Obviously, there’s been much talk about Manny Machado and Bryce Harper signing with the Chicago White Sox.
I know, I know. Why? The White Sox have already added via trade or free agency the likes of Manny Banuelos, Alex Colome, Kelvin Herrera, James McCann, Jon Jay, Yonder Alonso, Randall Delgado, Evan Marshall, and more.
All right, there aren’t any game-changers in that bunch, although the keen acquisitions of Herrera and Colomé will stabilize what looked like it would be a shaky and youthful 2019 pen.
So, OK, I can see the hunger for Machado, Harper, or both.
But you might have also heard that the Hot Stove has blown pretty cold this offseason. Thus, there are a lot of quality free agents still available, beyond the Big Two.
Here’s a brief list — OK, a list that’s far too long for February 5! — of who’s still available via free agency.
Ages are as of April 1, 2019.
Mike Moustakas (3B)—Age 30. Moustakas quietly had a solid year for the Royals and Brewers last year (.251/.315/.459, 28 HR, 95 RBIs, 49 BB, 103 K, 2.5 bWAR in 635 AB). His weaknesses are well-known: lack of walks and below-average defense. With that said, he’d give the White Sox a powerful, left-handed bat with a better OBP than many Sox regulars posted last year. The Sox only sign Moustakas, of course, if they are unable to coax Machado to the South Side. Moustakas would likely sign with a one-or-two-year commitment. Aside from Machado and Moustakas, no other third baseman is worth considering via free agency.
Marwin Gonzalez (IF/OF)—Age 29. Gonzalez is the most versatile player available via free agency, and his versatility is more important than ever, as many teams are going with 13-man pitching staffs, carrying only 12 hitters on the active roster. Aside from starting pitching, the biggest weaknesses on the White Sox are presently at third base and outfield. The spot González has played the least, however, has been center (just two innings over the past two years combined); however, he has played every other position capably. González’s career year was 2017, when he slashed .303/.377/.530 with 23 homers, 90 RBIs, eight stolen bases, 49 walks and 99 strikeouts. Last year was closer to his norm (.247/.324/.409 with 16 homers, 68 RBIs, two stolen bases, 53 walks and 126 strikeouts with a 2.5 bWAR). Even with the signing of Machado, the White Sox could have a spot for Gonzalez. Nothing’s been publicized as to González’s asking price.
Cameron Maybin (OF)—Age 31. Maybin, who turns 32 in April, has been quite the journeyman, as he’s played for the Tigers (twice), Marlins (twice), Padres, Braves, Angels, Astros and Mariners. While his defense doesn’t feature highlight reel plays like Adam Engel’s, Maybin provides consistently better offense (which, admittedly, doesn’t say much). Last year with the Mariners and Marlins, Maybin posted numbers close to his yearly averages (.249/.326/.336 with four homers, 28 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, 38 walks, 75 strikeouts, and 0.9 bWAR). The numbers aren’t terrific, but they’d be good enough to relegate Engel either to either a defensive replacement role or the minors. Maybin would perhaps be willing to sign a minor league contract, with the possibility of making the team on Opening Day. Maybin is the only viable center fielder available via free agency.
Adam Jones (OF)—Age 33. Jones has been a quality center fielder for the Orioles since 2008. However, his defense took a dramatic turn for the worse beginning in 2016, with his defensive bWAR falling to -2.3 last year. Because Jones has lost so much range, it makes more sense to have him play right field going forward. His stats weren’t all that bad on offense last year (.281/.313/.419 with 15 homers, 63 RBIs, seven stolen bases, 24 walks, 93 strikeouts and 0.2 bWAR in 613 at-bats), but they were by far his weakest power numbers in the past 10 years. Jones is valued as a leader and is well-respected in the game; he has stated, however, that he’d like to be a starting outfielder on a contending team. If the White Sox signed Jones, they’d either use him as the starting center fielder (where he’d be a detriment on defense), or more likely, a platoon right fielder/defensive replacement at either of the outfield corners. It won’t take a lot of money or years to sign him.
Dallas Keuchel (LHSP)—Age 31. There has been surprisingly little news about this former Cy Young winner. He’s been a solid southpaw for the Astros, who were merely a rebuilding team when Keuchel entered the scene in 2012. Last year, his ERA and WHIP swelled a bit, to 3.74 and 1.31 respectively, over 204 2⁄3 innings, as he allowed 211 hits (.263 OBA) and 58 walks (6.6%) while striking out 153 (17.5%). The stats won’t blow you away, but Keuchel’s always been able to keep the ball down and has yet to surrender more than 20 homers in any season. The big stumbling blocks to signing Keuchel are relinquishing a second-round pick and $500,000 international bonus pool money upon signing him, in addition to the amount of years and money the White Sox would have to throw his way. So far, the only known suitors for Keuchel are the Reds and Astros. If the years on Keuchel’s contract are a concern, perhaps the White Sox could offer something akin to a pillow contract for two years, $45 million — if the White Sox spend less than $50 million on Keuchel, they end up keeping their second-round pick. It’s highly unlikely that Keuchel would sign such a deal, but if he would, he’d certainly provide the White Sox a valuable veteran presence, and the contract would be short enough to avoid stunting the growth of their prospects.
