Tonight will be jubilant for most, as we get to see the debut of one of the best young talents to ever wear a White Sox uniform.
But we do need to keep in our thoughts and prayers those brave service time warriors who are devastated that, in the case of Michael Kopech at least, the White Sox have ignored their stirring vindications of efficient corporate asset allocation strategy.
When such people argued for why Kopech and Eloy Jiménez — two players no one will seriously argue should have been in the minors, in mid-August, on merit — were still in the minors, that argument invariably went something like, “I love billionaire owners and hate baseball players and think they should have their dreams delayed and get paid next to nothing while they wait so that billionaire owner who annually increases the ticket, beer, hot dog, and parking prices I pay can make more money off both me and Prospect Asset #B4382. That’s what my boss does to me, so why should guys playing a kids game be any different?”*
While this is clearly a persuasive argument, allow me to offer a rebuttal.
Who cares about the extra year of team control the White Sox would likely gain from warehousing Jiménez and Kopech in the minors until late April? Let’s be realistic. It’s really just a negotiating chip. If there’s one thing that everyone agrees that Rick Hahn is good at — and you’re reading a guy who has taken a painful deep dive into his tenure and all the things he has stunk at — it’s signing guys to long-term deals that buy out free agent years.
Chris Sale. Jose Quintana. Adam Eaton. Tim Anderson. Given the White Sox organization’s past this isn’t a large sample size, but there hasn’t been a young player of any worth who hasn’t signed a long-term deal, and Hahn has been in charge of those contract negotiations far longer than he’s been GM.
This is where the gallery interjects “What about Carlos Rodón?” You’re not really wrong. But we need to keep in mind two things: injuries, and his agent. The former is obvious, the team side is not really going to pursue a deal when a player is injured. The latter is also fairly obvious, though Scott Boras clients such as Carlos Gomez and Stephen Strasburg are exceptions to the general rule that Boras clients always go to free agency.
Despite all that (or, perhaps, because of the injury history), it wouldn’t surprise me if Rodón eventually does sign an extension with the White Sox. But neither Jiménez nor Kopech have Boras as their agent. Kopech, in fact, has Creative Artists Agency (CAA) as his agent, a firm with whom the White Sox have had a very good relationship (think Jake Peavy, John Danks and Mark Buehrle, among others). Jiménez is less clear, since his agency, Rep1 Baseball, is newer and his agent in particular is young. But Rep1 and its principals predominantly have represented Latin players, so they’re certainly familiar with the pros and cons of locking in generational wealth early.
In other words, when we hear “what about 2025,” it really should be “what about 2027 or 2028.” If you have enough trust in Hahn as a general manager that you basically blindly accept his player personnel decisions, you should trust that he’ll flex his one indisputable skill and sign these guys (assuming their performance merits it) to deals that buy out free agent year(s). And now we’re talking about past prime years.
Sure, if the White Sox only have control for six years instead of seven, the guaranteed money in such a deal will have to be larger. But we’re probably talking in the range of perhaps $10 million guaranteed per player, $45 million instead of $35 million, and that’s high side. And, sure, the team option year(s) will be for more money, but that’s really one of those “good” problems, as those would have been free agency years regardless.
And $10 million over multiple years, and far in the (baseball) future, is nothing. Present-day discounted, it’s not even buying one win in 2025 or whatever. If the money tied up by Jiménez and/or Kopech is what prevents the White Sox from winning playoff spots, then there’s plenty of other shit that went really, really badly.
Fans have apparently been (rightly) disabused of the notion that the White Sox will compete in 2019. But given what the White Sox have on the farm and the copious amounts of money (and prospects) they have to spend on acquisitions — remember, while the product may have sucked, the White Sox have been making money hand over fist these past few years, so don’t fall for any Hahn-channeled Kenny Williams can’t pay a dollar speak because [insert bullshit] — 2020 is an obvious target to open that proverbial window.
So why would you want Kopech to end his season by Labor Day? You should want him to be prepared to pitch a full season in 2019 so he’s fully capable of pitching a full season in 2020, and potentially playoffs, at a high level, instead of finding out he’s a Sale clone and can’t. Kopech destroyed AAA, and simply was not being challenged and hadn’t been for awhile. Five more AAA starts instead of 10 MLB ones would more likely result in bad habits forming, and would delay his pitching a full season until 2020 at the earliest. Simply put, his development would be stunted and the consequences of that may well be quite bad.
It’s similar for Jiménez. He’s often been injured — his highest single-season total is 112 games — and he needs both more reps in general, and specifically reps at the major league level. Pissing away a third of a season of reps is not a great plan for future development (take the hint, Rick).
And all this hinges on these guys being initially better than Mike Trout, the greatest player of at least the last 50 years, who got demoted after his less-than-spectacular major league debut in 2011 (for those of you with your Rick Hahn button-downs and socks, I mean Trout’s service time clock got stopped).
Who knows how good these guys will be when they come up. Who knows what 2025 will look like. Maybe the White Sox will still be competitive in whatever the AL Central (and American League) look like, with whatever changes the next collective bargaining agreement(s) bring, and you’ll still be a human who can enjoy baseball.
So if tonight in the stands you see someone looking forlorn, wearing their New Trier cap and Service Time jersey over their button-down, give them an Ivy League double-thumbs up. Tell them those “Kopech will be a free agent in 2025” and the like are just ghost stories meant to scare the naive. Those in the know, know that the Great Rick Hahn will turn those prospect assets into major league assets and then secure them long-term, on-time and within budget.
* Okay, not quite that, but artistic license, yo.