I’m going to say what many of you are thinking and it’s going to be an unpopular thought. I don’t see much of a chance that the White Sox will sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. Let me be clear though, I want them to sign at least one of them and I would be ecstatic with either. In fact, I’ll up the ante. If they sign either of them, I will come on Twitter every day until Opening Day and say that I was wrong, and I will invite the trolls and the haters to give me their venom. Nothing would make me happier than to experience this, but I just don’t like the odds. So, if (in my opinion when) they miss on both of these mega stars what should the Sox do to improve their club in 2019 and beyond?
There is a very vocal section of White Sox Twitter that believes if the worst case scenario happens, the team should simply stand pat, endure another 95-100 loss season and try again next winter to reel in a big fish i.e. Nolan Arenado. Well, I hate to burst the proverbial bubble but I don’t think Arenado gets to the open market. I would like to challenge anyone who reads this to give me an example of a player developed by the Rockies that chose to leave Coors Field during his prime. It simply doesn’t happen and I don’t expect it to happen with Arenado. According to Cot’s, the Rockies have $73 million in payroll commitments for 2020 before arbitration and only $34 million in commitments for 2021. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is the Rockies have the payroll room to offer Arenado a mega deal to entice him to stay in the mile high city. So, the idea of punting on 2019 and not bringing in anyone to improve the Sox while hoping and praying they can lure Arenado is simply foolish. It’s clear that the Sox view 2020 as the opening of the competitive window and the recent reports of the Indians desire to scale down their payroll is all the more reason why the Sox must start adding this winter.
Many of you are reading the paragraph above and probably screaming “Steve, they have all these prospects that we can’t block!” Here’s the thing, there are plenty of options available this winter that will improve the Sox in the short-term, while not hindering their outlook in the long-term. Also, as we’ve seen with Moncada, Giolito, and Lopez, development isn’t linear (I’ve seen that somewhere). To simply believe that adding additional prospects to the mix in 2020 thinking they will all magically flip a switch and start controlling this division is really some next level crazy talk. Furthermore, how will enduring another 95-100 loss season in 2019 entice free agents to want to come to 35th/Shields exactly? Nolan Arenado has played postseason baseball for two straight years (something the Sox have never done by the way), I’m sure he would be chopping at the bit to come to a team with three straight 95 loss seasons, right? So, what exactly should the Sox do this winter?
Step 1, sign Josh Donaldson to a three-year deal. “Here we go, same old White Sox signing an over-the-hill veteran that doesn’t have much left.” I know that’s what at least a couple of you are thinking. You’re wrong for a few reasons. First, I acknowledge that Donaldson is not in the ideal portion of the aging curve for today’s baseball. However, while he is going to be 33 in a few weeks, he was still extremely productive when he was on the field last year. In 52 games he had a 117 wRC+, which was his lowest output since 2012. He was hampered by an array of injuries last season, and one would hope that given the Sox track record in terms of keeping players healthy, coupled with being off the artificial surface in Toronto for good he would see a return to good health. Oh yeah, that 117 wRC+ would’ve been good for second on the 2018 Sox. Donaldson is projecting to return to All-Star form in 2019 as Steamer believes he will produce a 131 wRC+ in 2019 and amass 4.6 fWAR. This would instantly make him the best player on the Sox roster, why would they want that? Given Donaldson’s age and recent injury history, the acquisition cost may not be as high as it appeared going into the 2018 season. With no reasonable 3B prospect in the Sox system and my unwillingness to believe Yoan Moncada is shifting to the hot corner already, there is nothing to prevent Donaldson from manning that position for the entirety of a three-year pact. Adding to that, the uncertainty surrounding Jose Abreu‘s future with the Sox could open up an opportunity to shift Donaldson across the diamond should the Sox pursue a younger 3B option via free agency or the trade market in the coming years.
Step 2, sign Andrew McCutchen to a two-year deal with a third-year option. “Whoa, whoa whoa, the strength of the Sox minor league system is in the outfield, so why would you sign an over-the-hill veteran you idiot?” Here’s why, after Eloy arrives sometime around April 15 who else is going to be manning the outfield? The Avi Garcia experience is no longer going to be performing at 35th/Shields (thoughts and prayers to the Executive Director of the Avi Garcia Fan Club @HashtagReggie) if recent reports are correct. The Sox have no reasonable outfield prospects aside from Jimenez that are expected to arrive in Chicago in 2019. Luis Alexander Basabe has 270 PA’s in Birmingham, so to expect him to be here with any level of certainty in 2019 is a bet I wouldn’t be willing to take. Micker Adolfo has 0 PA’s above Winston-Salem and is recovering from Tommy John surgery that will delay the start of his season until May. Luis Robert aka LuBob has 208 stateside PA’s, none of which are above Winston-Salem, so forget about seeing him in Chicago until 2020 at the earliest. Under the radar prospects Luis Gonzalez and Blake Rutherford are yet to see Regions Field in Birmingham where hitting prospects go to die, so they’re out for 2019. So I’ll ask again, who is manning the outfield in Chicago? Are we really talking about running Adam Engel, Daniel Palka (yes, I too love Palkamania but let’s be real here), and Leury Garcia out there? Oh wait, I forgot Alex Call will be up at some point in 2019 so that solves one spot (eye roll dot gif).