Gio Gonzalez (LHSP)—Age 33. González was a first-round pick of the White Sox back in 2004, and has been traded twice: in 2005 for Jim Thome and 2008 for Nick Swisher. González didn’t have his best season in his free-agency year, as he combined with the Nationals and Brewers in 2018 for a 4.21 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over 171 innings, allowing 167 hits (.256 OBA) and 80 walks (10.7%) while fanning 148 (22.9%). That was González’s worst strikeout rate since 2010 and his highest walk rate since 2009. However, it was just 2017 when González was 15-9 and posted a 2.96 ERA and 1.18 WHIP for the Nationals over 201 innings, as he surrendered 158 hits and 79 walks while punching out 188 batters. González is more likely than Keuchel to sign a two-year deal, and he’d be much more affordable as well.
Clay Buchholz (RHSP)—Age 34. Buchholz, believe it or not, actually enjoyed a higher bWAR (3.0) last year than Keuchel or González. Last year, in 16 outings totaling 98 1⁄3 innings for the Diamondbacks, Buchholz compiled a 2.01 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, relinquishing 80 hits (.220 OBA) and 22 walks (5.6%) while fanning 81 (20.6%). Unfortunately, for Buchholz, he had two stints on the DL — one for a strained oblique and the other for a right elbow flexor strain. While there would be some inherent risk for the White Sox, it would be relatively minor due to the size of of Buchholz’s expected contract.
Jeremy Hellickson (RHSP)—Age 31. Hellickson enjoyed a credible season in 2018, similar to Buchholz with the Nationals, albeit in a less flashy fashion. In 19 outings totaling 91 1⁄3 innings, Hellickson posted a respectable 3.45 ERA and 1.07 WHIP by allowing 78 hits (.230 OBA) and 20 walks (5.4%) while fanning 65 (17.6%). Like Buchholz, Hellickson had two separate stints on the DL (one for a strained hamstring, the other for a sprained right wrist). Like Buchholz, his contract should be affordable and of a small duration.
Brett Anderson (LHSP)—Age 31. Anderson isn’t one of the flashiest pitchers around, but the southpaw always keeps his team in the game despite his soft stuff by throwing strikes and keeping the ball down. Last year for the A’s, Anderson posted a 4.48 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 80 1⁄3 innings (17 starts) by relinquishing 90 hits and 13 walks (3.9%) while striking out 47 (14.1%); his GO/FO ratio was a solid 1.74. He did pitch in a bit of bad luck last year, as his FIP was just 4.17.
Ervin Santana (RHSP)—Age 36. Due to a combination of injuries, poor performance and age, Santana may have to sign a minor league contract with the possibility of making the rotation with a solid spring. His stats were ugly last year over five starts: 24 2⁄3 innings, 8.03 ERA, 1.62 WHIP. However, Baseball-Reference gives Santana the following projections for 2019: 94 IP, 87 H, 30 BB, 77 K, 3.93 ERA, 1.25 WHIP. In 2017, Santana enjoyed a 16-8 record with a 3.28 ERA and 1.13 WHIP, although the peripherals didn’t really back up those numbers. Nevertheless, it may be worth a flyer to see if Santana’s still got anything left in the tank.
Craig Kimbrel (RHRP)—Age 30. Kimbrel is a lot like Keuchel, in the fact that because the players rejected qualifying offers, they will likely be too expensive for the White Sox to pursue, as a luxury and not a necessity for 2019. The White Sox already have a loaded bullpen, including Colome, Herrera, Nate Jones, Juan Minaya, and myriad young righties and southpaws including Ian Hamilton, Jace Fry, Jose Ruiz and Caleb Frare. Would the White Sox really pursue Kimbrel? Likely not, unless strange things continue to happen in free agency this year. The White Sox would likely be willing to relinquish their second round pick for Bryce Harper only, but if Kimbrel is still available by spring training, perhaps a three-year deal for less than $50 million for this potential Hall of Fame closer could be in the offing? Signing him for that amount would again allow the White Sox to keep a draft pick and international bonus pool money. It certainly would make for a dominant pen, and tons of trade bait if the White Sox aren’t in contention by the trade deadline.
