The Chicago White Sox, concluding the second year of their major rebuild, have laid the groundwork for future contention. This contention likely won’t begin until the 2020 season (especially with the news of Michael Kopech’s injury), but the possibility still remotely exists that the White Sox can still be a contender in 2019 thanks to a notoriously weak division — provided that a lot of ifs come to fruition:
- If the young rotation can otherwise stay healthy and maintain what it’s done for the past month (present week excluded).
- If Yoan Moncada can cut down his strikeouts, hit for a higher average, and play better defense.
- If Tim Anderson can continue his offensive progress and continue his stellar play defensively.
- If the young bullpen corps excels in their first extended major league stints.
- If Eloy Jimenez finally checks all his boxes and becomes an immediate success.
- If the top minor leaguers stay healthy and make themselves ready for promotions.
- If the White Sox sign significant free agents at third base, outfield, and starting rotation.
- If the White Sox make significant deals to bolster their farm system etc.
With all those ifs, the rapidity of the rebuild will largely depend upon what happens during this offseason. The final two ifs will be addressed in my offseason plan this fall, so for now, let’s look at the 40-man roster and see which players may be exposed to the Rule 5 draft in December.
40-Man Roster Protections prior to December’s Winter Meetings
Upcoming major league free agents who are currently on the White Sox 40-man roster include Hector Santiago, Jeanmar Gómez, and Miguel Gonzalez (not technically on the 40-man roster due to being on the 60-day disabled list). Gonzalez is a no-brainer to not re-sign. Although Santiago has done a decent job and Gómez has had his moments, it’s very likely that the White Sox will not attempt to re-sign any of these three pitchers.
The Sox have club options for two pitchers: Nate Jones (who is also on the 60-day DL, but must either return to the 40-man roster or be cut after the season ends) will be paid $4.65 million, or get bought out at $1.25 million. Based on Jones’ injury history, it’s not a slam dunk that he’ll be retained. The Sox also have a club option for James Shields; he will be paid $16 million for 2019, but the Sox will definitely opt out at $2 million. (Of course, the White Sox could ultimately decide to re-sign him at a price far lower than the $14 million difference.)
The White Sox have six arbitration-eligible players. If the Sox decide not to offer arbitration, they would ultimately be removed from the 40-man roster and free to sign anywhere. In descending order based upon last year’s salaries, they are:
- Jose Abreu ($13 million)
- Avisail Garcia ($6.7 million)
- Yolmer Sanchez ($2.35 million)
- Carlos Rodon ($2.3million)
- Leury Garcia ($1.175 million)
- Danny Farquhar ($1.05 million)
Barring trades, it’s possible all could be tendered offers. The most susceptible would be Leury García (due to his injuries, and plethora of middling outfielders and utility-type infielders currently on the White Sox roster) and Farquhar, who no other major league team would select in the Rule 5 draft due to the delicate circumstances surrounding his recovery from brain surgery.
Several minor league free agents are also available to be selected in the Rule 5 draft, but only two (Trayce Thompson and Jake Elmore) have no options left and may be offered minor league contracts by the Sox or some other team. I don’t expect any of the other minor league free agents to be protected in the Rule 5 draft, so if they clear waivers, they would either be eligible to return to the Sox minor league system or earn their release. Such eligible minor league free agents include (in alphabetical order): Mauricio Cabrera, Casey Gillaspie, Alfredo Gonzalez, Gregory Infante, Ricardo Pinto, Matt Skole, Thompson, and Asher Wojciechowski.
Here’s my stab at ordering the Rule 5 eligible players in the White Sox system, based on likelihood of being drafted. (The first five are Top 30 team prospects, per MLB Pipeline, no-brainers all.)
- Dylan Cease
- Seby Zavala
- Jordan Stephens
- Kodi Medeiros
- Spencer Adams
- Jordan Guerrero: Pitched just as effectively, if not more so, in AAA as have Stephens and Adams.
- Yermin Mercedes: Has the strong catcher’s arm and hitting acumen to be selected, but his framing and defensive skills are lacking (as a result, he’s yet to play AA ball).
- Colton Turner: Dominated AA ball as a bullpen southpaw and pitched respectably in a couple late starts with Charlotte, but will turn 28 before next year starts.
- Zach Thompson: Flashed a terrific 1.55 combined ERA in the bullpen for Winston-Salem and Birmingham, but his minor league career has been inconsistent, at best.
- Danny Mendick: Posted satisfactory numbers, and reminds me a bit of a shortstop version of Jake Peter.
- Tanner Banks: Enjoyed a terrific season as a southpaw starter for Winston-Salem and Birmingham, but he’s a finesse arm who’ll turn 27 prior to the Rule 5 draft.
- Bryant Flete: A lesser version of Mendick, although he was promoted to Charlotte late in the season and did relatively well.
- Kyle Kubat: Dominated as another southpaw bullpen lefty for Winston-Salem, but struggled badly in the rotation. He’ll turn 26 prior to the draft and hasn’t advanced (for some reason) to AA.
- Brandon Brennan: A 27-year-old middle reliever, unlikely to be selected.
- Brian Clark: A 25-year-old who turned in an underwhelming season with Birmingham.
There are 38 others who I didn’t include (most notably, Yeyson Yrizarri and Ti’Quan Forbes) because they’re too old, too young, have yet to play in AA, or are simply not good enough to be selected.
When taking a look at the weakest links from the existing 40-man roster (which actually stands at 43 due to Farquhar, Gonzalez, Jones being presently on the 60-day DL), the easiest players to remove from the list would be Gonzalez, Shields, Dustin Garneau, Ian Clarkin, Ryan LaMarre, Gómez, Santiago, and Rob Scahill — taking the list down to 35.
But ideally, the Sox will need to bring the list down to 31 if they want to protect the top six Rule 5-eligible players and still make room for, say, three free agent signings. To do that, they may have to non-tender an arbitration-eligible player or two, remove guys from the 40-man roster and hope they clear waivers, or look into trades.
The easiest four options that will help get the Sox down to 31:
- Trade one of Welington Castillo/Omar Narvaez/Kevan Smith, as the White Sox won’t have room for them in Charlotte, with both Zavala and Zack Collins likely to begin the season there.
- Trade others who have finished their auditions with the White Sox, or otherwise might catch on better with another club. Other guys who could be on the bubble for trades would include Leury García, Nicky Delmonico, Matt Davidson, Juan Minaya and Ryan Cordell.
- Non-tender Farquhar, then re-sign him as a minor league free agent as he’d likely need time to rehab.
- Opt out of Jones’s contract.
A lot has to come together for the White Sox to take the next step in the rebuild “early,” in 2019, but savvy 40-man maneuvering will help get the team on the fast track.