The White Sox need a new identity, and I’m adding 12 new players on both free agent deals and via trades to fix as many weaknesses as possible. The main, high-level goals here are to rebuild the rotation, vastly improve the team’s defense, and add hitters who get on base.
- Dylan Cease: $8.8 million Tender
- Andrew Vaughn: $3.7 million Tender
This could be Vaughn’s last opportunity to show some offensive growth. Another near-league average output could warrant a non-tender next offseason.
- Michael Kopech: $3.6 million Tender
As I detailed in my recap of Kopech’s 2023 season, I’d like to see him work in a “piggyback” with Garrett Crochet — two pitchers who the team want to be more than single-inning relievers, but very likely don’t have futures as traditional starters.
- Touki Toussaint: $1.7 million Non-tender
I’ve seen a lot of plans that are tendering Touki simply because of the lack of pitchers in the organization with any major league experience. However, Touki’s stuff and command were both well below average: He walked almost 15% of the hitters he faced. Toussaint simply wasn’t very good, but on a horrid 2023 team his performance doesn’t seem so bad. Now I have to pay him more than twice the league minimum to be a spot starter? Pass.
- Trayce Thompson: $1.7 million Non-tender
- Garrett Crochet: $900,000 Tender
- Clint Frazier: $900,000 Non-tender
- Matt Foster: $740,000 Tender
- Tim Anderson: $14 million ($1 million buyout) Buyout
- Liam Hendriks: $15 million ($15 million buyout, paid $1.5 million annually over next 10 years) Buyout
- Mike Clevinger: $12 million mutual option ($4 million buyout) Takes Buyout
OTHER IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
- Yasmani Grandal ($18.25 million in 2023) Let Go
- Elvis Andrus ($3 million) Let Go
- Bryan Shaw ($720,000) Let Go, offer NRI
- José Ureña ($720,000) Let Go
Gary Sanchez (two years, $20 million)
There’s a couple of different directions the club could go to find their 2024 starting catcher, but one thing that we do know is that he’s not currently in the organization. Everyone has seen the rumors linking the White Sox to Salvador Perez, but the 33-year-old catcher hardly belongs regularly behind the plate at this stage of his career, is coming off a career-worst 86 wRC+, and is owed more than $40 million over the next two seasons.
Other options could include defensive wizard Austin Hedges, a former switch-hitting Cub Victor Caratini (coming off a solid season as Milwaukee’s backup), or a reunion with Omar Narváez (which would require a trade with the Mets).
I like Sanchez on a two-year deal for a reasonable $10 million AAV. He never turned into a superstar after his first two seasons in The Bronx teased that, but he spent time with the Mets and Padres in 2023 and put up 1.7 fWAR over just 75 games. This includes a 111 wRC+ with above-average framing metrics and pop times. Sanchez also doesn’t hit a lot of ground balls, which gives him the definitive edge over Caratini for me.
Luis Severino (one year, $10 million + $14 million 2025 mutual option, $4 million buyout)
Severino is one of my favorite rebound candidates, and I want to give him a similarly structured deal that the club handed out last offseason to add to the rotation.
Severino was pummeled in 2023, but there are a lot of signs that he wasn’t as bad as the results show, with the main one being his pitch quality. FanGraphs provides us with a couple of pitch quality models to leverage, and these metrics allow us to isolate predicted results based on what the pitcher himself can control, even more so than stats like FIP.
The two models I’ll reference are PitchingBot and Pitching+. Severino’s 2023 botERA, which frames the PitchingBot pitch quality model into an ERA context that we’re all familiar with, was just 4.01 (compared to his 6.65 ERA). A 4.01 botERA is the seventh best among starting pitchers in this offseason’s class, handily besting potential much higher potential White Sox expenditures such as Jordan Montgomery (4.37) and Eduardo Rodriguez (4.69).
Severino’s offseason options would be a lot different if he had been able to duplicate his 2022 season in 2023; two years ago, he posted a 3.18 ERA and a 3.70 FIP (3.64 botERA).
Looking at Severino’s Pitching+ numbers, his slider was actually a lot better in 2023 compared to 2022, but his fastball hurt him. When hitters don’t fear your fastball, it affects the entire arsenal. Severino was able to maintain his 88th-percentile fastball velocity (96.4 mph), but it had about an inch-and-a-half less induced vertical break, which is significant. This helps to explain the four-point drop in the pitch’s Pitching+, but the results also show that opposing hitters went from hitting .186 on it to .349, along with an xwOBA that surged from .299 to .405.
