseason long, as they've signed no free agents costing in excess of $4 million. The White Sox seem to have player budget constraints by which they generally abide, but if there was ever a time for them to take a risk and operate outside of a standard payroll strategy or sign a player for more years than they'd like, this was it.

The depth chart in right field stands at "Avisail Garcia, no safety net" despite a hilariously large crop of available alternatives and supplements. There's neither a backup plan for the floundering Adam LaRoche at DH nor a credible platoon partner to minimize his weaknesses. These are problems that scream, "Fix me!" on a team in a division that screams, "Win me!" Even a team operating within a tight budget would have done well to procure some low-cost alternatives in case these incumbents don't provide any reason to keep playing them. There's still time to rectify these situations, but the ship has sailed on most intriguing options.

If the White Sox current payroll represents a hard upper bound on spending, it's tough to fault Rick Hahn too much for the decisions that brought the roster to where it is today. All things considered, he did a commendable job giving the team a puncher's chance at competing. However, this franchise has just come off a decade with nothing to show for its efforts besides a magical night against the Minnesota Twins in 2008. The lack of success makes it progressively harder to grant the organization the benefit of the doubt when there's little clarity to the long-term or short-term plan. Trading three of the team's top ten prospects for two years of a star third baseman was a great idea, but one can even poke holes in that move when little else is done to elevate the team beyond the middle of the pack in the short-term.

It's half-measures like this that have the White Sox so often hanging around the periphery of the playoff picture, but never near the front of it. Some of the moves Hahn made this winter were downright brilliant and the roster has substantially improved since the door closed on the 2015 season. However, when assessing how the franchise has used these months to better itself, what ultimately matters is how well they've set themselves up for a playoff push, which means both resource efficiency and spending strategy need to be taken into account. The Sox came a long way this winter but haven't been able to go the extra mile to make the team favorites in the division. The below is not a Rick Hahn grade, a Kenny Williams grade, or a Jerry Reinsdorf grade; it's an organization grade.

Offseason Grade*: B-


*There is some chance the White Sox make another move to solidify the roster, and this means the above grade is subject to change. For example, given where the White Sox are on the win curve, an Austin Jackson signing (or acquisition of a similar player) at a reasonable price would bump the above to close to the 'B'/'B+' borderline. A minor depth signing (such as an outfielder version of Jimmy Rollins) might push the grade to a 'B', depending on the player. For comparison's sake, had the White Sox signed one of the major four free agent outfielders (Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes, or Justin Upton) to a fair deal as determined by this offseason's market, the grade would have been a solid 'A'. I am happy to offer my thoughts on other hypothetical situations in the comments or on Twitter (@SSS_pnoles).