The White Sox still have a kick-ass roster. As much as I know the Sox CAN rock a $200M payroll, and SHOULD, I'm mostly *mostly* respecting the payroll limits of this assignment. The real life White Sox should absolutely add a guy like Marcus Semien and still be able to get a decent RF and a reliable SP, and a couple more RP pieces. But I think we are all expecting them to set their sights a bit lower with something like Conforto for RF, some aging vet like the Gio Gonzalez signing for moderate insurance in the rotation, and some mixture of Engel/Sheets/Vaughn in RF with the hopes that Cespedes can be in the mix towards the end of the summer if he shakes the rust off in Birminglotte.
I guess I'm aiming for somewhere in between the harsh negative reality and the "win the winter" joys of a blissful 2014 winter meetings that brought us so many headliners that I refuse to remind you of.
Remember the 2020 Arizona Diamondbacks, when they had Ketel Marte AND Starlin Marte on the same team? And the "Marte Par-tay" was a fun little slogan they had for the duo? Probably not, because it was a flop; not for those players, but for the team. Everyone loves a sequel! Who says only Hollywood is out of new ideas?
With that, let’s begin.
- Lucas Giolito ($7.9M): Tender
- Reynaldo López ($2.8M): Tender
- Evan Marshall: $2.3M: Non-Tender
- Adam Engel ($2.2M): Tender
- Brian Goodwin ($1.7M): Non-Tender
- Jimmy Cordero ($1.2M): Non-Tender
Jace Fry ($1M): Non-Tender
- RIP, Burger + Fry + Colas. Maybe a minor league deal, with a side of cheese?
- Craig Kimbrel ($16M – $1M buyout): Already Picked Up
- César Hernández ($6M): Already Declined (Though I would’ve picked it up for backup plan at 2B, and traded him by ST if I successfully upgraded 2B by then)
OTHER IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
- Leury García (Made $3.5M in 2021): Let Go, FINALLY
Carlos Rodón ($3M): Already Let Go
- The lack of a Qualifying Offer was ridiculous to me, but I can only assume based on that shocking decision and Hahn's coded language since then, that they are not excited about Rodon's health, or at least not confident that he can patchwork together another 130 innings in 2022.
Billy Hamilton ($1M): Let Go
- Honestly I love this dude and hope he sticks around on a MiLB deal. He's so fun to watch.
Ryan Tepera ($950K): Will Re-Sign
- Dude was just nails. Come on home, Ryan.
OF Starling Marte (3 Years, $57M + 4th Year Option for $11M or $3M buyout):
Effectively a 3 yr/$60M deal or a 4 yr/$68M deal. Risky money to give a 33-year-old, sure, but Marte has been consistently well above average before exploding for a career year last year at age 32. From 2013 to 2021, age 24 to 32 seasons, Marte has put up fWAR seasons like this, based off 150/gm rates....
- 2013 - 4.8
- 2014 - 5.0
- 2015 - 3.2
- 2016 - 4.3
- 2017 - 2.7
- 2018 - 3.7
- 2019 - 3.4
- 2020 - 3.2
- 2021 - 6.8
Marte ended his unbelievable 2021 campaign not only hitting a very sexy .308, but with a career high .381 OBP. His modest walk rates in the 5% range climbed to over 8% this season while maintaining his sub 20% strikeout rate that he's kept below that number since 2014.
Marte would play RF for this team, which is kind of funny that he would play next to Luis Robert considering I think of Marte as an older version of Luis Robert. Similar skill sets, with Robert likely possessing more power, but Marte being the better base stealer. To that point, Marte swiped 47 (!!!) stolen bases this season, the 3rd time he's gone over 40 SB on a year. Even sexier? He was caught just 5 times, going 23 for his first 23 when he joined Oakland.
