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!

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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!