The Chicago White Sox 2018-19 Offseason, Part II

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Let me preface this piece by saying this has to be one of the most boring offseasons in history. I can remember around 25 years ago when things would really pop at the Winter Meetings, days of trades and signings, surprise moves and lots to talk about. I spent more time yawning than talking about the Winter Meetings in 2018.

It’s January 2 as of this writing and the Chicago White Sox offseason moves are as follows:

– Signed pitcher Evan Marshall to a minor league contract with a Spring Training invitation.

– Traded for pitcher Manny Banuelos from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

– Traded catcher Omar Narvaez to the Seattle Mariners for pitcher Alex Colome.

– Non-tendered IF Matt Davidson and OF Avisail Garcia.

– Traded for pitcher Ivan Nova from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

– Traded for 1B Yonder Alonso from the Cleveland Indians.

– Signed catcher James McCann, who was non-tendered by the Detroit Tigers

That is the sum total of the White Sox offseason so far. Now, I know a lot of people legitimately believe the Sox are going to sign either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, that they are going to put a ten-year, $350 million – $400 million offer on the table and one of the two of them will accept, and then we’re set at third base or right field for the next ten years. I have a multitude of issues with that on several levels.

First is the obvious, this team doesn’t spend that kind of money. Ever. After all, the White Sox could have had Babe Ruth but elected to lowball the Red Sox and he ended up with the New York Yankees, so this isn’t an organization known for liberal spending. And, as has been brought up numerous times in the media, the largest contract the team has ever handed out was six years and $68 million to Jose Abreu prior to the 2014 season.

Second, we have two guys here who have never won. Both have played on solid teams in the past, but neither has won a ring, and in fact in their combined 14 years at the MLB level, they have made one World Series appearance, Machado last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. So they have not known a lot of success.

Yes, I know the most important thing to them is their wallet, but does anyone really believe that (a) the White Sox of all teams will have the largest contract offer, either overall or AAV, or (b) that the White Sox window of opportunity for winning will last any longer than, say, 2026? This is when several of the prospects will be hitting free agency, so there’s a pretty solid chance that in 2027 the team will begin to rebuild again.

More importantly, neither Harper or Machado is a pitcher, and the White Sox have a black hole in the bullpen and at least one opening in the starting rotation. If the season began today, the rotation would consist of Carlos Rodon, Ivan Nova, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito and Dylan Covey. While Giolito and Covey will more than likely have ERA’s over 5.00 by the end of 2019, Rodon is a good bet to have at least one trip to the disabled list. That leaves two pitchers that we should be absolutely able to count on in the rotation. And this is assuming the White Sox don’t offer James Shields a minor league deal and an invitation to Spring Training, which I said months ago I expected without question.

The bullpen looks worse. While there may be a legitimate closer for the first time in a long time (and I don’t consider David Robinson a “great” closer, by any stretch) in Alex Colome, getting a lead to him may be a problem with that rotation and a bullpen that lacks arms, beyond a guaranteed-to-get-hurt Nate Jones and a solid Jace Fry.

The White Sox will play their yearly game of picking up scraps from the garbage dump and plugging them into the bullpen in the hopes one will pitch to some level of decency and he can be flipped to a contender at the trade deadline.

One of the main problems I see with this franchise is that someone in the front office, or maybe everyone, thinks that putting together an offer for Harper or Machado is somehow a “win.” Like somehow you get a consolation prize when Machado goes to the New York Yankees and Harper goes back to the Washington Nationals.

No one cares who finished second in these free agent chases. I direct your attention to 2016, when the White Sox were the “clear favorites” to sign OF Yoenis Cespedes as a free agent. Of course, he resigned with the New York Mets for $110 million over four years and the White Sox were blown out of the water. This time is no different.

As much fun as it may be to sit and hope that either Harper or Machado will decide that they’re willing to play for half what they think they’re worth and they’re willing to play on losing teams for five years out of a ten-year deal, assuming all the prospects the Sox have collected pan out and they can contend from 2022 to 2026, I prefer to take a more intelligent approach and wonder what happens when they DON’T sign with the White Sox, because there has to be a plan B on the table in Rick Hahn’s office.