This probably goes without saying, but Marte is a very good defensive player too. While playing LF in Pittsburgh he had 3 seasons out of 4 where he had 16 or more DRS, topping out at 21 DRS in 2015. While he was a full-time LF, in 2013-2017, he led all LF in baseball in DRS with 66, more than Alex Gordon who had 50. For whatever reason that hasn't translated over to CF quite as well, where he has been a negative DRS for 3 straight years since he moved there. Statcast however says he's above average in CF. In any case, he will be playing RF in Chicago.
RHP Ryan Tepera (2 Years, $8M): Tepera, former top-10 MVP vote-getter, was awesome for the Sox in 2021. He was also awesome for the Cubs in 2021 and pretty good for them in 2020 as well. His issues in the past have been walks and HRs. Incredibly frustrating things to see a RP allow. But in 2021 he improved both drastically. He cut his career HR rate in half and shaved more than 20% off of his BB/9. He did just turn 34 a couple of weeks ago, so the money shouldn't be much here, plus we can already scratch Houston off the list of available suitors.
RHP Collin McHugh (2 Years, $12M): McHugh was a pretty good starter in Houston before becoming a pretty good reliever in Houston before becoming a CHEAT CODE in Tampa. He and Blake Treinen lead baseball in reliever fWAR for non-closers. A 1.8 fWAR in 64 innings with a K/BB over 6. Like Tepera, he's 34, but this team will need to replace 3-4 RPs and this will have to be somewhat of an overhaul area given my future moves.
LHP Aaron Loup (1 Year, $5M): Loup is going to fill the vacated lefty RP role that I am going to create later in this plan. Loup had an awesome season with the Mets, and does a good job getting out righties, so he's not a "oh crap he has to face 3 hitters" type of lefty out of the pen. And you'll never guess how old he will be at the start of 2022..... Just guess.... 34!! Wheeeee!
LHP Jose Quintana (1 Year, $4M): Because my initial plan was over budget, I had to last minute find a deal for move Keuchel for relief. That then left a hole in my rotation and with 2 lefties leaving the rotation, I felt I needed to add in a lefty to the mix. Time to finally bring our sweet boy Q back home where he belongs. In all reality, I could see this spot used as some sort of mix of Quintana, McHugh, Lopez, and Steiver to get by. Also, the bullpen is extremely deep if bullpen days are necessary.
Let me preface my trades by saying I spoke with multiple writers/podcasters who are fans of both Arizona and Toronto to work out these trades. Players were tweaked from my initial ideas to fit what those fans thought made more sense for what they wanted or would they would give up. I thought it was important to not just view these from one side.
1) White Sox acquire 2B/OF Ketel Marte from the Arizona Diamondbacks for P Garrett Crochet, SP Jared Kelley, 3B Jake Burger, and OF Benyamin Bailey
Well, you already knew by the title and intro that this was going this way. I've been clamoring for the Sox to trade for Ketel Marte ever since Madrigal got hurt. My thought was to play Marte at 2B for the remainder of 2021, and then move him to RF in 2022 when Madrigal returned. Obviously, and sadly, Madrigal won't be returning, so now 2B is free and open. 2B is Marte's far better defensive position anyway, but can move to corner OF if needed. He's a plus defender at 2B and can hang at SS too.
Marte just turned 28 years old, and as a switch hitter he kind of feels like the player we want Yoan Moncada to be, or thought he would be, especially when he too played 2B. Marte is likely a 4-ish fWAR guy going forward. He's a 25 HR threat who will hit around .300+, walk at a solid 8%+ rate and rarely strike out twice as often. He has a career K% of under 15% while posting two different seasons of 139 wRC+ and 149 wRC+. Sandwiched in between those was a poor 2020 season, that I'm willing to chalk up to a weird Covid season for a ton of guys. Marte has spent the majority of his career batting 2nd and if it wasn't for Starlin Marte on this team, that is exactly where he would bat for the 2022 White Sox. Instead he will hit towards the middle-to-bottom, which is an incredible testament to this lineup. Marte has 3 years left on his deal for an extremely affordable $30M. He will get paid $8M in 2022, then $10M, then $12M, the last 2 years being club options in case of a disastrous turn.