Tyler Clippard (RHRP)—Age 34. Clippard, as well as the remaining relievers on this list, is far more likely to be signed via free agency than Kimbrel. That’s not to say that Clippard is a slouch. Clippard has the prototypical middle reliever resume, with a career ERA below 3.00, a few saves here and there, and eight teams (including the White Sox) under his belt over the past five years. Last year for the Blue Jays, Clippard posted a 3.67 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and seven saves over 67 2⁄3 innings by allowing 57 hits (.223 OBA) and 23 walks (8.1%) as compared to 85 strikeouts (29.8%). Like all the relievers on the list, he could potentially fetch a lower-tier prospect or two if he continues to do well in 2019.
Adam Warren (RHRP)—Age 31. Warren had another solid season out of the pen last year, splitting time with the Yankees and Mariners. Unlike Clippard, Warren doesn’t have much experience closing games. However, if you’re looking for a sixth- or seventh-inning guy, Warren could be your man. Warren compiled a 3.34 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 51 2⁄3 innings last year, surrendering 48 hits (.240 OBA) and 20 walks (9.0%) while fanning 52 (23.3%).
Sergio Romo (RHRP)—Age 36. Romo quietly saved 25 games for the Rays last year, compiling a 4.14 ERA and 1.26 WHIP over 67 1⁄3 innings while ceding 65 hits (.253 OBA) and 20 walks (7.0%) while striking out 85 (29.9%). Romo’s been reliable for quite a long time, but judging by his high strikeout numbers and low walk totals, he may still have a little left in his tank. The White Sox could certainly do far worse if they sign him to a short-term deal. And they’d have an experienced opener!
Daniel Hudson (RHRP)—Age 32. Hudson, a former Sox farmhand, has made a nice career for himself since being traded to the Diamondbacks in 2010 for Edwin Jackson. At this point, he’s basically a sixth- or seventh-inning reliever, and he missed time late season for the Dodgers with dreaded right forearm tightness. While other, healthier options likely exist, the White Sox may decide to take a chance on Hudson. Last year over 40 games (46 innings), he posted a respectable 4.11 ERA and 1.22 WHIP by surrendering 38 hits (.217 OBA) and 18 walks (9.1%) while punching out 44 (22.3%).
Of course, there are many other possibilities I didn’t mention — James Shields (!) among them. In fact, there are too many options to cover, although some avenues appear to have closed due to recent acquisitions (Martin Maldonado at catcher due to James McCann, Curtis Granderson or Carlos Gonzalez in a DH/bench role due to Yonder Alonso, etc.). Below are a few trade possibilities, though I won’t hazard a guess as to names of actual prospects that the White Sox would end up relinquishing if any came to fruition.
Joc Pederson or Andrew Toles (OF) —Age 26. The Dodgers have plenty of outfield bats, and two of them are younger than 27 to begin the season: Pederson and Toles. It’s unclear what their roles will be in Los Angeles, or what the Dodgers may be willing to accept for their services. Certainly, Pederson has more established history in the majors (which may require a larger return) while Toles has greater speed and athleticism. Either player, however, would be a significant upgrade offensively in center. Because the Dodgers may want to make room for their other young outfielders (including Alex Verdugo), the White Sox likely wouldn’t have to part with any of its elite prospects for either player. Pederson will be making around $5 million this year, and will be eligible for one last year of arbitration in 2020; Toles will be earning the league minimum.
Zach Greinke (RHSP)—Age 35. This would be quite the risk, due to the high price of Greinke’s contract. How much is his deal? Well, for the next three years, his average salary will be a shade under $35.2 million per season for the next three years. The less money the Diamondbacks give the White Sox, the more prospect capital the White Sox would relinquish. If the Diamondbacks don’t eat any of his salary, the deal would be similar to what the Yankees surrendered for Giancarlo Stanton. I don’t see the White Sox eating the full salary, but what about half? Paying around $17 million for a perennial Cy Young contender, despite his age, may be possible considering how relatively little salary will be on the White Sox books in the next couple of seasons. Greinke’s stats last year were solid, albeit not quite Cy Young-worthy — 16-11, 3.21 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over 207 2⁄3 innings, allowing 181 hits (.231 OBA) and 43 walks (5.1%) while fanning 199 (23.7%).
Mitch Haniger (OF)—Age 28. The Mariners are currently rebuilding, and Haniger is the player with by far the highest trade value on the squad. Last year, all Haniger did was slash .285/.366./.493 at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field in 596 at-bats, with 26 homers, 93 RBIs, eight stolen bases, 70 walks and 148 strikeouts while amassing a nifty 6.1 bWAR. Most of his time was spent in right field, but he also played center capably as well. Haniger is making the league minimum $555,000 this year and will be eligible for arbitration beginning 2020. The Mariners would likely ask for a king’s ransom, with Haniger’s performance and low salary; would the White Sox be willing to pay it, considering the outfield depth in the system?