Andrew McCutchen is still a good player and would help the Sox. In 2018, he produced a 120 wRC+ and had 2 DRS manning corner spots for both the Giants and Yankees. Steamer projects McCutchen to produce a 124 wRC+ and be worth 2.6 fWAR in 2019. That is a good major league player. Sure, he’s not MVP Andrew McCutchen from years past but that’s OK. This team needs to add good players and McCutchen would meet that objective. Also, I’ve always been a McCutchen fan and I think the dude is cool as hell, so I may want to see him in a Sox uniform for selfish reasons. But he still serves a functional purpose with this team. If they are to push open the window in 2020, McCutchen can play a vital role as a veteran leader with postseason experience that can help lighten the load on a conceivably young roster. He’s entering his age 32 season and has been remarkably durable throughout his career, so there’s really no reason to believe that he won’t provide value for at least 2 years. Now, I acknowledge that there’s risk with McCutchen and I want to be clear that if the words “fourth-year” are uttered, my phone would immediately go dead and number would be changed to prevent a call back.
Step 3, sign J.A. Happ to a two-year deal. The Sox have acknowledged that they need rotation help in 2019 due to Michael Kopech recovering from Tommy John surgery and James Shields‘ option not being exercised. Happ will be a two-year bridge for the rotation that will be able to provide veteran stability and importantly, innings in 2019. Due to his position on the aging curve, I don’t believe Happ should take a significant financial investment and he will help to bridge the gap to Kopech’s return and Dylan Cease‘s (who will be on an innings limits again in 2019) acclimation to the Major Leagues. Steamer projects that Happ will produce 3.3 fWAR in 2019 which would, wait for it, make him the best projected starter if he were on the Sox. This team’s pitching was dreadful for lack of a better word in 2018, and they need guys that can get outs. Happ can do this and won’t be occupying a rotation spot for a long period of time while some of the more heralded pitching prospects in the system are allowed to continue their development.
Step 4, win the bidding war for Nathan Eovaldi and sign him to a four-year deal. “The Sox have tons of pitchers in the farm system, why are you taking up a rotation spot? Have you been drinking?” Here’s why: the Sox still need the prospects and young pitchers at the big league level to prove themselves and determine if they will be long-term rotation pieces or not. Lucas Giolito was arguably the worst pitcher in baseball last season. Carlos Rodon has not been able to put together a full season since his callup in 2015, and coming off of shoulder surgery in 2018 the results were less than stellar. Reynaldo Lopez looked like an inconsistent first year starter. That’s just at the big league level. Down on the farm, Alec Hansen had an injury-shortened and generally miserable season that saw him get demoted down to Winston-Salem to try and rediscover his mechanics. Dane Dunning was shut down in July with what is being termed a “minor” elbow issue. Jimmy Lambert missed time due to injury, Jordan Stephens and Spencer Adams were just kind of “meh” at Charlotte. The only real bright spot among minor league starters in 2018 was Dylan Cease, who should see Chicago at some point in the second half. So I guess what I’m saying is, there’s a lot of potential here, but not a lot of results.
Now, Eovaldi does come with a tremendous amount of risk given his injury history. So this is where Hahn would need to get creative with the contract structuring in terms of the years and money involved. But something appears to have clicked for Eovaldi when he came back in 2018 initially with Tampa. He proved to be a huge weapon for the Red Sox in helping them win the World Series. In 2018 he posted a career-high K/9 rate and a career-low BB/9 rate, all of which would be welcomed sights to a White Sox pitching staff that in 2018 struck out far too few hitters and walked far too many.
So that’s it. Look, this team can’t afford to sit on their hands and just waste another season if they miss out on the big fish in the next few months. Again, I’d like to reiterate that I want them to do everything they can, including spending a stupid amount of Jerry Reinsdorf’s great-grandchildren’s inheritance money to sign Harper or Machado. But if they fail and those guys simply don’t want to put on a White Sox uniform, they have to do something. Sitting back and hoping that Nolan Arenado gets to the market next winter and decides he is going to be the superstar to join the Sox is simply foolish. None of the players mentioned above do anything to hinder this team’s long-term outlook or create roster logjams. There’s a reason why this team tore everything down to the foundation two winters ago, so that they would have payroll flexibility to make additions to their prospect base. As I’ve written previously, the Sox need to start acting like a major market team and this would be a step in that direction. Of course, so would signing a superstar…
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