For the Arizona side of this trade, they get a very exciting arm in Crochet. I truly believe that Crochet is just not a good fit for this current team where they are. He needs to be given a chance to start and the Sox don't have the luxury to send him back down to AAA and stretch out and hope he can get a spot in the rotation in 2023, pitching 130 innings or so. Arizona has that time on their side. Plus the idea of a tall lanky lefty who can pump 102 MPH from a crossfire delivery just might arouse their imaginations a bit.
I love me some Jakey Burgs. Absolutely hate to mock him in to any trades but the harsh reality is that he just doesn't have a spot in this organization. Arizona, however, doesn't have a 3B right now. Fangraphs has Josh Rojas projected for 3B, but Rojas played more 2B, SS, and LF than he did 3B in 2021. Burger fills a hole, or at least adds to competition. Their GM Mike Hazen recently said one of their primary goals this off-season is finding a young controllable 3B. The Burger and Beer dream will live on in Phoenix.
Jared Kelley has had a pretty bad start to his pro career for the Sox, but the Dbacks might do well buying low on a former top-20 draft talent from 2020. Still a live arm with a lot of time on his side to get his body back in shape.
Bailey is a nice young player that scouts and evaluators love to pick as a sleeper prospect in this system. He's a guy the Sox don't want to move, but can't let hold up a trade either.
2) White Sox trade CL Craig Kimbrel to Toronto for C Reese McGuire, SS Rikelbin De Castro (FG #11), and RP Jackson Rees (FG #21)
We know Jerry doesn't like to waste money, and he won't here. Toronto needs bullpen help and they have some money to spend. Jordan Romano was very good for Toronto last season as their primary closer, but he is far less entrenched in that role than Liam Hendriks, so Kimbrel would take the closing duties for a year in Toronto while Romano takes the 8th inning role.
The Jays are a natural fit here not only because they need RP help, and have money, but because they have a glut of 3 decent catchers, with their #1 prospect, also a catcher, about to join the fray. In discussing with Jays fans, they basically put equal value on catchers McGuire and Danny Jansen. I ultimately chose McGuire for the role of backup catcher for the Sox due to his left-handed bat, being known for his defense, and for having an above-average arm to control the opponent running game, a glaring weakness for the Sox. McGuire also ranks around top 10ish in catcher framing as well. Anything he adds with the bat, which seems to be better in the Majors than when he was a prospect, will just be gravy.
Rikelbin De Castro is a SS that is turns just 19 in a couple of weeks. He is so raw and new as a recent 2019 international signee that the internet can't even agree on how to spell his name yet. Fangraphs scouts him as a current 60 grade runner with 60 grade FV on his glove. He's known as a slick defender with smooth contact skills and legit gap power. Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com said of him, "He is a high-energy athlete with an impressive set of tools across the board. De Castro is slender, but he’s strong. He’s a prospect with good hands, solid footwork, speed and a high baseball IQ." He's essentially a lottery ticket type prospect.
RP Jackson Rees is someone who came out of no where as a complete non-prospect to have an utterly dominant 2019 season. In 39 appearances, Rees would craft a 0.73 ERA across two different A leagues, finishing the season with 88 strikeouts, 15 walks, nine saves, and a 0.892 WHIP over 61.2 innings of work. Rees only pitched 2 innings in 2021 before needing TJS. He had the surgery in June, so he will likely not be back until 2023 when he be 28 years old and likely pushed to the majors sometime that summer. He's just a throw-in RP worth taking a chance on in case his 2019 was him unlocking something and he's someone the Jays won't lose sleep over either.
