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The 2020 SB Nation offseason sim

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Not a ton of fireworks, but the White Sox maximized a modest budget

Chicago White Sox vs New York Yankees
The bargain of the entire simulation was Masahiro Tanaka, with a two-year, $21 million deal. And we’re the ones who got him.
Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

For the third offseason now, I’ve helmed a White Sox front office for SB Nation’s offseason simulation project. This year it was SSS staffers Luke Smailes and Tommy Barbee helping me out with free agent targets and trade acquisitions.

Each year, the simulation is run each year is run by Max Rieper of Royals Review, and I have no idea how it does it. Max is both the administrator of the entire offseason, but also the superagent in charge of negotiating every free-agent deal.

And on top of that, each of these offseason sims seems to be getting shorter. In 2018, this was a full, three-day affair that I spent a week recapping on SSS; the end results were a jump to 74 projected wins for 2019 (after a 62-win 2018). The 2019 sim felt more condensed, but still was broken up enough into three days for me to do several posts, and after commissioner Max allowed Chicago’s spending ceiling to climb, we put together a squad that projected to 88 wins (outdone in real life, at least is you project the 35-25 truncated Sox to 94.5 wins).

This year? Wow. It was over in a flash. Trades and simple signings started around 5 p.m. on Sunday, and 24 hours later, it was all done.

We never got too far into big trades, something we’d accomplished more successfully in earlier sims. But our free agent signings, while not super sexy, were well under market, including one extraordinary steal. So here are the news and notes of your new SBN sim Chicago White Sox.

Tucker Barnhart

Wait, I’m leading off with Tucker Barnhart? Yeah, I’m just sort of running down my roster list, and I do think acquiring Barnhart was our first official move, swapping José Ruiz to Cincinnati. Though a smidge pricey for a backup ($4.2 million), I wanted a veteran presence behind the plate who’d provide defense and an arm. Barnhart’s framing is on the rise, so really, even down to the price, this is about a “replace 2020 James McCann” move as you can get. And Barnhart bats lefty!

McCann, it turns out, was stolen by the Houston Astros, who somehow signed him for four years, $30 million. I absolutely would have outbid that, but figured his market would easily be twice that. But that’s what happens when an entire offseason is compressed into 24 hours. (My fellow owners falling asleep at the wheel benefited us in a big way later in the sim.)

I have no faith in Zack Collins, Seby Zavala or Yermín Mercedes being legit, two-way catchers at the MLB level, and in fact put Collins and Mercedes on the block right away. Washington was very hot after Collins, but didn’t want to trade their fourth outfielder (Andrew Stevenson) for him, so for the first time since taking over these SBN sim White Sox, I did not trade Collins.

Robbie Grossman

Hey White Sox fans, meet your new right fielder! As detailed extensively in Luke’s offseason plan, Grossman is a buy-low free agent who is far more solid than splashy. A gamble even on the Nomar Mazara level? Nope. And cheaper, too — we pulled Grossman off the market for just $8 million over two seasons. And he’s a switch-hitter!

We were, with mixed feelings, in the George Springer sweepstakes, but the numbers climbed to insane levels. And of all teams, Cleveland ended up scoring him (six years, $170 million). (Cleveland actually had a very weird offseason, with a lot of sell moves, including trading off Zach Plesac and Francisco Lindor. The Lindor deal with L.A. yielded a prospect haul headed by Gavin Lux, but still, a very strange pivot to then go big on Springer.)

I also checked in with Arizona about Kole Calhoun (who I’d signed outright in the 2019 sim), Anthony Santander of the Orioles, Mike Yastrzemski from the Giants, and even Stevenson from the Nats to help supplement the outfield. But in the end, Grossman gets the job.

Tony Watson

Again, in the category of Moves No One Is Very Excited About, I wanted to snag this effective lefty for a modest price. Watson is in the sunset of his career (perhaps), at 35, but holds a career 2.80 ERA, 3.61 FIP and 1.080 WHIP. We grabbed him for $6 million over two years; he’s instantly the most reliable southpaw in our four (!)-lefty pen.

José Quintana

In past sims, the White Sox have always started modest with bids and then had to get pulled into escalating numbers (Dallas Keuchel and Yasmani Grandal, both of whom we signed last year in the sim, are good examples). This year, we both got lucky and could take advantage of a more modest, pandemic spending market and only had to up bids once. To begin, we were a little lower than the eventual two years, $14 million we spent to get Q back, but that’s still less than most any reasonable estimate on his actual cost this offseason.

The idea is to insert Quintana into the No. 4 spot in the rotation and hope for better results than the Gio González Project (believe it or not, Gio was signed by Baltimore on a minor-league deal and currently has him penciled in as its No. 5 starter, if you’re wondering how good the Orioles think they’ll be in 2021). That’s a big IF, because Quintana had a disastrous 2020 filled with injuries both weird (sliced finger) and worrisome (lat). But at this price, simply the chance of getting a great bargain and further thumbing noses at the north siders with a roster of Dylan Cease, Eloy Jiménez AND Quintana was too much fun to pass on.

Masahiro Tanaka

Here’s where things really turned in a fortunate way for the White Sox.

We were in pretty hard on Kevin Gausman, but the rebuilding Giants wanted to make him a cornerstone and threw five years and $70 million at him. Per season, $14 million isn’t nuts, but five years for a 30-year-old is not a White Sox move. The shift then went to Marcus Stroman, first in many hearts but behind Gausman on my priority list. We were pretty quickly outbid there as well, with the final price being six (!) years and $102 million. I mean, $17 million a year is pretty nuts, but six years is downright kooky. But, like the Giants, the Mets kept their guy — even after he opted out on them for 2020 (you go, Stro!).