I like the idea of Ethan Katz getting the opportunity to work with Severino to try to get some of that ride on his fastball back. Also, Severino should probably cut his four-seam usage down closer near 40%, and maybe consider implementing the sinker more against lefties.
Seth Lugo (three years, $42 million)
Lugo has put together a very solid career (3.50 ERA, 3.68 FIP) in a myriad of different roles: starter, long-reliever, setup man, and occasional closer. As he entered free agency for the first time last offseason, Lugo decided he wanted to be a starter again. San Diego bought in, and he posted a 3.57 ERA, 3.83 FIP and a 2.8 fWAR. Lugo’s botERA was a very solid 4.16, putting him 14th-best among free agent starters. His 103 overall Pitching+ (102 Stuff+, 102 Location+) is tied for the fifth best among free agent starters.
Lugo features a diverse six-pitch arsenal, and he’ll throw all of them to both lefties and righties alike. He’s best known for a curveball that generated the third-most vertical drop of any pitcher in 2023 who threw at least 250 curves. However, Lugo also throws an 86 mph slider that gives off some seam-shifted wake traits when looking at its axis differentials, a pitch that he could probably throw a little bit more. He also has a sweeper to round out a trio of breaking balls, and it had 16.2´´of horizontal break, putting it in the 72nd percentile. Opposing hitters hit just .130 against it, with a .259 xwOBA.
Both his four-seamer and sinker offerings are nothing to write home about, but they work given the effectiveness of Lugo’s breakers. He’s got three good breaking balls, and he takes advantage of them, throwing them a combined 45% of the time. It’s a very efficient usage profile.
Lugo will be entering his age-34 season, but because the average 34-year-old starting pitcher doesn’t have only 641 career innings under his belt Lugo’s arm should be fresher than most. He proved his pitch quality could hold up as a full-time starter, and I like him as a somewhat underrated target that’s ideally No. 3 or 4 in the rotation when the club looks to seriously compete again in 2025.
Jason Heyward (one year, $9 million)
Jason Heyward had a great year in L.A. last season after signing with the Dodgers as a non-roster invitee. He put up a .269/.340/.473 slash with a 121 wRC+ and a 2.2 fWAR. in 2021-22 with the Cubs, Heyward posted just a -0.1 fWAR total.
Throughout his career, Heyward has been a fantastic defender in right field, and he’s coming off a 2023 season where he posted 5 OAA (91st percentile) and 5 DRS. Both Chris Getz and Josh Barfield have stressed the team’s need to fortify their defense, and Heyward does so nicely.
Heyward also had a massive resurgence with his bat in 2023 — most notably with his plate discipline. His chase rate was down 1.3%, his Z-Contact improved by more than 6% and swing rate also dropped in general. The quality of contact improvement was also significant: Heyward’s xwOBA climbed from .278 to .318, his barrel rate almost doubled, and his Sweet-Spot% was up 6.3%. Aside from the shortened 2020 season, Heyward’s .813 OPS was his best since 2012.
I wouldn’t project a similar offensive output from Heyward in 2024 (Steamer sees him as a league-average hitter while regressing on defense), but I’d mark him down for somewhere between a 100-110 wRC+ and 1-2 WAR.
Heyward is also known as a well-respected veteran who would be a welcome addition to the White Sox clubhouse. But he also happens to be a lefthander who can hit and play awesome defense.
Michael A. Taylor (two years, $13 million)
The White Sox now need a platoon partner for Heyward/fourth outfielder. Enter Kansas City Royals connection No. 1, Michael A. Taylor, who’s been consistently good over the last three seasons. Since the start of 2021, Taylor has put up 5.2 fWAR with Kansas City and Minnesota while posting a .240/.278/.381 slash and an 85 wRC+. However, most of Taylor’s production comes from roaming the outfield, as he’s put up 32 Outs Above Average over that three-year span, best among outfielders.
Taylor clubbed a career-best 21 homers in 2023, and it’s clear that he made a concerted effort to trade contact for power. He saw a 119-point increase in his ISO, but also a 3.1% drop in his Z-Contact. It was worth it, as he was 7% better at the plate overall.
