Anybody who keeps up with the South Side Sox message boards knows I was NOT a happy camper with the White Sox offseason.
They made relatively modest financial commitments in a critical season, while leaving obvious holes on their roster and precious little depth to draw upon. Granted, one of those budget signings (Carlos Rodón) is turning out better than anybody’s wildest expectations, but the best that could be said about Liam Hendriks and Adam Eaton is that they’re basically a wash financially for the time being.
And that brings me to the premise of this, the latest of my randomly submitted ramblings that Brett so generously posts: the future of the White Sox finances.
Rick Hahn, in one of his many fan-bashing interviews, stated that, due to the many extensions signed by the team, the money has, in fact, already been spent. This is true, but from a future perspective, which made 2021 so critical in the sense that it represents the last season the White Sox will have real financial flexibility before these contracts start becoming bigger burdens.
At this time, the White Sox have $109.4 million in guaranteed salaries for next season on the books. Roughly 35% of this is taken up by Yasmani Grandal and José Abreu, but escalating salaries for Tim Anderson, Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert, and Yoán Moncada contribute heavily to the mounting finances. Now while this amount is manageable, it quickly becomes untenable (by White Sox standards) when you take into account pending arbitration raises. Lucas Giolito alone will probably net around $10 million next year based on his performance thus far, with probably another $2-3 million going to Adam Engel. Even if they elect not to bring back Jace Fry, Reynaldo López, Evan Marshall, or Brian Goodwin, the White Sox are looking at about $120-125 million committed next season, with several significant holes to fill on their roster.
Now, to put that into perspective, their payroll this season is about $130-135 million, roughly equivalent to the club record set 10 years ago. If they keep payroll steady, which wouldn’t be entirely shocking after a season with COVID-reduced attendance (even assuming a playoff run brings in a bit of extra capital), they’re looking at about $10-15 million to replace the roster vacancies created by the pending departures of Lance Lynn, Rodón, Leury García, and Eaton. (Lynn or Rodón alone could cost $10-15 million next season, in case you think they may stay on the South Side.)
That’s two starting pitchers, a super-utility player, and a starting right fielder.
So where does that leave us for 2022? Well, let’s examine the possibilities:
PLAN JERRY: DIVIDEND CHAMPS OVER DIVISION CHAMPS
Let’s assume that Jerry Reinsdorf continues his usual frugal approach to the White Sox payroll and refuses to go much further than what they’re already spending. That will force Hahn to place a LOT of hope in the farm system, and prevent him from trading any of his upper-minors depth away for help this season (not that there’s a ton of value to be had there, anyhow). If Michael Kopech stays on schedule and Garrett Crochet is able to make a similar transition to starting, that covers the two vacated rotation spots, with Jonathan Stiever presumably still in the No. 6 role. Gavin Sheets, Blake Rutherford, Luis González, and Micker Adolfo are their best hopes for filling in the right field vacancy, and Danny Mendick would presumably take Leury’s super-utility role. That leaves the White Sox a decent amount of money to find a couple bullpen arms to take over for Kopech and Crochet.
PLAN TONY: RESIST CHANGING THE GAME BY CHANGING THE TEAM
As mentioned before, one issue Hahn has created with his many contract extensions is that, with time, these allow less and less financial flexibility. However, at this stage, they are generally still cost-effective in the grand scheme of things, just less so than before. Still, imagine if Tony La Russa has the pull to force a trade of a team stalwart who doesn’t fit in with his old-codger philosophies. While Yermín Mercedes seems the logical candidate, he doesn’t really free up any salary. On the other hand, Jiménez could be a $7.33 million savings for 2022 (and more beyond), Anderson would free up $9.5 million in his final guaranteed season, and Moncada a whopping $13.8 million before his salary escalates into uncharted waters for the franchise.
If you believe Eloy is not an outfielder, or that Andrew Vaughn is one, then perhaps one could argue Eloy is expendable and valuable, and would free up a not-insignificant sum. Anderson may be the engine that makes the team run, but I find myself wondering how long he and TLR can co-exist at this rate, and nearly $10 million in savings could be significant. Unfortunately, the team is really lacking in-house replacements at shortstop, and they tend not to come cheap in free agency. That leaves Moncada, who would offer the most financial relief (especially in subsequent years) and, depending on how Jake Burger progresses, has a logical in-house replacement (side note: I was really out on Burger’s prospects, but he has obviously put a lot of work into getting into better shape and keeping his game fresh, and I’m extremely impressed by where he is after so much lost time). Obviously, given the emotional investment fans have in these players, this would be a scorched-earth sort of maneuver, but depending on how Reinsdorf and La Russa (assuming he’s allowed to poison the waters for another season) decide to progress, it’s believable.
PLAN FAN: SPEND THE DAMN MONEY
This is the plan we’re all counting on, I think. Fans are back in the stands to a degree that it’s almost back to business as usual, so Jerry can’t keep crying pandemic-poor. Plus, if the team makes a deep playoff run, that’s big money in the coffers. The last time the White Sox made a deep playoff run, there was significant investment in the team, and I don’t believe it’s unreasonable to believe they should be running a $150-160 million payroll at a minimum next season, which would STILL not put them in the league’s Top 10.
Most payroll issues are exclusive to the 2022 season for the time being, as 2023 will bring massive salary relief from the expiration of Abreu’s deal and presumably the declining of Dallas Keuchel’s option year (and, potentially, Anderson’s as well). Ideally, another player or two will distinguish themselves in the minors and become a key contributor.
But in this, the most critical portion of the purported Window of Contention, Rick Hahn will need to summon quite a bit of creativity and find some diamonds in the rough for next season — especially if he gets backed any further into the proverbial paywall.