With the publication of this year’s hitting and pitching surplus value reports — bastardized though they were with just 60 games to extrapolate from — we can start making some judgments on how GM Rick Hahn’s ballyhooed offseason turned out.
As you’ll see below, there were some sexy hits — and ugly misses. Believe it or not, the bulk of the success came from the White Sox core already in place (who Hahn compiled, to be sure). But as for the specific 2019-20 offseason, it’s at best a wash.
I’ll be honest, I thought the Abreu extension was howlingly bad; sure, reward El Capítan for his leadership, but to the tune of $40 million over three years, through his age-35 season? Blech. Well, I’ll eat those words, as Abreu responded to the likes of me and most of the league rolling their eyes at Hahn’s blind loyalty with an MVP season and a team-best $6.6 million in surplus value. With his 2020 performance, Abreu can accumulate as little as 6.0 WAR over the next two years for the White Sox to break even on his deal. Talk about unexpectedly being in the catbird seat. I’m still a bit bearish on the deal, but the results speak volumes.
SV: $6.6 million
Although Bummer has been on the White Sox for some time, it was last offseason that Hahn committed heavily to him, with a $15 million extension that keeps the lefty on the South Side until at least 2024. So far, so good, because despite pitching in just nine games in 2020, Bummer provided the team $900,000 SV off of an admittedly-modest million-dollar salary. If Bummer gives the team just 3.0 WAR over the rest of his four years in the deal, the White Sox break even; given that was his 2019 WAR, with full health Bummer could come close to settling up by the end of 2021 alone.
In theory, Cishek should have been a solid pickup for the White Sox. But in practice, well, he was throwing BP all year. Perhaps that titanic homer served up to La Pantera during intrasquad play really did break the submariner. The righthander was so bad, he didn’t even last the entire season on the South Side before being cut loose.
SV: -$2.7 million
Crochet was “just” a first round draft choice — but he was the first 2020 draft choice to play in the majors, and boy did he play. (Full disclosure, I wondered what the hell was going on with this pick by the White Sox, although to be fair I don’t think the most prescient scout saw oodles of 100s from Crochet on the radar gone by summer’s end.) Through just six innings over five games, Crochet provided the White Sox $900,000 SV, which is just ludicrous. At that rate, had Crochet pitched just 50 innings this year — say, the full short season, or just a couple of months of a regular season — he would have paid off his entire $4.5 million signing bonus. As soon as next season, the White Sox will be in the black with the Crochet pick, with five or so seasons of value still to come.
It’s not like Ricky Renteria used him much, but Dyson put up essentially zero WAR for his month-long audition on the White Sox, with his salary making him a slight debit on the team tab. Mostly, let’s ding Hahn here for making this the only move of the trading deadline and prompting 1,001 apologist questions from writers, having to do with “a guy” coming back from injury (Rodón, López, Bummer, et. al) being “LIKE a trade acquisition.”
Somehow, Nomar Mazara managed to not be the most controversial player in the starting lineup, and that’s because — in a haunting reminder of the 2010s we felt we left behind us — Chicago employed a non-hitting designated hitter for all 60 games of the regular season. Encarnación was supposedly a slow starter, but while the short season was kind to no one EE showed zero promise that he would have warmed up by June or July of a regular season. Worse, Renteria insisted Encarnación’s “quick-twitch” ability was still present when it was clear to all that the convivial parrot-parader was sloughing a soft stick through the zone.
SV: -$5.5 million
As a longtime proponent of bringing González back to the White Sox, it was heartbreaking to see that the veteran southpaw was so bad in his short South Side audition. On the plus side, he finally started a game for the White Sox — but González didn’t have a decent moment for the club all year. Injury and wildness killed his value. It was a modest gamble by Hahn, but one that didn’t work out.
SV: -$2.6 million
It’s indisputable that Grandal was THE big acquisition of the offseason, a huge deal that Hahn struck like a leopard leaping out of the bush, while everyone’s mind was still on Thanksgiving trimmings a year ago. And his negative surplus value (-$1 million) is more a factor of the short season/Grandal’s brief injury than the catcher being a bad investment. He’s a great guy to have on the club, who should continue to pay dividends. Let’s hope he has more long talks this offseason with Abreu (as the two had when José won the MVP) so that the mentor can share tips on how to increase offensive production into his 30s.