Against southpaws in 2023, Taylor had a .252/.313/.602 slash with a 146 wRC+ compared to a .206/.264/.377 slash with a 75 wRC+ against righthanders. For his career, he’s at a 99 wRC+ versus lefties and 75 against righties.
The recently released Steamer projections aren’t forecasting Taylor’s power surge to continue in 2024, yet I’m still confident in handing him a two-year deal because of the high floor of production that his glove provides. Right field is an ever-revolving door, and if Andrew Benintendi plays another season of defense like he did in 2023, he’s entering the full-time DH conversation. Plus, as the team has no high-level outfield prospects. Taylor’s a good fit.
David Robertson (one year, $8 million)
It’s safe to say that the White Sox won’t be spending much on this year’s bullpen, but adding a veteran who has some back-end experience is a good idea. Robertson’s coming off of a nice season with both the Mets and Marlins, and if you take out the six innings he threw in 2019 he’s never had a bad season in 14 years. He only threw 18 2⁄3 innings from 2019 through 2021, and other than that three-year span, his worst season long FIP is 3.58, which he put up in 2010, 2016 with the White Sox, and 2022.
More than half of the pitches that Robertson throws are cutters that he started employing when he debuted as Mariano Rivera’s setup man — and that pitch is nasty. It generated the third-highest vertical break vs. average among pitchers who qualified with enough cutters. There’s also some axis deviation, which points to the pitch featuring an aspect of seam-shifted wake and breaking late it its path to home plate. Opposing hitters hit just .183 against it in 2023, and that was backed up by a .190 xBA and .265 xwOBA.
Robertson also has a traditional curveball with both above average vertical and horizontal movement that held hitters to a .262 xwOBA last season. His cutter/curveball combo works extremely well together, and he’s been doing so for a decade-and-a-half almost the exact same way. Entering his age-38 season, Robertson has had a very underrated career. In 2023, he was still in the 80th percentile or better in xERA, xBA, Whiff%, K%, and Barrel%. The only concern is when his control escapes him occasionally, and that was more prevalent last year after he was traded to Miami.
I’d slot Robertson in as the Opening Day closer, pitching after Aaron Bummer and Gregory Santos in high-leverage situations. He should be able to fetch a nice prospect in July should the club be out of contention at that point.
Nick Senzel (one year, $2.5 million + $7.5 million 2025 club option, $500,000 buyout)
This move is incumbent on the Reds non-tendering Senzel, which I’m predicting will happen, but it’s no guarantee that he’ll be available on the open market.
Nick Senzel is attractive because he already does something well (hits lefties) that the team needs given the rest of the proposed moves of this plan, but there’s also some allure around the idea of a post-hype breakout for a former consensus Top 10 prospect.
Senzel was drafted second overall by Cincinnati in 2016, but since his 2019 debut, he’s slashed just .239/.302/.399 with an 83 wRC+ while dealing with some injuries along the way. He was drafted as a third baseman, yet prior to the 2023 season, Senzel had only played 22 total innings at the hot corner. This is first because the team had Eugenio Suarez putting up massive numbers, but they also signed Mike Moustakas to a four-year deal around the time that Senzel might’ve naturally assumed the position. Instead, Senzel has been pushed to the outfield in 83% of the innings he’s played in the big leagues. He’s certainly athletic enough to play the outfield, but advanced defensive metrics tell us he’s not very skilled out there.
There’s something to be said about calling up a highly-touted prospect with substantial expectations and then immediately playing him out of position. I don’t know if there’s enough evidence out there to draw any definitive conclusions, but anecdotally I’ve seen it have a negative overall impact on the player. Andrew Vaughn is another good example.
Still, Senzel hit .347/.389/.619 vs. lefties in 2023 with a 165 wRC+. For his career, Senzel has hit .286/.334/.459 with a 108 wRC+ against southpaws. So even without hoping for a change-of-scenery breakout, Senzel provides utility given all the lefty bats I’m also adding. I’d keep him on the infield for the most part, but the ability to also slide to the outfield in a pinch is valuable, too.
The option allows the team to bring him back should he put up a season that warrants consideration for the starting 3B job in 2025, but also another half-million for Senzel if not.
