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Year of the Hamster’s Offseason Plan

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The pitching strategy may be more exciting than the offseason acquisitions!

MLB: JUL 08 Dodgers Summer Camp
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Marshall Kasowski (87) throws a pitch during a summer workout in preparation for a shortened MLB season during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on July 8, 2020 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Trying to be realistic about this offseason is a challenge. There’s an urge to “go for it” although the White Sox, for a variety of reasons both legit and not, probably won’t. You won’t see big money thrown at George Springer or Trevor Bauer here. But that doesn’t mean this team won’t be stronger.

Manager

Two guys stand out to me here, assuming Kevin Cash, Dave Martinez or Terry Francona don’t come available. The first is Matt Quatraro, bench coach of the Rays. The second is Joe Espada, bench coach in Houston. I’m not bowled over by candidates, but I think either might be a good fit for the White Sox. Honestly, if the brass went nutty and chose A.J. Pierzynski or some other craziness, I’m not sure I’d balk. I don’t really want A.J. Hinch; Espada seems very much clear of the Astros scandal, but if I’m wrong, take him off the list.

This stuff about James Shields as a pitching coach, I’m not down with. I suppose he can interview and if he kills it, OK, maybe. Seems the internal hire of Curt Hasler makes sense here.

Arbitration-eligible (with projected salaries from MLBTR):

Write "tender" or "non-tender" after each of the following names, and explain any particularly tough choices. Remember that arb-eligible players can be signed to contract extensions, or be traded, before or after tendering a contract.

(all estimates presume a full season and no prorated salaries, as in 2020)

  • Nomar Mazara, $5.9 million. Non-tender. Mazara had his chance, if his arb price was less, sure. If Nomar wanted to come back without a starting spot guaranteed, say a Leury García-esque contract, maybe.
  • Yolmer Sánchez, $2 million. Non-tender. I would not offer Yolmer arbitration, but would be open to him coming back at $1-2 million if other moves don’t work out.
  • Adam Engel, $1.4 million. Tender. Sure thing, c’mon back, Adam.
  • Carlos Rodón, $4.55 million. Non-tender. Lefties are rare, so though my gut says no way, I’d explore Rodón coming back as a swingman, perhaps for a García-type contract. I’d explore the market before rushing to make this decision, however. No on $4.55 million, though.
  • Lucas Giolito, $5.3 million. Tender. Of course, and would pursue an extension, like all of you.
  • Reynaldo López, $2.2 million. Tender. Yes, this is still a small enough amount to stomach. Whether López can stick with the big club all season remains to be seen.
  • Evan Marshall, $1.9 million. Tender, of course.
  • Jace Fry, $1 million. I would tender him, but he’s going to be traded. If the trade fell through, I’m not in love with Fry, but for a million, yes.

Impending Free Agents

Re-sign, cut loose, or extend a qualifying offer of $18.9 million? (Explain any tough or complicated calls.)

  • Alex Colomé (2020 salary: $10,532,500). I don’t think so. I have at least one right-handed relief target to pursue who can close, so this is not an immediate decision. I would reserve the right to offer Colomé a one-year deal for similar money, perhaps with a mutual 2022 option. Say two years, $20 million total outlay. But the offseason and spring would have to be catastrophic for it to get to that.
  • James McCann (2020 salary: $5.4 million). We are pursuing McCann in free agency. Obviously if he wants to catch 100 games a year, he can’t do it in Chicago, barring injuries. But McCann, though statistically overrated, is referred to as a team captain, and really no one but Pito has been regarded that way on the roster. The personal catcher jazz with Giolito is weird, but nothing to dismiss out of hand. If McCann can accept getting into 120 games and starting upwards of 100 between catcher and DH, I want him back. Can’t really go more than three years, $30 million, and will still ask for the courtesy option of matching any deal he gets that’s better — but don’t expect to get him back.
  • Jarrod Dyson (2020 salary: $2 million). No.

Team Contract Options

Write “pick up” or “decline,” and explain any tough or complicated calls.

  • Edwin Encarnación (2021 salary: $12 million). Decline!
  • Gio González (2021 salary: $7 million). Decline. I was very much in favor of bringing Gio to Chicago, and now I’m not. We can aim higher in 2021.
  • Leury García (2021 salary: $3.5 million). PICK UP!

Free agents

Just one super-sign here, and it’s a longshot.

George Springer (four years, $80 million). For the purposes of this exercise, I’ll pretend the market for Springer is soft and we can get him at this price. Springer is a great player, but the Astros cheating has left me wan. With a strong 2020, Springer has proven his stardom wasn’t “cheating-based,” but, eh. I want to talk with him, and if in meeting he impresses, I mean, Yaz Grandal impresses, I will step up this offer. But I don’t expect it to happen.

