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Year of the Hamster’s Offseason Plan

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Sneaky dealings and an open pocketbook will push these White Sox to the brink of .500

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Three
Big Move: The top target for this offseason is a Dodger, Yasmani Grandal. Wait, who did you think I meant?
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Introduction

My strategy with these White Sox is to step up spending in order to push up into the mid-70s in wins, minimum. One strategy, not unique in the least, was to identify two young blocked stars and nab ’em. The starting pitching market doesn’t overwhelm, so I spent modestly. The relief market is scary, so I’m content to wait out the offseason and pounce on bargains (like, when Joakim Soria finds out no one will pay him more than $5 million).

My moves add outfielders to a system that is outfield-rich, but two of the guys are on shorter-term deals. Otherwise, we’ll just have to cross the bridge of having too many Hall-of-Famers when we get to it.

I definitely want to sell high on Daniel Palka, but I can’t find a good match (I’d love to convince the New York Yankees that Palka would hit 55 homers and break a bunch of seats out in that short porch in right). Also, as much as I find the whole #108 thing overdone, he’s a good dude, in a different sort of way. I don’t mind riding our Ron Kittle for the 2010s until he’s used up.

Arbitration-eligible (with projected salaries from MLBTR):

  • José Abreu – $16 million TENDER (contract extension)
  • Avisaíl García – $8 million TENDER (and trade)
  • Yolmer Sánchez – $4.7 million TENDER (contract extension)
  • Carlos Rodón – $3.7 million TENDER
  • Matt Davidson – $2.4 million TENDER (and trade)
  • Leury García – $1.9 million TENDER

Impending Free Agents

Re-sign, cut loose, or extend a qualifying offer ($17.9 million)? (Explain any tough or complicated calls.)

  • Miguel González (2018 salary: $4.75 million) CUT LOOSE
  • Hector Santiago (2018 salary: $2 million) CUT LOOSE

Free agents

I will be in on both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, if only to show guys like Scott Boras I’m playing with the big boys. But I don’t think either player wants to come here. And even if one was open to becoming a White Sox for the next decade, we wouldn’t get him without an overpay (and overpay in this case probably takes it to $40 million a year).

I am tempted to go in on Josh Donaldson, as I am not nearly as bearish on his future seasons as many here are. But I think he’s still going to end up north of $20 million, and for multiple years. That’s too big a gamble, especially when I plan on going hard for Nolan Arenado in 2020. If Donaldson falls through the cracks and this is another collusion offseason, I swoop in and am fine going three years, $45 million.

I was also going to get into the free agent big-name relievers game (say, Andrew Miller), but then I saw Soria decline a $10 million option (getting just a $1 million buyout) for 2019. If Soria thinks, at 35, he’ll top $10 million a year — and I assume he has good intel — I don’t want in on that market. I’ll make due with our young arms.

Extensions

José Abreu (buy out his final arbitration season, and extend him through 2021, three years, $36 million). OK, while the mentorship aspect of Abreu’s value may be overblown, his role as the leader of the team is not. Give Abreu the captaincy, offer some guaranteed future money and pack this contract with incentives. Abreu has consistently undervalued himself for the sake of the team, or modesty, or something, I don’t know. Push those same buttons again, including a promise of a lifetime contract as an ambassador, etc. I’m hoping for at least 2.0 WAR per year from Abreu for these three years, so using the stricter $4 million per WAR standard, I’d be paying Abreu $4 million a year solely for the captain role. I can live with that.

Yolmer Sánchez (buy out his final arbitration seasons and extend him through 2022, four years, $16 million). This is another guy I want on the White Sox. This extension pays him solid money for a pure utility role sooner than later. And if he wants to bet on the fact that someone will pay him more, on a multiyear deal, one day, fine. But $4 million per year to keep this clubhouse hero as the heartbeat of the club, I’m doing it. Giving him $5 million on a one-year arb deal doesn’t break our bank.

Free agents

Yasmani Grandal (four years, $80 million). In his career, he’s averaged 7.0 WARP (I’m using Baseball Prospectus for my numbers because not only does it incorporate framing for catchers, it seems the toughest WAR measurement) per 162 games — better than J.T. Realmuto, a hot trade prospect for many plans. He’s a switch-hitter. He’s been nothing but money in the majors. Backup plan: none, really. I don’t like the high price tag but sans Grandal I’d get in on Realmuto, hoping Derek Jeter has half the allegiance to the White Sox as he does the Yankees, and gives us a discount.

Hyun-Jin Ryu (three years, $45 million). He’s the best of the starters out there, a guy I like more than Dallas Keuchel, for a smaller price tag. Backup plan: If we’re beaten out on Ryu, I’d downshift to Cole Hamels (if the Cubs decline his option), Patrick Corbin, or Gio Gonzalez, for significantly fewer dollars.

Andrew McCutchen (three years, $27 million). Good player, good teammate, good citizen. Big win for the White Sox if we can get a guy like Cutch. Backup plan: Options abound, I’d do Brett Gardner at a similar price if New York declines the option, Carlos Gonzalez at maybe 2/16, perhaps kick the tires on Denard Span or Curtis Granderson on a one-year, or one year-plus. We should have no problem adding a quality vet outfielder who gives us more than AAAA PAs.

