These are the dog days of the rebuild. The White Sox have made most of the exciting moves already, trading away Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Tommy Kahnle, and lots of others for a boatload of promising young players. In the process, they built up their minor league system from one of the barest to one of the best.
Now they enter a waiting year while the young players continue to develop and the next prospect wave begins to crest. This time next year we’ll likely be talking about an exciting free agent crop that could supplement the Sox’s budding core in a big way, but for now we mostly have to sit back and watch that core come together.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t moves to be made. The young blood that’s already made its way to the majors could use some help, and there might still be a couple ways for the Sox to stockpile a little bit more talent. The ultimate goal here is to open a window of contention in 2020 (and maybe turn some heads in 2019), so that means no crazy free agent contracts and no trading for Giancarlo Stanton. The moves this offseason might be disappointingly small, but the smartest path right now is to stay the course.
We’ll get to the transactions in a minute, but let’s start with a brief overview of how each part of the team is looking.
Obviously, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are locks for the rotation. With James Shields in the last miserable year of his contract, I’m happy to toss him into the wood chipper and have him eat as many innings as he can. If he looks rejuvenated, maybe he brings back a warm body come August.
I have little faith in Carson Fulmer’s ability to start, but I’m inclined to give him a shot while Carlos Rodon is rehabbing. That leaves the fifth spot for a free agent, preferably a one-year contract for a veteran with something to prove.
Good lord... all hands on deck. Most of the guys left from the 2017 ‘pen get to stick around because, well, somebody has to pitch. Other than that, hope for a recovery from Nate Jones, bring in a couple fixer-uppers, throw everything at the wall, and see what sticks.
The Position Players
Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson are the only guys who unquestionably need to stay, while Yolmer Sanchez, Nicky Delmonico, and Leury Garcia earned some more opportunities with their success last season.
Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia are the only two players left on the team who could bring back value in prospects, but I have both of them staying. Abreu is now the face of the franchise, and he’s the prototypical “veteran presence” on this rebuilding club. He’s always been likable, but he’s become more visible and outspoken, and could be a valuable mentor for the younger players. He’s also a player that fans will recognize while they get to know Moncada, et al. better.
As for Garcia, while I’d love to find a trade partner for him, I don’t think he’d fetch anything interesting enough to pull the trigger. Avi probably stays for now, and if he builds on his 2017 production, then he’s more likely to be a summer trade chip.
- Jose Abreu, $17.9M: TENDER
- Avisail Garcia, $6.7M: TENDER
- Yolmer Sanchez, $2.1M: TENDER
- Carlos Rodon, $2.0M: TENDER
- Danny Farquhar, $1.5M: NON-TENDER (Too expensive for bullpen fodder)
- Zach Putnam, $1.4M: NON-TENDER (Too injury-prone)
- Leury Garcia, $1.2M: TENDER
- Jake Petricka, $1.1M: NON-TENDER (Did you see all those dingers?)
- Al Alburquerque, $1.1M: TENDER (Oh, what the hell. The name “Al Alburquerque” is just the kind of fun we’ll need next season.)
Pending Free Agents
- Mike Pelfrey: LET GO
- Geovany Soto: LET GO
No. 1: C Rene Rivera (1 year, $4 million with a mutual option for 2019). The catcher position wasn’t quite the black hole that it had been, but I don’t think it’s worth another season of throwing Omar Narvaez and Kevan Smith out there. They’re limited defensively, and one of the most important parts of 2018 will be growing the next great White Sox rotation, which a good catcher can help with.
The top-tier free agents (Chris Iannetta, Alex Avila, Welington Castillo) probably won’t want to come to a rebuilding team, but perhaps Rivera can be enticed by a promise of significant playing time. The 33-year-old was once baseball’s best defensive catcher, and he has an outstanding game-calling reputation, drawing praise from pitchers like Noah Syndergaard, Andrew Cashner, and Nate Karns. He can help Giolito and Lopez (and later Kopech) get comfortable in the majors while the team waits for a long-term catching solution to emerge.
No. 2: RHP Chris Tillman (1 year, $8 million). Here’s the veteran reclamation project the Sox can try in 2018. Out of all the starting pitchers on the market, Tillman might have the most to gain from working with Don Cooper and Herm Schneider. He’s only a year removed from success, and he has a considerable track record as an average MLB starter.