Johnny Cueto (one year, $2.5 million)
For the Opening Day fifth starter, the team needs to add one more veteran arm in free agency. I’ll admit, buying low on Cueto doesn’t look attractive at all on the surface, and there are plenty of better options out there if the organization is willing to surpass its 2023 payroll with commitments pushing past $180 million (which seems very unlikely). After posting a resurgent 2.5 fWAR over 25 outings in 2022, Cueto had an ugly 7.02 FIP in just 52 1⁄3 innings in 2023 with Miami, dealing with injuries to his bicep and ankle along with a viral infection.
Referencing botERA once more, Cueto’s sat at 4.08, a massive difference from his actual ERA. Pitching+ agrees, as his 103 value is tied as the fifth-best available on the free agent market among starters. His value doesn’t come from his “Stuff” at this point in his career, but rather his elite command. His 107 Pitching+ in 2023 was tied for the 10th-best in baseball among pitchers who threw at least 50 innings, as his pitch quality was a lot better than the results showed. Add in the fact that the defense behind him should be a lot better than what Cueto had as a Sox pitcher in 2022, and suddenly we have a bounce-back candidate that can eat some innings.
This team need to ensure that prospects like Nick Nastrini, Jake Eder, and Cristian Mena, who all may debut in 2024, are not rushed to Chicago due not to merit but a lack of other alternatives. We also know that Cueto has the reputation of being a tremendously hard-working individual that seemed to have a positive presence in the 2022 Sox clubhouse amid a successful effort.
Brian Anderson, Enrique Hernandez, Jake Marisnick, James Kaprielian, Bryan Shaw, Aaron Loup, Dominic Leone, Jose Cisnero
Eloy Jiménez to San Diego for Jake Cronenworth and Matt Carpenter
Here’s my most interesting move of the offseason.
It’s time for the White Sox to try and move on from Eloy Jiménez. His career line with the club sits at .275/.324/.487, which is good for a 118 wRC+. That’s certainly not bad, but we’ve never gotten an impactful full season from Eloy. The expectation was that we would have multiple seasons that would resemble what he did when you combine his 2020 and 2022 seasons, which would be a 142 wRC+ and 3.3 fWAR over 553 plate appearances in 139 games.
Eloy stayed healthy for the most part in 2023, playing 120 games, which you can live with, but he was only healthy by his standards. He still dealt with issues to his hamstring, leg, heel, groin, and an appendectomy to cap it off. He finished with a 105 wRC+, which isn’t good for a full-time DH providing you with no defensive value. He finished with just a 0.4 fWAR, by far his lowest career WAR/PA.
Jiménez was able to finish with a strikeout rate below 20% for the first time in his career, but it coincided with a 2.5% decline in walk rate from 2022. His Chase% rose from 31.5% to 37%, and pitchers started to throw him more pitches out of the zone; while his bat-to-ball skills allowed Eloy to put those offerings in play, those swing decisions would qualify as poor.
Plate discipline is not the main issue with Eloy, and it never has been — it’s that damn ground ball rate — already bad in 2022 for a hitter with his profile, but it somehow climbed again all the way up to 53.2% in 2023. Among hitters with at least 250 plate appearances in 2023, Eloy’s ground ball rate was the 23rd-highest. It’s killing his power output.
I’m not confident that this club can get Eloy to hit the ball in the air more, because I haven’t seen it despite plenty of opportunity. However, another team will have the confidence to do so. Eloy is entering his age-27 season with plenty of upside. He still comes with substantial injury risk, but his 105 wRC+ in 2023 isn’t terrible when you consider how suboptimal his batted-ball profile was, meaning he still provides a reasonable floor when he’s on the field. Steamer has him pegged for a .275/.333/.485 2024 season with a 122 wRC+ and a 1.9 fWAR — which would be the best season of his career.
Eloy is owed $13.8 million next season. After that, he has a $16.5 million option for 2025 and a $18.5 million option for 2026, both of which can be bought out for $3 million. Even with the optimistic projection from Steamer, he doesn’t hold a lot of trade value, yet isn’t an immovable player.
