This is the first full installment of the Patreon Request Line. As a reward to those contributing $5 or more a month, they can put a dime in the jukebox and get an appropriately lengthy answer. I may drop it into a post (see the part about Yolmer Sanchez’s arbitration situation here), I may shoot through a bunch of topics mailbag-style, or I could drop what I’m doing and devote an entire post to one idea.
As always, thank you for your support. This one is from Sox Machine backer Striker:
With the free agent market being such a buyers market, it would be interesting to think about the state if the team had they not traded everyone away.
For those who didn’t want the White Sox to rebuild, the Minnesota Twins validated their viewpoint. The Twins projected to be a below-.500 team by both PECOTA (80 wins) and FanGraphs (74), but thanks to an uninspiring American League middle class, they ended up winning 85 games and the second wild card spot.
With Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, the White Sox would have projected better than Minnesota. Whether they could have taken advantage of that head start is a legitimate question, as the Sox haven’t been much for stomping projections in recent years.
That said, they would have been operating with a new manager, which probably would have resulted in a boost. My biggest gripe about the Sale era is that they only trusted Robin Ventura to oversee it. By the end, he was as bad of an idea as a narcoleptic night watchman, and every time Hawk Harrelson said or shouted “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” in 2017, I couldn’t help but sense the contrast going unsaid.
Renteria wouldn’t have been worth a seven or eight extra wins by himself, but give a better manager a better cast of relievers — the bullpen wasn’t touched during that winter, so I’m giving the non-rebuilding 2017 team Tommy Kahnle and Anthony Swarzak — and maybe that gets them over .500. In 2017, a winning record automatically qualified as contending.
That said, the Sox would’ve encountered a few obstacles that would throw a ceiling over the proceedings.
The James Shields trade
I wasn’t a fan of the Adam LaRoche signing, but thought the Sox gave him a shot because he was a relatively modest investment, allowing the Sox could spend over the second year if needed. LaRoche tested that hypothesis by pooping the bed, and the White Sox proved my theory false. They never made the other big move after the Todd Frazier trade.
LaRoche’s contract came off the books thanks to his retirement, but too late to use on an outfielder of renown. It did allow the White Sox add a contract during the season, but unfortunately, James Shields replaced LaRoche on the payroll for the rest of 2016 and the two years after.
Shields’ contract wouldn’t have kept the Sox from adding a catcher, because you can roll the 2016 salaries for Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila into Jason Castro, whose so-so 2017 would have represented a major improvement. (Then again, if the Sox rolled them into Matt Wieters, not so much.)
But if the Sox needed to add another bat, they would have had to pony up in a way for which they lacked the appetite one year earlier.
The middle infield
I don’t want to dwell on the source of Tim Anderson’s struggles too much here, because it’s a little insensitive to throw grief into a simulator. But given that Anderson’s highly aggressive approach might’ve been exploitable under any circumstances, the Sox would have had to have been prepared for a sophomore slump of some sort. Given that Tyler Saladino battled back issues for a second consecutive year, he wouldn’t have been much help in the middle infield.
Carlos Rodon’s injury
Some injuries from last year shouldn’t be penciled in. For instance, you can’t assume Adam Eaton would have blown out his knee with the White Sox like he did for the Nationals. He played 150+ games in each of the previous two seasons, so I wouldn’t count on him making that one wrong step in any other year.
But Rodon’s status was opaque from the start of spring training, and if the Sox were counting on him throwing 180 innings behind Sale and Jose Quintana, they would’ve been exposed in short order. Sale’s star power would’ve provided some cover, but they’d still need 40 percent of their starts to come from James Shields and a replacement-level starter. Throw in Miguel Gonzalez being good for an annual DL trip and the Sox’ team health regressing to the mean, and that’s a rotation needing an above-average offense to survive.
(Speaking of which, maybe it’d score enough runs with Eaton, Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia all performing like All-Stars, but would Garcia have even been tendered a contract on a team with aspirations?)
There are a lot of fascinating what-ifs, but Rodon’s injury and subsequent shoulder surgery would have posed the greatest stress test for a team that had just two more years remaining on its cost-controlled foursome.
The shopping list already had a third baseman and corner outfielder atop it, but if they needed a high-quality starting pitcher to give depth to the rotation, the allocation of resources might look more like the winter of 2014-15, paying market salaries for several average players (if they’re lucky).
Or maybe this would’ve been the best market for a team aching to buy. We’ll get a better idea once we see what Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, J.D. Martinez, Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta all sign for.
Regardless, the White Sox would probably have to try loading up and making the next two seasons work. They wouldn’t get the same windfall of talent from a sell-off with everybody a year closer to free agency, if teams even wanted to pull off those kind of trades in a winter so slow. They wouldn’t have the farm system to complement a less robust haul, either. Of all the top prospects, Alec Hansen is the only one drafted by the organization, and Luis Robert would have been too expensive while carrying a contending payroll.
My guess is that the White Sox would be painted into a corner of rolling with their pro scouting through 2019, after which they’d face a roster reckoning. That course is preferable to some people, and for good reason, as rooting for draft position is a transparent defense mechanism.
That said, if the White Sox were going to sell, it seems as though they picked the right time to clean house. