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White Sox payroll could return to 2005 levels

But doing so would leave them in a position to splurge afterward

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Chicago White Sox
The Padres are paying almost half, but James Shields will be the highest-paid White Sox in 2018.
Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Going through the offseason plans, one has to make an effort to get the White Sox’ payroll anywhere near nine figures. It requires either free-agent signings that put the Sox back in the “outside chance of a wild card” position that represented the first rebuild’s peak, or taking on dead money from elsewhere with the hope of an intriguing prospect attached.

For the plans that stay the course the way Rick Hahn has been talking, one can stay comfortably below $70 million. Josh’s plan, which retained Avisail Garcia, ended up at $67.5 million. ThePaulieLama’s plan, which called for trading Garcia, ended up around $63 million.

Daryl Van Schouwen gave a number somewhere a little north of the most conservative estimate, although it’s written in the passive voice to obscure who is doing the figuring:

There are other orders of business for Hahn this winter. The Sox, who figure to have a payroll in the neighborhood of $75 million in 2018, aren’t ready to spend big on free agents.

Whether it comes from the Sox or back-of-napkin math with a cushion, the number makes sense. It’s also startlingly low if you take a step back and consider White Sox payroll histories. The last time they carried a $75 million payroll was 2005, so they’re going to win the World Series it’s rather remarkable that they could return to the same place after a World Series title and 12 years of inflation.

There are different ways to get to $75 million. The White Sox’ 2005 payroll reflected their approach to team-building, dispersing resources across the roster in an attempt to avoid fatal flaws. Paul Konerko led the way with an $8.75 million salary, and Jose Contreras, Frank Thomas, Freddy Garcia and Mark Buehrle were the only other White Sox making $5 milion, but 19 White Sox made at least $1 million (including Timo Perez!).

The 2017 White Sox, on the other hand, could have $28 million or so tied up in Jose Abreu and James Shields alone. Beyond them, Garcia, Nate Jones, Tim Anderson and Carlos Rodon can be penciled in for a million or more, and the rest comes down to tendering contracts and arbitration-eligible salaries. That’s a mere six or so seven-figure salaries the Sox have on their payroll before free agents or trades come into play (and there probably won’t be 13 of them).

With Shields’ money coming off the books the following year, the White Sox payroll will be clean from ugly commitments. Anderson is the only one with guaranteed money after 2019, and even if you’re bearish on his future, his year-to-year salaries don’t start setting genuine expectations until 2021.

Personally or professionally, nature abhors a clean balance sheet. A good chunk of offseason plans have the Sox making a significant addition from this year’s free-agent crop, maybe at positions where the Sox lack a high-minors solution (center field and third base). It’s not an unreasonable position, especially since the Sox are limited from signing international prospects for more than $300,000 due to the penalty incurred from the Luis Robert signing.

(Speaking of Robert, perhaps the White Sox are treating the bonus and overage tax expenditure as a $20something million salary in 2018. Maybe they aren’t, because the David Robertson and Jose Quintana trades cut that amount of money off the payroll for the upcoming season, but it’s worth acknowledging the outlay, which doesn’t count toward payroll but eclipses any other single investment.)

Whether the White Sox save their 2018 money for later or use some to pay off a 2017 investment, everything opens up in 2019. And while some may scoff at a Jerry Reinsdorf team handing out a $100 million contract, the conditions are right for one. Draft spending is capped. International money is capped, and the White Sox will still be limited to $300,000 while serving the remainder of the two-year penalty regardless. There’s no other way to spend a lot of money, and they’ll have a lot of money to spend, especially if they avoid doing so this winter.