Or Kenny Williams’ office, you know, whoever is running this team, for real.

Do you feel comfortable heading into 2019 with the rotation mentioned above? Do you not worry about the bullpen arms evaporating and going elsewhere before you have a chance to sign them, or do you just bring up fringe prospects from Charlotte to fill out the bullpen until you find an arm to plug in? An outfield of Leury Garcia, Adam Engel and Daniel Palka, with Nicky Delmonico filling in as needed? The only upgrades this team has made will make no difference once they start contending, as Nova is a huge upgrade over James Shields (I guarantee that Ivan Nova’s 2019 season will exceed James Shields’ 2018 season in every measurable category so long as he stays injury-free this season) and Yonder Alonso is a huge upgrade over Matt Davidson. But neither will be here in 2022.

And I still think Alonso was acquired as an enticement to Machado.

So, we wait. Eventually Machado will sign with the Yankees and Harper will return to the Nationals or may sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Then the White Sox will announce that they made “significant” offers to both. No one will care, the lack of bullpen arms will remain, the lackluster rotation will remain, the lack of offense from the outfield will remain and another 100 loss season will be in the cards.

And then the press will begin (actually, have already begun) to tout the 2019 free agent class, and how much better it will be for the White Sox than Harper or Machado. The three names I see most often are Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Houston Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole and our old buddy, Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale.

Next offseason will be just like this one, as the White Sox are on the outside looking in as those three and many others sign (or resign) elsewhere. Hopefully, outfielder Eloy Jimenez and pitcher Dylan Cease will join the Sox at some point in 2019 and make a smooth transition to the big leagues and become solid contributors, which will help the lack of free agent signings and take some of the sting out of that situation.

The bottom line is this team isn’t very good, and even if everything breaks right, they’re not going to be good for a couple or three years, and once they are good, they’re only going to be good for about a five year window, before these youngsters hit salary arbitration and, eventually, free agency. That’s the problem with a rebuild and bringing in a large number of prospects, it’s guaranteed to fizzle out after five to seven years.

So if I were Machado or Harper (or Arenado or Cole or Sale) I would want to go to (or stay with) a team that has had consistent success over a long period of time. If we look at the White Sox from 2012 to, say, 2029, which would be the third year of a potential second rebuild, and we’ll say they’ll be a juggernaut from 2022 to 2026, that would leave them with 12 losing seasons out of 18. I wouldn’t call that sustained success.

I don’t think the White Sox will be looked at as a front runner in free agency until 2023, once the prospects are called up and they have had at least one season of legitimate, on-field success, along with replacing manager Rick Renteria, who is not the second coming of Tony La Russa no mater how you slice it. Renteria’s star was rising a decade ago, and he’s done nothing since to enhance it or show he’s at all capable.

As we’re now down to the final six weeks of the offseason before Spring Training, maybe the White Sox will bring Shields back on a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite and a $3 million MLB salary, or maybe a Francisco Liriano or a Marco Estrada on a one-year deal to hold a spot for Michael Kopech, and maybe a John Axford or a Brad Boxberger or a Brandon Maurer for the bullpen with hopes of flipping a formerly successful pitcher into a minor leaguer at the trading deadline. That’s about the best we can expect.

I honestly wonder if the Machado/Harper “chase” is just a way of laying off free agency until most of the big money players are off the table (like Adam Ottovino, who would be a great addition but I’m sure the three years and $30 million are more than the Sox want to pay for a 7th or 8th inning guy) and then the Sox can sign whatever is left over at bargain prices and blame their lack of spending on Harper and Machado.

Now, I’m not saying I want them to spend without reason, I don’t want to see Dallas Keuchel in Chicago under any circumstances. But there’s no reason the White Sox couldn’t have taken Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp off the Dodgers hands instead of the Reds. Kemp could have filled in at DH this year (he’s a free agent after the season) and Puig could have been a fixture in right field for the next five years, or even through the entire contending process. And probably at 1/5 the price of signing Bryce Harper. Or pretending to try.