Kevin Gausman (three years, $30 million). I can go maybe 3/36 here. Gausman’s stuff will play well for the White Sox, and he gives the team a No. 3. Incentives will go in the deal that say in any year Gausman getting 32 starts with a sub-4.00 ERA and FIP, $5 million bonus. I could sub in Marcus Stroman here, perhaps, but I don’t know if the White Sox are that hot for Stroman — or should be.

José Quintana (two years, $15 million). This is a shakier proposition, because Q really cooked himself on the north side. But there’s a history, and a need. I’d offer the same incentives to Q as Gausman, rewarding dependable, brilliant work that is better than expected. The No. 4 spot is Quintana’s to lose.

Tony Watson (two years, $6 million). Signing bullpen vets can be scary, but Watson is a proven lefty coming off of a really nice 2020 and recent past. Beyond Aaron Bummer, any lefties in the system are question marks for the White Sox, so I’d like to add a steady hand.

Keone Kela (minor-league deal). Kela was bad in 2020, as like Yoán Moncada he arrived in Summer Camp with coronavirus and left the season with forearm tightness. If he checks out OK health-wise, BIG IF, I’ll take some sort of flier on him, maybe go up to $5 million over two years, as he has closing experience. I’d lowball Kela much more than that, however, even down to a minor-league deal, depending on his market, and load him up with closing incentives.

Yasiel Puig (minor-league deal, if Springer doesn’t sign). Yeah, yeah, there are Puig lovers and Puig haters. I get that he doesn’t really fit a traditional RF platoon, he had COVID last year, he seems to invite some sort of trouble. This deal would be creative, where wowing in spring training would earn a legit deal of $5 mil or something, and a big load of reasonable incentives to drive this contract up for Puig if he delivers. Defensively alone, he’s worth having in the mix.

Trades

Zack Collins to the Seattle Mariners for Luis Torrens, Dom Thompson-Williams and Walker Lockett. This is mostly to get a non-catcher and non-hitter like Collins off the books for the White Sox and add a young, cheap, strong-armed catcher in Torrens as our backup to Grandal. Thompson-Williams not only has a top-class name (first name, full, Dominique) but some left-handed pop in CF. Lockett, eh, he’s a big pitcher with MLB reps and possible upside. Only Torrens would see time on the MLB roster in 2021. This trade passed muster on the Baseball Trade Values trade simulator.

Spencer Adams to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Dennis Santana and Marshall Kasowski. Very minor deal here, but I like Kasowski’s big, possible closer arm. Santana is young like Adams and has moved up the ladder quickly, somewhat like Adams. This deal checks out on BTV, but it could be tweaked to include another arm or replace Adams with something a little bit sexier; but Adams is still young (though old in prospect terms) and could be attractive to another club. Kasowski is the target here, to fortify the White Sox system with big arms.

Yermín Mercedes to the Houston Astros for Brandon Bielak, Tyler Ivey and Scott Manea. Honestly I’d swap Mercedes out for either Bielak or Ivey plus Manea, but Trade Values says this 3-for-1 is still in favor of Houston. But I can’t keep piling on! Manea gives us a young catcher to stock the system, and Bielak and Ivey are promising young arms; Bielak started six games for the Astros this season at just 24, and Ivey has killed it through Double-A.

Zack Burdi, Jace Fry, Jimmy Lambert and Gavin Sheets to the Tampa Bay Rays for Kevin Padlo and Taylor Walls. I am trading assorted pieces that Tampa may make use of who are blocked to some degree in Chicago (certainly Sheets is, Lambert seems to be in iffy health, and Burdi slumped again after a nice start in 2020, perhaps more rep than potential at this point). Fry is the only piece to really feel nervous about, and eh ... Jace Fry. In return, two very blocked pieces in Tampa: Kevin Padlo, who is Andrew Vaughn-esque, mashing at third base; and Taylor Walls, a middle infielder who is probably Charlotte-ready, with a bullet. Both players can really hit, and offer high-quality protection (Padlo in particular, as no one knows how Yoán recovers from COVID) for the major league team. This trade checks out at Trade Values, and I’m guessing if I took even more time to tinker around both rosters I could toss in, say, Seby Zavala, for a couple of promising, blocked arms in Tampa as well. Or, perhaps I’d dangle Dylan Cease and pick up Padlo, Walls and a few more pieces from the best system in the game.

I considered trying to grab Joey Gallo from Texas to solve the right-field puzzle, and I love his surprisingly good defense, power and lefty bat, but I can’t sell the farm for a sub-.200 hitter, and that’s what Texas will ask for.

I would listen on both Cease and Nick Madrigal. Perhaps Moncada, even.