I see the San Diego Padres as a good trade partner here given their financial situation and roster construction. Their current projected payroll is more than $251 million, and that’s with two-fifths of a starting rotation, a below-average bullpen, and a clear lack of major league depth. Evan Drellich of The Athletic reported that the organization took out a $50 million loan just to cover player payroll obligations despite having the second-highest attendance in 2023.
What’s even crazier is the club’s future payroll commitments. In 2027, they have $163 million committed to seven players. In 2030, they have $117 million committed to just four players. One of those commitments is Jake Cronenworth, and USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that San Diego “would like to move” Cronenworth. He has $79 million over seven seasons remaining on his contract, and after back-to-back 4.2 fWAR seasons that prompted the extension, Cronenworth posted a 1.0 fWAR and saw his production at the plate drop by 18%.
After inking Xander Bogaerts last winter, the Padres shifted their infield around by moving star shortstop Ha-Seong Kim to second base and Cronenworth (the incumbent second baseman) over to first despite the two combining for 12 DRS and 10 OAA in 2022 as one of the strongest defensive middle infields in the sport. That killed a good chunk of Cronenworth’s value, on defense. While his versatility is undoubtedly an asset (he’s also played 428 innings of shortstop throughout his major league career), Cronenworth was more or less an average defensive first baseman, and his bat doesn’t play nearly as well there.
In the proposed trade, I’m also taking back a 38-year-old Matt Carpenter to even out the money for the 2024 season to hopefully entice San Diego to pull the trigger. Carpenter, who was the strong side of the failed DH platoon with Nelson Cruz in 2023, might actually have some utility on this White Sox team that should never shy away from guys that get on base. Carpenter has just shy of a 15% walk rate over the last three seasons and has walked at a 13.5% clip over his 13-year career. He’s a part-time player at this point.
The Padres need to shed money, and this move actually doesn’t do that for the 2024 season. However, it provides them added financial flexibility for 2025 and beyond because their current situation is a bit scary. I’m also not sure Cronenworth fits the roster long-term any more than he does in the short term. The team almost certainly will try to retain Kim when his contact is up, but even if they don’t, top prospect Jackson Merrill profiles as a middle infielder as well, and he’ll likely debut sometime in 2024. They also add a bat in Jiménez with a much higher offensive upside for a team looking to compete in 2024.
A potential roadblock here could be that San Diego finds another trade partner for Cronenworth that is offering a cheaper, more controllable return. Another one could be the fact that Manny Machado is recovering from right elbow surgery that could force him to be DH-ridden for the first part of the 2024 campaign, which would force Eloy to the outfield temporarily (yikes). Though, if Juan Soto is traded (or maybe shedding Cronenworth makes a Soto extension a greater possibility), there just might be a temporary corner outfield sport open, and with defensive savants Trent Grisham and Fernando Tatís Jr. manning the other two outfield positions, Eloy running around out there for a month or so is a bit more palatable.
Terrell Tatum to Atlanta for Nicky Lopez
The White Sox need a shortstop to bridge the gap to Colson Montgomery, and preferably one that’s a plus defender. Strong veteran defenders like Paul DeJong and Nick Ahmed have circulated the rumor mill, but I’m in favor of targeting someone that’s a little more familiar. Not only is Nicky Lopez an elite defender by OAA (his 49 since the start of 2021 is the most of any infielder), but he’s a Naperville native and a former Royal that established himself under the tutelage of Pedro Grifol (or, something like that). Lopez checks some major boxes.
Offensively, since posting a 104 wRC+ on the back of a .347 BABIP (his career BABIP is .292) in 2021, Lopez has put up a .228/.297/.284 slash with a 63 wRC+ over his last 742 plate appearances. That 63 wRC+ over the last two seasons is the worst in MLB, yet he’s still posted a 2.3 fWAR over that span thanks to his glove. The good news for Lopez’s 2023 season at the plate is that he posted his best xwOBA since 2020 (still a lowly .288).
The biggest question is whether Atlanta is willing to move Lopez, who’s projected to fetch just shy of $4 million in his second year of arbitration. While the Braves have announced that their payroll will increase in 2024, that salary might be more than Atlanta wants to pay given that it still needs to add a corner outfielder and starting pitcher with a payroll that’s presently projected at more than $236 million. There’s a slight chance he’s non-tendered, but if I’m Getz, I’m offering up Tatum in a swap and then tendering Lopez to be the club’s starting shortstop to open the 2024 season. His projected salary is worth the defense that he provides, and when you factor in the upgrade that he represents over what the club had in 2023 at shortstop defensively, it’s probably a steal.