Trades

Welington Castillo, Aaron Bummer and Kodi Medeiros to the Milwaukee Brewers for Domingo Santana. A bit of a win-now move for the Brewers. Castillo could play a major role for next year’s Brewers, Bummer fits as a power arm in Milwaukee’s megapen, and Medeiros goes back to his original team. The White Sox get a masher RF in Santana who is blocked by the Braun/Cain/Yelich brigade. (Santana played a full season in Milwaukee in 2017, hitting 30 homers with 88 RBIs and an .876 OPS, but lost his job when the Crew traded for Christian Yelich.) Milwaukee kept Santana at last year’s trade deadline, and you have to figure a lot of folks knocked on the door. So this is by no means a done deal. With a proper second prospect coming back (say, Lucas Erceg at the hot corner), I’d be OK with including one of our top OF prospects to get Santana, say Blake Rutherford or Luis Basabe. Alternately, if the Brewers want hold out for Jace Fry instead of Aaron Bummer, I can do that, too.

This trade is the most dubious of my batch, I think, so let me just say that Welington Castillo will be dealt at some point, for something, even a meager return like the one for Matt Davidson, below. If this deal falls through, not having Santana in our outfield in 2019 doesn’t exactly gut the team, it just means a smattering of AAAA PAs from the likes of Nicky Delmonico, et. al.

Adam Engel to the Boston Red Sox for Rusney Castillo. Rusney Castillo is completely blocked in Boston, behind JBJ, Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, and even J.D. Martinez. He’s also costing the Red Sox a fortune while playing at Pawtucket, and it’s a devil’s deal because if he’s activated to the 40-man (say, the B Bros in the OF all get wicked food poisoning at the same time), in all likelihood it’ll trigger some ugly luxury tax. I’m offering Engel to the Red Sox, but really, I doubt I even have to go that high. A lower-level, token prospect could seal the deal. Salary relief, and perhaps a future I.O.U., is all that’s needed here. I’ve seen enough of Engel, by the way, so I don’t really care if he’s the one who goes. Boston will pick up a portion of Rusney’s salary, if we ask. In this case, I’ll be asking to go 50-50 in 2019. (Rusney can opt-out of his $14 million deal for 2020 after this season, but it’s pretty doubtful he’ll do that.)

[EDIT: OK, it strikes me as downright dopey that I didn’t give any background on Rusney, for those who don’t know or might have forgotten. Rusney was a Cuban star signed by the Red Sox in 2014 for $72 million. He’s never gotten a real opportunity in the majors, in large part because Boston is stacked. In 99 career games, Rusney has an average WAR of 1.9 per 162 games ... so in half of a rookie season, he projected to a 2.0 WAR player. He hasn’t been in the majors since 2016 but has killed in Pawtucket — a 3.4 WARP in just 87 games in 2017 and 2.3 in 117 games in 2018. We can also make the educated guess that Boston would pick up some of Rusney’s salary, because he cleared waivers back in 2016.]

Avisaíl García to the Colorado Rockies for Jonathan Gray. I tendered Avi simply to trade him, and I would already have a list of deals in place before tendering him, knowing that once I landed one or two of the outfielders on my list, he’s gone. It doesn’t have to be Gray, so don’t get bunchy underwear on me in case you think that’s too much to ask. Point is, I don’t want Avi on my team. Performance (shaky) aside, he’s just not a good teammate. The same crap he pulled in Detroit, I believe he’s pulled in Chicago. Get him out of here. In Colorado, he could hit 40 homers. If we need to attach a Jordan Guerrero-type to grease the wheels, let’s do it. Point is, Avi is getting traded for an arm or two, or an upper-minors third baseman who can serve as a failsafe if Arenado falls through.

Matt Davidson to the Kansas City Royals for something in their system. There’s just no room on this team for Davidson any longer, so he gets dealt for, say, an A-ball arm with a promising resume. Why not offer him up first to the team he victimized so badly in 2018?

Summary

Reasonable estimates of this team’s performance would more than double the White Sox 2018 WAR (to 37 WAR) for 2019, which would be roughly 80 wins. That’s fringe playoffs, at least in the awful AL Central. I’m also at about $96 million in salary, so there’s room to make a late addition like Donaldson, or perhaps even (if the shoulder checks out) Japanese starter Yusei Kikuchi.

Here’s the roster:

C: Grandal
1B: Abreu
2B: Moncada
SS: Anderson
3B: Sánchez
LF: Jiménez
CF: Castillo
RF: Santana
OF: McCutchen
DH: Palka
Bench: Narváez, José Rondón, Leury García

Rondón and García are my supersubs, playing everywhere. Palka will take reps at first so he, along with Rondón, can spell Abreu. Against lefties, McCutchen will replace Palka at DH. The outfield is so young, I expect McCutchen will be spelling one of the three OFs pretty much every game, so all four outfielders, barring injury, will clock in for 500ish PAs.


Rotation: Ryu, López, Rodón, Giolito, Gray
Bullpen: Jones (co-closer), Fry (co-closer), Juan Minaya, Ian Hamilton, Dylan Covey, Caleb Frare, Thyago Vieira

The bullpen mix is not ideal, so I’d like to see a lefty like Jordan Guerrero up for long relief, or even see Andrew Perez continue his fast climb, to add another southpaw. I suspect Dylan Cease may come to the majors by July, as Michael Kopech did in 2018, bumping the less effective of either Giolito or Gray to the pen.

In the Year 2020: Arenado, Kopech, full seasons of Cease and Jiménez, another meteoric prospect breaking through (Basabe, Zavala, Flores ...) and a push into 90 wins. The rebuild is back on track, and the window of contention is thrown open, baby!