In closing, I’d like to say the White Sox can surprise me and make a really great move this offseason and next and build a team that can be competitive immediately, but as a fan of this sport for more than 30 years, I’ve seen enough to know how this movie ends.

Thank you for taking the time to read, and I’ll probably post a final piece about the offseason the second week of February, prior to teams reporting for Spring Training. We should have a much better picture of what we’re dealing with by that point, and I doubt it’s going to be a whole lot different than what we’re dealing with right now.

I hope I’m wrong. But I rarely am.

God bless.

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The Chicago White Sox 2018-19 Offseason, Part I

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With news of the Chicago White Sox decision to extend the contract of manager Ricky Renteria yesterday (November 6), I decided I would do a two, or three-part series of blogs on my thoughts about the 2019 offseason.

Naturally, I am disturbed by the first major decision and question it.

Someone, somewhere, once thought Rick Renteria was a good manager. I’m not sure how they came about that opinion, because his record as a manger (264-384, a .407 winning percentage) would get him fired from any other job in the league, let alone his inability to handle a bullpen (who else wears their bullpen out in the first game of a series?) and write out a sensible lineup every day?

The White Sox front office is still living under the delusion that they pulled something over on the Chicago Cubs when they hired Ricky after he had been fired by the Cubs to make room for Joe Maddon, who is clearly superior to Ricky in every phase of managing a baseball club. That’s not even debatable.

So, the Sox extend their clueless manager. That’s the first step to guaranteeing that the better free agents are not going to want to sign with you. That’s not the kind of move a winning organization makes. And regardless of who wants to fight about it, nothing this team has done yet in this rebuild has actually paid off.

Yoan Moncada was supposed to be a superstar. Some of the preseason baseball literature actually had him winning Rookie Of The Year in 2017 and being an All Star in 2018. Instead, he’s carrying around a .234 career batting average and striking out once every three at-bats, while looking disinterested in the field.

Then there’s Michael Kopech, who looked outstanding overall in four starts despite a 5.02 ERA. In 14 innings, he struck out 15 and walked two. But all that is meaningless because Tommy John surgery has put him on the shelf until 2020.

None of the other prospects, whether it be Dylan Cease or Eloy Jimenez or Micker Adolfo or our 2018 #1 Draft Pick Nick Madrigal has done anything at the MLB level. And with Moncada looking like an overrated bust, who is to say any of the other youngsters won’t turn out the same way in the long run?

No rebuild is guaranteed. Ask the Pittsburgh Pirates.

So, now the White Sox are blowing smoke about being in the running for major free agents. Sometimes I fall in and think anything is possible. Then I remember how this team operates. The largest contract ever given out was a six-year, $68 million deal to Jose Abreu, who has been worth every penny, no doubt.

In my mind, I see free agent targets Manny Machado and Bryce Harper signing ten or 12-year deals for over $350 million elsewhere as Rick Hahn announces that the White Sox made a “very competitive bid” but won’t elaborate.

Behind closed doors, those offers were in the six-year, $75 million range.

Then, to prove that the team isn’t tanking in free agent negotiations, Hahn offers someone like pitcher Dallas Keuchel a monster deal (three years, $60 million) and badly overpays just to show that the Sox will spend money.

While Hahn acts like a schoolboy trying to impress the girls, most of the baseball press has already figured this team out, and I have read on a number of sights that the best bet for a White Sox free agent signee is pitcher Anibal Sanchez.

Sanchez had a career revival last year with the Atlanta Braves, compiling a 2.83 ERA in 136.2 innings with 135 strikeouts and 42 walks, he certainly isn’t the franchise-defining free agent signing that Hahn is trying to fool us into believing is just around the corner. Sanchez will be 35 in 2019, and no part of a contending team, assuming the Sox are able to actually put together a contending team.