Lane Ramsey to San Francisco for Joey Bart
In another Nick Senzel-like acquisition, Bart presently does something pretty well and provides some upside for a post-hype breakout.
Bart, ironically, was also selected second overall and was thrust into action during the shortened 2020 season after Buster Posey elected to opt out of playing. Bart had only played one full minor league season to that point and had never appeared above Double-A. He’s hit to a .219/.288/.355 line with a wRC+ of 78 as a major-leaguer in 503 plate appearances. There’s a lot of swing-and-miss, but also some substantial raw power that he hasn’t been able to tap into consistently.
Behind the plate in a small 30-game sample in 2023, Bart’s 52.2% strike rate in the shadow zones was the third-best in baseball behind Austin Hedges and his teammate, Patrick Bailey. Bart’s a good pitch framer. With Bailey installing himself as the new long-term catching solution with the Giants as baseball’s top defensive catcher, Bart should be expendable. San Francisco doesn’t necessarily have a catching surplus, but likely realize that a change of scenery is best.
There are plenty of holes in Bart’s game, and he’s out of minor league options. Even with this acquisition, Korey Lee could beat him out for the backup catcher’s role and Bart could be DFA’d before Opening Day. However, Lane Ramsey could very well have that same fate early into 2024 after posting uninspiring numbers in 2023, and I’d like to have another catching option on hand other than the player who posted a negative 27 wRC+ in his first 70 plate appearances with the team.
|1||Andrew Benintendi (L)||LF|
|2||Yoan Moncada (S)||3B|
|3||Jake Cronenworth (L)||2B|
|4||Luis Robert (R)||CF|
|5||Jason Heyward (L)||RF|
|6||Gary Sanchez (R)||C|
|7||Matt Carpenter (L)||DH|
|8||Andrew Vaughn (R)||1B|
|9||Nicky Lopez (L)||SS|
|1||Yoan Moncada (S)||3B|
|2||Luis Robert (R)||CF|
|3||Michael A. Taylor (R)||RF|
|4||Gary Sanchez (R)||C|
|5||Nick Senzel (R)||DH|
|6||Andrew Benintendi (L)||LF|
|7||Andrew Vaughn (R)||1B|
|8||Jake Cronenworth (L)||2B|
|9||Nicky Lopez (L)||SS|
For those keeping track, I’m outrighting/DFAing Carlos Perez, Adam Haseley, Romy González, Jesse Scholtens, Edgar Navarro, and Nicholas Padilla to make these moves.
Total Payroll: ~$175 Million
I spent $111.5 million and committed $62.5 million to the 2024 team. The Eloy trade was essentially a wash from a 2024 salary standpoint, but the difference is in a remaining $63 million committed to Jake Cronenworth.
This certainly isn’t a flashy offseason plan, and this very likely isn’t a playoff team even in the AL Central, but these White Sox shouldn’t lose 101 games again. Chris Getz and Josh Barfield have both gone on record to state that a goal of the offseason is to improve the team’s defense. It’s been a weak spot for years, so this kind of assertion is at least refreshing given the previous regime’s lack of attention to the matter. As someone who’s proposed adding Kevin Kiermaier to the Sox outfield in my last two offseason plans (yes, he’s available again!), I appreciated those comments from the new general managers.
Lopez, Sanchez, Cronenworth, Heyward, and Taylor are all plus-to-elite defenders at their positions. The latter four can also swing it a little bit, and while this team should convert a lot more balls in play into outs, they’ll also get on base more. This lineup also adds pressure to guys like Yoán Moncada, Benintendi and Vaughn who simply have to be a lot better if this teams wants to sniff .500, let alone the postseason.
A good outcome here would be a team that finishes around .500 while reestablishing the ability to do the unheralded things that winning baseball teams do — catch the baseball, get on base, and make good swing decisions. If this comes to fruition, the organization becomes a lot more attractive for some high-profile names who are scheduled to be available next offseason, especially the myriad of pitchers given a massively-improved defense.
The train has been derailed; just give outsiders the impression that it’s back on the tracks and fans a reason to show up to 35th and Shields.