Attending the Crosstown Classic last Saturday, I wasn’t sure if the Chicago White Sox or the frigid weather made me more miserable.
Despite it being a treat, as always, to catch my favorite team in person, the fact is that the White Sox are playing some pretty terrible baseball right now. It’s been hard to watch in many ways, with injuries, blown leads and other components. Of course, the losing is much more bearable than other years considering Chicago was expected to compete in 2018. But that doesn’t mean that it should be totally ignored.
In fact, the White Sox performance in 2018 could potentially have a huge impact on the future of the ballclub. How? Free agency.
General manager Rick Hahn and Co. currently sport the second lowest payroll in the majors. They also sport the worst record. Swimming in cash, Chicago’s management figures to target marquee free agents to come to the South Side this winter. But it’s going to be awfully difficult to entice them to come to an awful team.
Look, we all know that the future is still bright for the White Sox. Chicago’s top prospects are, for the most part, succeeding in the minors. Even two of their cornerstones in the big leagues look good in Yoan Moncada and Reynaldo Lopez.
But the better players of the 2018-19 free agent class are going to take one look at a sub-.400 record, and say, “Yeah, it’ll be a couple years before they’re competitive.” From there, it’s unlikely that any would have the patience to choose that option over a win-now team.
Who exactly are we talking about here? Here’s MLB Trade Rumors’ rankings of the upcoming free agent class. It appears to be one of the most talented classes of all time, and thoroughly superior to the 2017-18 class. Put it all together, and it’s clear that these names like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, and more will gain a plethora of suitors.
Of course Chicago’s chances of signing a guy like that are slim, but with all the cap space available, Hahn should give it his best shot. However, those three players and a couple others are likely talented enough to demand both a winning team and a paying team, and right now the White Sox just a paying team.
At the very least, Chicago could round out their roster with some second-tier players. Right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall will be just 30, and posted an .881 OPS last season through 270 plate appearances. He could be a potential replacement for Avisail Garcia, should Garcia be traded or fail to return to last year’s form. There’s also a horde of relievers that would be beneficial.
Still, the White Sox should be looking into the three superstars at the top of the class in Donaldson, Harper, and Machado, assuming the latter doesn’t get traded this year. Fortunately, all three of these guys play a position where Chicago could use an upgrade at. As my colleague Owen Schoenfeld pointed out, the White Sox have an advantage when it comes to the finances of the deal. Yes, most teams could create decent contracts for the trio, but only the White Sox have the ability to frontload the deal.
Often times, frontloading contracts like these make them significantly more attractive. Seeing extra money towards the first few years of the contract can make all the difference.
Furthermore, acquisitions like these aren’t all that uncommon. Most recently, Jon Lester saw the writing on the wall after the Cubs’ decent second half in 2014 and signed with them. James Shields is quoted as choosing the Padres a few years ago because he felt they were well-positioned to compete immediately.
All it takes is money, the prospect of a bright future, and the possibility for immediate competitiveness to sign some of these top tier free agents. Right now, the White Sox are lacking the third component.
So how well exactly do the Sox have to play? I’d argue that they need to improve all the way up until the All-Star break. Then from there, with Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech already called up or about to be, they should be playing near-.500 baseball. It might seem like a daunting task now, but it’s not impossible, despite the recent play.
The bullpen is performing much better of late. Chicago will be getting Carlos Rodon back soon. Then come the two elite prospects. Moncada’s back. Jace Fry is dealing. Avi Garcia’s not too far off. And oh yeah, the Sox have lost a bunch of one-run games.
If everything goes right, not only will free agents notice the recent improvements, but they’ll also have to acknowledge that Chicago can develop the young talent they have. Progress will also boost team morale and invigorate the fan base.
However, all this is in the future. Right now, the White Sox need to focus on winning, and maybe, just maybe, all the way in winter, it will pay off in the form of a rare free agency splash on the South Side.
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