If I were running the White Sox, my first move would be to trade for Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, whom I sincerely believe is the Carlton Fisk of this generation. His 2018 season (.274, 21 home runs, 74 RBI, All Star) dwarfs anything any White Sox catcher has done since A.J. Pierzynski. And there is no question that catcher is the most important position on the field. At least, there shouldn’t be.  I would give the Marlins whatever they want, short of Jimenez, in terms of a three or four-player deal and then sign Realmuto to a long-term contract.  Not a second thought.

But, the Sox are happy to get by with Omar Narvaez, who is a solid hitter but lacks any kind of real defensive prowess behind the plate, along with journeyman cheater Welington Castillo, while waiting for top catching “prospect” Zack Collins (who has a .232 career minor league batting average while only working his way up to the AA level) to develop into a guy that can actually hit in spite of his subpar defense.

I would sign Jose Abreu to a contract extension. He’s the only guy on this team over the past several years who has produced any kind of quality numbers. Yes, 2018 was an injury-plagued season, but his injuries certainly were not typical “wear and tear” injuries that guys suffer, and he still hit .265 with 22 home runs and 78 RBI.

As for free agency, there are clearly some holes on this team, starting with third base. I like Yolmer Sanchez as much as the next guy, but .242 with eight home runs and 55 RBI isn’t going to cut it at the hot corner. That’s always been one of the traditional power spots, unless you had a once-in-a-generation hitter like Wade Boggs. Yolmer is no Wade Boggs. He’s a good little utility player. Nothing more.

As free agency goes, Mike Moustakas is clearly the best third baseman available, coming off a season of 28 home runs and 95 RBI split between Kansas City and Milwaukee. Here is a guy with four 20+ home run seasons in the past six years and is not even a blip on the White Sox radar. Why? Because Jake Burger is the answer?

The outfield is also a sore spot, but I don’t see a lot being done there, with the expected promotion of uber-prospect Jimenez likely in April and the eventual promotion of Luis Robert to play CF. More than likely, a utility OF who can handle all three spots will be about as far as the White Sox go. They may want you to think that Bryce Harper is on the radar, but take my word for it, he isn’t going to sign for six years and $75 million when someone else will offer him four times that.

The pitching staff is where I expect most of the “action” to take place, much like last year and the year before. Several down-on-their-luck relief pitchers will sign and the Sox will try to flip them at the deadline for some borderline talent.

I sincerely doubt that one move the team makes this offseason will have any impact whatsoever on the roster once the team is competitive. I suspect Hahn will sign stopgap players again just to get through to 2020 when Kopech returns, and hope that Cease develops into a reliable starter and then the team can consider trying to fill holes with players who are a little more Bryce Harper than Melky Cabrera.

Which brings me to next offseason. If this offseason plays out as I think it will (i.e. exactly like last offseason) then there will be a drumbeat to sign third baseman Nolan Arenado. That’s assuming he even reaches free agency, as the Rockies are already rumored to be trying to sign him before he reaches the market.

As of tonight (November 7) the big name flying as a potential White Sox free agent target is pitcher J.A. Happ. Happ is coming off a 17-win season split between the Yankees and Blue Jays, and I’m not quite sure why anyone sees him signing with the White Sox. He should be able to turn that solid season into a nice payday with a contending team. But I’ll leave that for the “experts” to explain.

The more I look at the list of free agents, the more I realize the White Sox are in a state of purgatory. Even pretending to pay top dollar for a player on the wrong side of 30 makes no sense because this team isn’t going to be contending for at least a couple of more years. I think a run at a Wild Card spot in 2021 is their best bet.

But attempting to sign a young player like Harper or Machado makes little sense, as players of that caliber have been adding opt-outs to their contracts which lets them get out of a long-term deal after three years if they so desire. The upshot of that is if the Sox sign them before 2019, they can hit the market again after 2021.

