UPDATE: This story has updated, exact contract numbers. See also: The South Side Sox breaking news piece on Friday’s announcement.
A week ago, Héctor Gómez trickled out a tantalizing tweet:
SOURCE: OF Eloy Jimenez would be close to reaching a $100 million, eight-year contract extension with the Chicago White Sox, keeping baseball's Top Prospect under club control through 2026.#ZDigital #ZDeportes @z101digital @ZDeportes— Héctor Gómez (@hgomez27) March 14, 2019
that led to this speculative piece addressing the value Jiménez would have to provide the White Sox to make this gamble of an extension pay off.
A week later, Gómez hit us again, second verse, a bit different from the first:
BREAKING NEWS: The White Sox are close to an agreement with Eloy Jimenez for an 8-year extension that would pay him between 65-70 US$ Million. With Incentives the contract could get to the 75-80 million Range. Source says deal is pending only a Physical.@z101digital @ZDeportes— Héctor Gómez (@hgomez27) March 20, 2019
Others, including ESPN’s Jeff Passan, have weighed in on the guaranteed end of the deal ($43 million):
Eloy Jimenez's $43M deal with the Chicago White Sox will smash the record for players with zero service time. It's the third such deal ever consummated. The first was Jon Singleton's $10M deal with Houston and the second Scott Kingery's $24M deal with Philadelphia last spring.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 20, 2019
The details seem to be breaking out as $43 million for 2019-24, with 2025 and 2026 as option years that could close to double the contract’s value (~$20 million per year, presumably) to $77.5 million total.
So, to review: An eight-year deal would buy out all of Jiménez’s arbitration years (under current rules, which may change with a new labor agreement), plus one additional season. It would keep him in Chicago through 2026, the slugger’s age-30 campaign.
In 2018, 1.0 WAR was worth approximately $3.8 million. For the purposes of projecting halfway into the next decade, let’s set WAR value at $4 million. Let’s also presume that Jiménez maxes out his deal (incentives, option years) and earns the full $75 million over eight seasons.
So in order to earn his contract, Jiménez would need to amass 18.8 WAR over the course of his first eight seasons in Chicago, or 2.4 WAR per season.
I’ve picked two White Sox players from the past to overlay as Jiménez comps.
On the pinch-me-I’m-dreaming side, Frank Thomas. As the “worst case” (no offense, KenWo), Carlos Lee. Both players brought big bats to the South Side, and not a whole lotta defense or baserunning. Thomas, a Hall-of-Famer, might be aiming awfully high, but don’t we all, deep down, hope against hope that Eloy could be the 21st Century Big Hurt? On the flip side, if all the White Sox get out of Eloy is eight years of El Caballo, well, it’s not a great sign for the rebuild. But still, it gives us a baseline measure.
So, plugging Big Hurt’s numbers into Eloy’s contract:
Yeah, a massive win for the White Sox. Using Thomas’ performance, Jiménez would amass 52.0 WAR in his eight seasons, close to triple the minimum expectation of 18.8 WAR. That leads to $208 million in value, and $133 million in surplus value.
It should be noted that Thomas won two MVPs in his first eight full seasons, and finished among the top eight in MVP voting in his first seven seasons. Thomas made $33 million in his first eight major league seasons, which would translate roughly to $46.9 million in today’s dollars.
Now, for El Caballo:
If Lee is the worst-case outcome for Jiménez, the White Sox simply cannot lose on this extension. Eloy-as-Lee comes in at 20.0 WAR, still past the break-even mark. Eloy’s surplus value as Lee is $4.9 million, which is essentially one free All-Star season. Not bad.
Lee never finished higher than No. 17 in MVP voting during those first eight years, making two All-Star teams in that span. Lee was paid just about $31 million for his first eight seasons, which translates to about $36 million in today’s dollars.
Outside of the White Sox bubble, there’s some push-back on the nature of the deal:
It's good news for Jimenez, but it's not good news that teams are dangling team-friendly deals in front of players in exchange for not manipulating their service time https://t.co/2zxhGgO6F7— Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) March 20, 2019
And that’s not unfair.
Of course, Jiménez has secured his future, and his family’s, and his family’s family. But there’s little doubt that this deal will turn out to be Chris Sale-like if Jiménez can even come close to his potential as a Top 5 overall MLB prospect, with prodigious hitting skills.
Put another way, Jiménez could turn out to be just half the player Frank Thomas was, and still give the White Sox a significant surplus on this contract.
And if Jiménez turns out to be more along the lines of Lee, again, it may be a gut-punch to the rebuild, but won’t really “cost” the White Sox too much. This low-cost extension frees the White Sox up (theoretically, heh) to spend in a lot of other areas elsewhere in the future, tying up other prospects and luring free agents (cough).
Giving $43 million to a guy who’s never seen a major league pitch is a gamble. But, after Chicago’s flailing offseason, it was a risk the team had to take.