That said, his 2017 was pretty horrific. He dealt with a shoulder injury that kept him out of action until May, and when he did come back, he pitched to a comical 7.84 ERA in 93 innings. By August, the Orioles’ preseason “ace” was relegated to a swingman role. While his velocity was down a couple ticks out of the gate, in the end it didn’t look too different from his 2014, when he compiled 2.3 fWAR and a 4.01 FIP.
Some of this story has the same stench of the James Shields saga, but one major difference is the mileage; Tillman will turn 30 in April. There may still be an effective pitcher somewhere in there if he can get back to being healthy, and the White Sox are one of the best organizations in which to attempt that.
No. 3: LHP Robbie Ross Jr. (MiLB with $2 million MLB salary). The Sox could use another lefty in their bullpen to avoid running Aaron Bummer into the ground. Ross was a quality reliever with the Red Sox before running into elbow inflammation and back troubles this year. He underwent back surgery in August and should be recovered in time for Spring Training, so he could be a bounceback candidate as well.
No. 4: Keep an eye on IF Kevin Maitan. We’re still waiting to hear what comes of the investigation into the Braves’ international signing practices, but there’s been speculation that their punishment could include Maitan being declared a free agent. If he’s subject to international amateur rules, the Sox will be barred from signing him because of the Luis Robert signing. If he becomes a major league free agent, though, the Sox should be players in what would be a fascinating race.
No. 1: Acquire RHP Ryne Stanek from the Tampa Bay Rays for IF Jake Peter. I’d like to see the Sox pursue at least one young bullpen project, and Stanek could be that guy. A University of Arkansas product, he’s got a blazing fastball (98 mph average) but severe control issues (1.90 WHIP and 2.7 HR/9). The Rays have already given up on him starting, and he struggled badly in his first taste of the majors.
Peter is major league ready and has super-sub upside, but the Sox don’t have much need for him with two middle infield fixtures and a horde of outfield prospects. The Rays might benefit more from Peter’s defensive utility, and their MLB bullpen is already pretty crowded.
No. 2: Acquire 1B Adrian Gonzalez, RHP Jordan Sheffield, and SS Albert Suarez from the Los Angeles Dodgers for IF Alen Hanson and LHP Brad Goldberg. The Sox may have used up most of their veterans to acquire prospects, but a resource they still have is money. Magic Johnson’s Dodgers have unlimited cash, but they’ve also apparently got unlimited talent, which means they might be more willing than most teams to use that talent to try to avoid the $197 million luxury tax threshold (or minimize their damage).
You can bet they’d love to find a way to part with Adrian Gonzalez, who was injured and ineffective in 2017. With the emergence of Cody Bellinger, Gonzalez has been reduced to a $21.5 million bench bat. Since the Sox have money to spend, they can install A-Gon as their DH and leverage their payroll space to add to the farm system.
Sheffield was a compensation pick (36th overall) in 2016. He’s not as highly touted as his brother Justus, but he would comfortably slot into the 10-15 range of the White Sox’s top prospect list. He’s a lot like Carson Fulmer, not just because he comes from Vanderbilt, but also because he’s an undersized max-effort pitcher, and has a fastball that sits 94-95 early but loses steam over longer outings. Concerns about his durability mean he might end up in relief.
Jim Callis pegs Sheffield as a 50 FV overall, which Fangraphs values at $14 million. Factor into that any reluctance to give up a prospect for a salary dump, and the excess room on the Sox’s payroll, and this seems like it could be a reasonable return. I’m also including Suarez, a 17-year-old Dominican, as a lottery ticket.
You can swap in a lot of different names on the Dodgers’ side of this trade. The names aren’t as important as the money swap.
2B Yoan Moncada
3B Yolmer Sanchez
1B Jose Abreu
RF Avisail Garcia
DH Adrian Gonzalez
LF Nicky Delmonico
SS Tim Anderson
CF Leury Garcia
C Rene Rivera
Bench: Omar Narvaez, Willy Garcia, Tyler Saladino, Matt Davidson
Rotation: Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, James Shields, Chris Tillman, Carson Fulmer (Carlos Rodon on DL)
Bullpen: Nate Jones, Juan Minaya, Gregory Infante, Aaron Bummer, Al Alburquerque, Ryne Stanek, Robbie Ross Jr.
Honestly, this team doesn’t look that different from the post-deadline team that tanked its way to 95 losses, but it doesn’t need to be any different in the first half. The bench and bullpen situations are pretty fluid, too; if you want Adam Engel, I won’t argue with you, though I think he’s better off in Charlotte learning how to use a bat. These moves put the payroll at around $94 million.
Now just sit back and wait.