Having said all of this, I’m willing to set back and let Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf prove me wrong. I sincerely hope they do. But coming out to the press and announcing a “competitive offer” isn’t going to fool anyone. If you want to impress me, make Machado a 10-year, $350 million deal and make it public knowledge. Then, if he declines, the fan base can say “they tried.”

But make those kinds of offers to the players who really deserve it, don’t overpay an over-the-hill pitcher twice what’s he is worth just to show that you are willing to spend money. And that is what I am most afraid is going to happen.

I’ll write another entry on this subject after the MLB Winter Meetings are held in Las Vegas, December 9 through December 13. I don’t expect any major happenings between now and then, but, who knows. In the meantime, this is how I see it playing out and if something unforeseen happens, I’ll address it.

Thank you for reading and GO SOX!

My Thoughts On: The Chicago White Sox Rebuild

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As the Chicago White Sox rebuild continues, and a number of potential trades are making the rounds nine days before the non-waiver trade deadline, I take stock of where the team is and where it hopes to be in the future. And I’m not liking the look of things.

Critics will immediately say “the rebuild is right on schedule,” or “we have one of the top three farm systems in baseball” or “the team is flush with cash, we can sign superstar free agents!” Well, let’s start there and address each of these thoughts, then I’ll go further into why I am worried about the situation as a whole, and why the future scares me.

The Rebuild Is Right On Schedule”

For now. The Pittsburgh Pirates began a rebuild in 1993 and it was right on schedule at one point. I remember it was a five-year plan, they were going to rebuild the farm system and have the team ready to contend in five years. Well, they never got that far because they trashed it and started over in 1996. And a new five year plan was put in place. Then a few years later it was trashed. This continued on for 20 years before the team actually started to compete again, and the Pirates became one of the laughingstocks of Major League Baseball.

Sometimes these things don’t go to plan. You might think you have it all laid out and some of the players you are most counting on fail to develop. Or get injured. Maybe they’re just not as good as they seemed. Maybe they’re AAAA players; they excel at AAA but fail at the MLB level, too good for the minor leagues but struggle at the Major League level.

I worry about this as I watch Tim Anderson (.241) and Yoan Moncada (.234), two of our better prospects and the “first wave” of youngsters to hold down full-time MLB positions, fail to reach a .250 batting average. On the pitching end, Lucas Giolito is struggling to a 6.18 ERA. These kids are supposed to be a major part of the rebuild, part of the foundation that we build a winner on. And I don’t think anyone expected them to struggle to this extreme.

So what happens when the foundation doesn’t stand? You have to scrap it and begin again, as the Pirates did 25 years ago. And how much rope do you give these kids?

We Have One Of The Top Three Farm Systems In Baseball”

The White Sox rebuild began at the end of the 2016 season, when they traded Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox for four prospects and Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals for three pitching prospects. Of the seven players acquired, six have stuck and still have a bright future as far as their progress through the organization is concerned.

Then several months later, the White Sox traded Jose Quintana to the Chicago Cubs for four prospects. All four of whom are still in the organization and playing well.

Bottom line is, that’s ten players acquired in total, along with a number of players the White Sox have drafted in recent years who are considered top prospects, including catcher Zack Collins, first baseman Gavin Sheets, and this year’s top draft pick, Nick Madrigal.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has said himself that he expects the return on all these players to peak at about 25%, meaning only one out of four will develop into a star at the Major League level. So feasibly, this entire rebuild could produce four or five MLB regulars. Let’s suppose Eloy Jimenez, picked up in the Quintana deal is one of those, along with Moncada, Michael Kopech (acquired in the Sale deal), Reynaldo Lopez (acquired in the Eaton trade) and Dylan Cease, also picked up in the Quintana deal.

And let’s sweeten it a bit further and say Madrigal develops into a star, even though he is technically blocked at both positions he plays (at second base by Moncada and at shortstop by Anderson), its possible a position change for someone could result in all three having a spot in the lineup. And maybe a darkhorse develops somewhere in the minors and reaches stardom beyond what anyone had anticipated for him.