3) White Sox trade SP Dallas Keuchel, Zack Collins, and $3M to the St. Louis Cardinals for OF Patrick Romeri (FG #27)
I'll be honest, I got to the end of this thing thinking I was going to be able to not move Keuchel and still stay around $170-175M. I was wrong. In order go get down in that range I needed to find a place for Keuchel and my initial thought was to find a team with good defense that could benefit from his groundballs, and he could benefit from not having to complain about bad defense or shifting behind him. Going home to Houston was something I found plausible until I realized their rotation is full. Cardinals seem to have a spot potentially at the end of their rotation, and health concerns with other members of it.
Romeri is a 20-year-old kid who drafted in the 12th RD in 2019 from the fabled IMG Academy prep school. He's got average tools across the board and FG says he should stick in RF and showed stand-out exit velocities in the GCL. He's just a warm body who is young enough to roll the dice on.
I prioritized athleticism and defense here. Marte and Marte are both plus defenders. McGuire is a plus catcher, framer, and thrower. I left the rotation mostly in tact, and added a few bullpen arms. Here’s how I’d line the team up on Opening Day 2022:
- (R) Tim Anderson (SS): $9.5M
- (R) Luis Robert (CF): $6M
- (S) Starling Marte (RF): $19M
- (R) Ketel Marte (2B): $8M
- (S) Yasmani Grandal (C): $18.25M
- (R) Jose Abreu (1B): $19.7M
- (S) Yoan Moncada (3B): $13.8M
- (R) Eloy Jimenez (DH): $7.3M
- (R) Andrew Vaughn (LF): $575K
- (L) Gavin Sheets (1B/DH): $575K
- (L) Reese McGuire (C): $575K
- (R) Adam Engel (OF): $2.2M
- (R) Romy Gonzalez (UTIL): $575K
- (R) Lucas Giolito: $7.9M
- (R) Lance Lynn: $18.5M
- (R) Dylan Cease: $575K
- (L) Jose Quintana: $4M
- (R) Michael Kopech: $575K
- (R) Matt Foster: $575K
- (R) Jose Ruiz: $575K
- (R) Reynaldo Lopez: $2.8M
- (R) Collin McHugh: $6M
- (L) Aaron Loup: $5M
- (R) Ryan Tepera: $4M
- (L) Aaron Bummer: $2.5M
- (R) Liam Hendriks: $13.3M
TOTAL PROJECTED SALARY: $175M
$5M over the $170M target seems reasonable enough for me to stop pulling my hair out over how I can afford the Marte Bros. without having to gut the bullpen I created.
I am happy that I was able to balance out the lineup by adding another lefty force, switch-hitting Ketel Marte, while also improving the team defense and speed. McGuire is a for sure improvement over Collins, and Starling Marte is a massive improvement over whatever the hell you want to call RF last season. This offense is quite ridiculous.
On the pitching side I feel like I did a good job rebuilding the bullpen. The Sox bullpen was likely going to lose Kopech, Kimbrel, Tepera, and Marshall from 2021. I brought back Tepera, and then added reliable veterans like McHugh and Loup to help stabilize the pen. Moving Kimbrel paid for all of those guys, plus some.
The weakness here, and I'm guessing the weakness most of these OPPs will have is the Rotation. It's hard to replace an ace like Carlos Rodon, and also be forced to pretty much give away Dallas Kuechel and still replace them and upgrade elsewhere. I feel even if the target payroll was just as high as $180M, I would have felt better about getting someone more reliable than Jose Quintana to slot in to that #4 spot. My theory is the Sox should be constructing themselves more for the 2022 playoffs than the 2022 regular season. Keep Kopech fresh enough all year that he still has innings to give in October. If they can get that far, then 3 or 4 starters is all they need for a playoff series and Quintana just becomes a bullpen guy at best.
I've spent consecutive nights up until 3 am now doing research for and creating this, but it's always super fun to do them and see how hard these are when there isn't a PS5 controller in my hand. Look forward to hearing feedback and getting a chance to see how many of us had similar thoughts. I tried not to skim too many other OPPs for fear of influence, but if White Sox twitter has told me anything, it's that the group think can sometimes be too Conforto for comfort. ;)