Summary

The realistic (non-Springer) transactions are not sexy, but the free agent pickups are realistic and potentially clever, and the trades help trim some fat and re-allocate assets in the system; I’m particularly excited about Torrens, Kasowski, Padlo, Ivey and Bielak.

Rotation
Lucas Giolito
Dallas Keuchel
Kevin Gausman
José Quintana

Wait ... only four guys!

I’ve buried the lede here, In that we are going with a modified four-man rotation. So the fifth starter is:

(Michael Kopech/Dylan Cease/Reynaldo López)

Because I’m a lunatic, I plotted out the full season of pitching for the White Sox, to see what happens if Lucas and Dallas, core studs, pitch every fifth day. It’s still not exact, a few off-days interrupt the flow, and there’s the All-Star break, but my plan has both at 36 starts, and at six innings per start, that’s 216 innings.

I am planning the same for Gausman and Q, although Q gets only 34 starts given how things fall for a No. 4 (at six innings per, that’s 204 for the season).

The fifth slot is needed just 20 times, and each time it comes up we’ll use a 3x3x3 plan of Kopech, Cease and López. Between those starts and some three-inning relief efforts behind Q, all three get 25 games and 75 innings. All of that is malleable; if López is terrible and Kopech rocks, give Michael more innings. Or one of the three move into an injured starter’s spot. This 3x3x3 group is the “starters at the ready” club. And, in theory, guys like Dunning, Bielak, Flores Jr., Stiever, etc. could fill the spots as well, whether due to injury or spring inefficiency.

Bullpen
Aaron Bummer (stopper)
Evan Marshall
Matt Foster
Codi Heuer
Tony Watson
Jimmy Cordero

Does this no-fifth-starter plan kill the pen? Well, I have Bummer as my stopper, my most important pitcher save for Giolito and Keuchel, and his mix of one- and two-inning outings sees him with 72 appearances and 108 innings. Basically, everybody except Watson (who is older and more of a lefty specialist) pitches in one- and two-inning outings: Marshall clocks in with 39 games and 65 innings, Foster 41/64, Heuer 40/64, Watson 35/35. Cordero, who is a workhorse but is not as good as the other four plus Watson, is the closest thing I have to a mop-up guy: 29 games, 48 innings.

Two lefties in the mix, not ideal but workable. Kela, Crochet, Sousa, Dunning ... many other arms could end in this mix, due to injury or performance.

EVERYTHING is planned out, so there isn’t really a “closer” role or whatever. Guys are going to have their game assignments in advance (which perhaps will take into account handedness and past history for a team, but less so individual pitcher vs. batter matchups for all that annoying, niggling micromanagement), similar to spring training. Injuries, much less performance, will knock this plan to hell by mid-April, sure, but you just plug a new name in, or adjust roles. Given that no one’s assignment here as planned is overly taxing (save Bummer’s), guys could take on more workload in all cases above.

Lineup
Tim Anderson ss (155 starts)
Yoán Moncada 3b (136 starts)
George Springer rf (150 starts)
Eloy Jiménez dh (146 starts)
José Abreu 1b (151 starts)
Yasmani Grandal c-dh (144 starts)
Luis Robert cf (155 starts)
Adam Engel lf-cf-rf (79 starts)
Madrigal 2b (100 starts)

Bench
Luis Torrens c (34 starts, plus subbing in late-inning games)
Danny Mendick if (33 spot starts at 2b-3b, injury assignments ... could also be Yolmer)
García if-of (83 starts at 2b, ss, lf, but generally he’s moving around the field as first-priority sub)
Andrew Vaughn lf-rf-dh (92 starts ... role undefined, but I’d like to see him out there every other day)

If Springer does not sign, fine, it’s Padlo on the MLB club, fighting with Vaughn for left field, with Engel moving to right. Padlo also subs for Moncada at 3b. The overall lineup is weaker but not irreparably so, given further positional flexibility.

Barring emergency or miracle improvement, Jiménez’s days in left field should be over. Without Springer, I’m OK with an Engel-García platoon in right field of some sort, and like having both García and Mendick on the club as Swiss army types. Torrens is a strong sub at catcher, as good or better than Seby Zavala, with more bat. If Madrigal is somehow not ready for the start of the regular season, García gets those starts, of course.

There are not a lot of pending replacements positionally on the farm, although Taylor Walls could be an exciting name to keep an eye on in Charlotte, as is Yolbert Sánchez, soon to join him there. The outfield depth is anyone’s guess, with Blake Rutherford purportedly on the rise; not really counting on anyone, though. At catcher, we still have some depth with Zavala trying to recapture his bat in Charlotte.

Last year’s full-season payroll would have been $111.5 million, and this payroll with Springer jumps to $137.8 million. If as expected there is no Springer on the South Side, the payroll is just around $118 million, giving us flexibility to make acquisitions during 2021 or, of course next winter.