We definitely had to come away with two starters this offseason, to give us a starting core that would not be susceptible to young arms flaking out or simply being unable to sustain length into games. Taijuan Walker was thought of as a quick and cheap gamble for the four-slot but he went early to the A’s at two years, $14 million, which left money on the table, in my eyes.

We entered into negotiations with the Angels for Dylan Bundy and the Padres for Zach Davies. I thought we might have an agreement on Bundy for Zack Collins, but the Angels wanted more and to take on Bundy’s $9.8 million tag for his last year of arbitration, that’s too much. (Bundy was swapped to Cincy for Jonathan India, which doesn’t read like too much better a deal than for Collins, if at all, but c’est la vie.)

With Davies, again, despite the talent the price tag was $10 million, and the prospect ask of Gavin Sheets (np) and Jared Kelley (!) or Sheets/Benyamin Bailey (nah) wasn’t enticing. If we had no young arms in the pipeline, I’d have jumped. But with Michael Kopech, Dane Dunning, Dylan Cease and even Carlos Rodón (see below) in position to take starts in the five-slot, desperation wasn’t the right play.

Oh, and slapdick Trevor Bauer? Yeah, San Diego paid him $36 million, per year, for the next six years. $215 million!

The Sox front office had underlined some secondary targets, some with injury concerns that I’m not into chasing with free agent money. So I shifted to Masahiro Tanaka, prepared to go maybe three years, $45 million but starting at 2/21. For a guy coming off of a 3.56 ERA season, hey, that’ll do.

And ... nothing.

I was wondering how a high-profile Yankees starter could be drawing so little interest as to keep me waiting by the phone to up a bid. But ... nothing.

So, indeed, we signed a terrific No. 3 starter for just $10.5 million a year, for just two years. The reaction:

And my explanation for the heist:

Now, Tanaka was extended a qualifying offer, so we get dinged in the draft. But for a win-now team who had two reliable starters (reliable, as in, pitch long enough to qualify for a win) in 2020, Tanaka (especially at that price) became a must.

And he should fire his agent, who advised turning down an $18 million QO with the Yankees for 2021 in a market that paid him just $10.5 million in each of the next two.

Carlos Rodón

Basically, all the decisions everyone agrees on with regard to arbitration and options, I went along with. That included refusing arbitration to both Rodón and Nomar Mazara. In both cases, I said that both would be welcomed back on one-year, $2 million deals. Rodón quickly snapped that offer up. Not sure of the interest in Mazara, but when we signed Grossman (and seemingly had other irons in the RF fire) I downgraded his offer to just a minor-league contract. (I never did find out what happened with Mazara, but he supposedly signed in Japan?)

A $2 million contract, despite the rollercoaster that Rodón has put the White Sox on between injury and performance, seems fine. Rodón can compete for the fifth starter role and otherwise work out of the pen. Or even in Charlotte.


So, it’s not the sexiest 2021 team, and certainly not the delicious offseason of spending we think we’re in store for from the heavy-spending Jerry Reinsdorf/Tony La Russa White Sox, but we met our budget ($126,181,000 of a proposed $128 million) and improved the team.

Players

Yasmani Grandal, C
Tucker Barnhardt, C
José Abreu, 1B
Andrew Vaughn, 1B-OF
Nick Madrigal, 2B
Leury García, 2B-SS-OF
Danny Mendick, 2B-3B
Tim Anderson, SS
Yoán Moncada, 3B
Eloy Jiménez, DH-LF
Luis Robert, CF
Adam Engel, OF
Robbie Grossman, RF-LF

Pitchers

Lucas Giolito, RHSP
Dallas Keuchel, LHSP
Masahiro Tanaka, RHSP
José Quintana, LSHP
Dane Dunning, RHSP

Aaron Bummer, LHRP
Tony Watson, LHRP
Jace Fry, LHRP
Carlos Rodón, LHRP
Matt Foster, RHRP
Codi Heuer, RHRP
Jimmy Cordero, RHRP
Evan Marshall, RHRP

This presumes Dunning pitches best in spring training, but obviously the No. 5 slot (as well as Rodón’s place in the pen) could be filled by Cease, López or Kopech, at least.

We are making the 2021 White Sox less dependent on the young starters. If any of the above five (Dunning, Rodón, Cease, López, Kopech) have to hone their craft in Charlotte for the start of, or all of, 2021 — so be it. No one’s being gifted anything this year.


Final notes

Edwin Encarnación, our 2020 Adam Dunn, signed a minor-league deal with Houston.

Alex Colomé went to Boston for two years and $14 million (at that rate, I would have considered bringing Colomé back, but only if Watson hadn’t signed and some of the other pitching didn’t work out; as many have said, with Bummer ready to man the final outs and very solid, right-handed arms in the pen on the cheap, re-upping Colomé and his still-shaky peripherals didn’t seem the best use of dough).

Although the sim doesn’t really do much with extensions, I would have upped Giolito’s salary to $6 million this season by basically offering him the “Luis Robert Extension,” just moved up one year. In total, it would be a four-year, $43 million deal with two player option years (unlike Robert’s) at $20 million apiece. So, in all likelihood, it’s a six-year, $83 million extension offer to Giolito.