You’re still well short of a full Major League roster that’s ready to compete, but in that event we have thought number three, and that’s the one I dislike the most.

The Team Is Flush With Cash, We Can Sign Superstar Free Agents”

Only twice in the history of this franchise has there been a free-agent signing of a legitimate “superstar.” The first was in 1981 when Carlton Fisk, a future Hall Of Fame catcher, signed after his contract from the Boston Red Sox was mailed to him late. The second was malcontent Albert Belle, who was signed to a five-year, $55 million contract that included an out that allowed him to void the deal if he was not among the top three highest-paid players in the league. Following year two, he did just that, and headed for Baltimore.

Top free agents have never signed with the White Sox. Never. The largest contract the team ever gave out was to Jose Abreu prior to the 2014 season, a six-year, $68 million deal, which he also opted out of and opted into arbitration. So not only have the White Sox never signed a player to a $100 million deal, they’ve never signed a player to a $70 million deal.

In fact, let’s look at the last White Sox rebuild, the 1997 “white flag trade” that ended the Sox short run as contenders in the mid-1990s but did set them up to win the 2000 American League Central title. That team featured a number of legitimate stars, none of whom was acquired as a free agent and certainly none who were paid like it. Paul Konerko (trade), Frank Thomas (draft), Carlos Lee (amateur free agent), Magglio Ordonez (amateur free agent), James Baldwin (draft), Jim Parque (draft) and Keith Foulke (acquired in the “white flag” trade).

In the early 1990s the New York Yankees were flush with cash, and free agents turned them down regularly, including Greg Maddux (who signed with the Atlanta Braves) and Barry Bonds (who signed with the San Francisco Giants), both of whom took less money than the Yankees were offering. Just because you make the biggest offer doesn’t mean players are going to sign, sometimes there are better offers but with less money.

Adding to this issue is the fact that two of the teams that have the most cash for free agent signings also have outstanding farm systems, the Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. These teams have money to burn but also have a lot of really good minor league talent, on par with the White Sox and maybe, in the case of the Yankees, superior to the White Sox system. So all things being equal, is a superstar free agent more likely to take a $150 million deal from the Yankees, with their history, bottomless cash reserves, MLB talent and minor league talent or a $60 million deal from the White Sox with their lack of MLB talent and excellent minor league system? Mark my words, major free agents (Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Bryce Harper, etc.) are not even giving the White Sox consideration. Not when the Dodgers or Yankees or Cubs or Phillies can offer them four times what the White Sox will offer.

The bottom line is, the White Sox are walking on a razors’ edge, they need to beat the percentages and have more of their prospects reach stardom than the average 25%. In addition to that, they need superstar free agents to look past the weather, the far-below-average coaching staff, the long history of losing and the fact that they can make more money elsewhere to sign with a team that may or may not develop minor league talent into Major League talent. I would hate to be the one assigned to make that sales pitch.

Having said all of that, I still love my team and certainly wish nothing but the best on the team, as well as for myself and my friends who are fans. We all want to win. But I have been a fan of this organization for 27 years and I have four division titles and one World Series win to show for it. To put that into perspective, in that same 27-year period, the New York Yankees have won 13 division titles (and six Wild Card births) and seven World Series titles.

It’s hard to be a White Sox fan and it’s hard to put a lot of faith in anything connected to this team just based on a lifetime of mediocrity and worse-than-mediocrity. The fact that we have one of the most lackluster coaching staffs in baseball makes it that much more difficult to get excited about the future. If this team were truly looking to field a winner, it would start at the top with an excellent field manager and a staff that would teach the youngsters the right way to play the game. We have none of that right now. And its a good place to start.

As I write this, the White Sox are 34-63, 29 games under .500 and 20 games out of first place (and five games out of last place). Some think it will just instantly click for the youngsters, all of the minor league prospects will develop, the team will sign a number of superstar free agents and win several World Series titles between 2020 and 2025.

Some of us would love to see that but common sense says otherwise.

Regardless, I still maintain my South Side Pride. Go Sox!