SV: -$1 million
Herrera wasn’t a signing from this past offseason, but his failed tenure in Chicago came to an early end (just two games in) in 2020, so he should be acknowledged as a 2020 failure. It’s no news flash that the veteran closer was downright awful for the White Sox. In 2019, he put up 0.1 aWAR, for a surplus value of -$8.1 million; this year, eating the final year of his deal along with two awful appearances put Herrera at a -$3.5 million SV (although next year’s buyout would put the figure at -$4.5 million). That’s an awful total for two seasons.
SV: -$4.5 million (-$12.6 million for the total contract)
The big free-agent snag on the pitching side was this crafty southpaw, and he paid off in a big way for Hahn, garnering both MVP and Cy Young votes. With 1.63 aWAR, Kid Keuchy was the most valuable pitcher on the staff and had the third-highest aWAR, behind Abreu and Tim Anderson. With a $7.6 million value against a $6.7 million salary, Keuchel’s surplus value was $900,000 — impressive given his high price tag. Off the field, Keuchel mentored a young staff and called out the entire team as it was dragging into August. And even better, Keuchel is cut from Mark Buehrle mold, so he’s a guy who may continue to pay off on his contract, rather than see a final year or two sink the Sox’s SV.
Well, not much else to say here. Mazara and hitting coach Frank Menechino both sounded very upbeat about the right fielder’s offense in 2020, with a focus on “doing damage” rather than beating a shift. But after Mazara’s yearly bout of strep throat set him back at season’s start (was that a clause in his contract?), he never recovered. Not even close. And his few safe hits? Weak contact that beat the shift to the left side. Mazara’s best moments weren’t dingers or slammed balls off the wall, but “good at-bats.” That the White Sox gave up Steele Walker for Mazara isn’t the point (yet, at least); that they punted another empty season of production in right field as the playoff contention window opened is.
SV: -$2.7 million
Yes, the White Sox didn’t “acquire” Robert for 2020, but Hahn made a foundational move by inking the center fielder to a Eloy deal, one that paid out around $52 million in guaranteed money through 2025. While La Pantera slumped to end the season — one in which he was mentioned as an MVP candidate a month in — his WAR numbers were very sturdy, unlike most other players: All three measures essentially agreed Robert was a 1.5 WAR player over his first 60 games. At that pace, Robert will put up 20 WAR through the rest of his guaranteed $52 million, providing a projected $92 million in value. Robert’s $4.8 million SV for 2020, fourth-best on the team, was a fabulous beginning; giving the White Sox $40 million in SV over the rest of his guaranteed deal would be legendary.
SV: $4.8 million
No reason to get too into Yolmer, given he’s already moved east after the Baltimore Orioles claimed him early this offseason. But Hahn scores nicely on two fronts with Yolmer in 2020. First, he picked him up for the final month of the season on a minimum deal, which after 0.2 aWAR production yielded an $800,000 SV. But also, extrapolating his 0.2 aWAR over a six-month season yields 1.2 WAR, or a $5.5 million value. Sánchez was in line for more than $6 million in arbitration per MLBTR, so non-tendering the fan favorite was no worse than a wash.
All in all, surprisingly for a team that finished 10 games better than .500 and had a mid-90s win pace, Hahn’s acquisitions for 2020 collectively cost the White Sox some $4.5 million. If you decide that Herrera shouldn’t count against Hahn, guess what? All the moves, from the great (José Abreu!) to the OK (Jarrod Dyson) to the ugly (Edwin Encarnación!) didn’t really move the meter a muscle.
The White Sox (and baseball at large) seem destined for a quieter offseason to come. Let’s hope that a bigger percentage of relatively few moves will pay off for this team on the rise.
Notes: Guys like Codi Heuer, Matt Foster, Evan Marshall, Nick Madrigal and Danny Mendick, perhaps among others, all played significant roles on the 2020 White Sox. Hahn, of course, gets credit for that. And you could argue that developments such as Heuer and Foster succeeding in a rush to the majors, and Madrigal flourishing well enough after his service time was manipulated just enough, should be credited as 2020 successes. But those guys were in the system and just moved up into roles; no significant risk was taken by using them (whereas Hahn chose to give Robert and Bummer extensions, etc.).
Numbers in this report card are rounded to the nearest hundred thousand, and as explained in the prior value surveys, are my best estimates of salary paid.