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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What Is And Is Not Going To Happen In Chicago White Sox Baseball In 2019… And Beyond

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After much online discussion and reading a multitude of stories from a multitude of different sports websites, I have come up with a list of things I believe will and will not happen within the Chicago White Sox franchise this offseason and into next year. While these are somewhat open to interpretation and subject to change barring unforeseen circumstances (i.e. catastrophic injuries, etc.) I am relatively certain each of these happenings will come to pass.

  1. Manny Machado and/or Bryce Harper will not be signing with the Chicago White Sox. This is the closest thing I can come up with to a no-brainer. Both of these guys are going to get extensive, long-term deals (probably in the 10-year range) with exorbitant salaries (I would say between $30 and $40 million per year) with an opt out after three seasons. This makes no sense for the White Sox on a number of levels and makes no sense for Machado and Harper. The White Sox will not be competitive until 2021, at the earliest. Which would mean one of these free agents could hit the market again just as the White Sox enter their three-to-five year window of contention. That would be counterproductive to producing a winning team, to lose your franchise free agent-signee just as you are about to begin competing. And why would anyone want to sign with a team that’s pretty much guaranteed to be tanking for a couple of more years? Money aside, players want to win, that’s why they play the game.

  2. James Shields will be back in 2019. “Big Lame” James has a $16 million team option for 2019 that will definitely be declined. I don’t think there’s even a second thought about that. However, due to the fact that there will be absolutely no demand for his services, and the fact that the White Sox are enamored of his ability to throw 200+ innings (in spite of his 7-16 record, 4.53 ERA, 1.4 WAR and 1.309 WHIP) regardless of the results. So a $2 million buyout and a one-year, $5 million deal will go down this offseason. That will leave one open rotation spot for the White Sox to fill…

  3. Dylan Covey will not be in the 2019 White Sox rotation. This will be the year that Dylan Covey lays claim to the long relief/spot starter role in the White Sox bullpen. This job should have belonged to Carson Fulmer, but he can’t pitch his way out of AAA so it will fall to Covey. Covey’s numbers overall were putrid in 2017 (5-14, 5.18 ERA, -0.2 WAR and 1.488 WHIP) but he has the stuff to make a move to the bullpen successfully. Facing batters for only one inning (or less, depending on the continued overuse of the bullpen by Rick Renteria) will make him much more effective.

  4. The White Sox major acquisition prior to contending will be a catcher, because no one in the farm system is going to develop into a franchise catcher. Zack Collins is the Sox top prospect at the position and he is coming off a 2018 season in which he hit .234 and made nine errors in only 74 games behind the plate (out of 122 games played overall). Seby Zavala was the “surprise” of the 2017, but his numbers regressed significantly in 2018 (from 21 home runs to 13, from 74 RBI to 51 and a .282 batting average to .258) in roughly the same number of games (107 in 2017, 104 in 2018).

  5. Carson Fulmer will never see the MLB level with the White Sox again. After a horrible performance early in the 2018 season with the Sox (2-4, 8.07 ERA, -1.0 WAR and 1.887 WHIP) his numbers were not any better with the AAA Charlotte Knights (5-6, 5.32 ERA, 1.64 WHIP). His numbers are poor as both a starter and a reliever, and another reason I don’t trust the White Sox brass when it comes to the MLB Draft.

  6. Avi Garcia will be shopped heavily during the offseason and if not traded, may be non-tendered. Garcia has nearly 2,500 career plate appearances over parts of seven seasons with the Tigers and White Sox and still has yet to hit 20+ home runs in a single season. Given his lack of speed he is pretty much a one-dimensional player. The time has now come to start slowly introducing the outfielders of the future and that will begin this year with Eloy Jimenez. Garcia’s 2017 salary of $6.7 million is bound to rise due to his career high in home runs in a very limited season (93 games) and he’ll be the odd man out in the outfield once Jimenez is recalled in mid-April.

  7. This will be the final season in Chicago for Matt Davidson, Leury Garcia, Nate Jones and Kevan Smith. These four are just placeholders and nothing is going to change. Davidson will hit in the .220s with 20 home runs and hit pitching exploits will get more coverage than anything he does with the bat, much like 2018. Smith is a solid defensive catcher with no hitting prowess to speak of, and Garcia is a versatile player who can’t stay healthy enough to contribute much. Jones has a triple-digit fastball that he throws straight as an arrow and his inability to stay healthy has cost him. Of the four, I see Davidson getting a minor league deal for 2020 somewhere other than Chicago due to his power bat, but the rest will just sort of disappear.

  8. Ricky Renteria will not be retained following the 2019 season after the White Sox finish the season with 90+ losses again and very little to show in the way of progress. Renteria is supposedly a great teacher, and that’s what earned him the managerial job with the Cubs and the White Sox. I haven’t seen it yet. I have watched a guy who doesn’t know how to handle a bullpen any better than I know how to do needlework. Instead of letting these kids work their way out of trouble and learn what they should and should not do, he can make three or four pitching changes per inning like he’s managing the 9th inning of Game Seven of the World Series. Which he’ll never see. Renteria was a reflex-reaction hire because the White Sox thought they were getting one over on the Cubs by hiring their former manager. I say if Ricky were that good, the Cubs would have kept him, regardless of who became available. They had no faith in Ricky. Neither do I. Ricky’s contract, which he signed prior to the 2017 season, expires after 2019.

  9. Jose Abreu will sign a contract extension before the end of the 2019 season. Jose is the heart and soul of the franchise and the White Sox have little in the minor leagues to replace him with. He has carried the team at times when no one else in the lineup was producing anything. His defense has improved immensely. He’ll be handling first base and occasional DH duties when the team begins competing in 2021.

  10. Omar Vizquel will lead the White Sox to the playoffs, and to a World Series title as the team’s manager. Vizquel’s success, along with his familiarity with the young players who will be getting to Chicago over the next few years, make him the perfect candidate. I sometimes wonder if this was the plan all along, or if maybe I’m giving the White Sox too much credit. Vizquel lead the Winston-Salem Dash to an 84-54 record in 2018 and the Carolina League Southern Division title. By 2023 he will be leading the Chicago White Sox to the American League Central Division title.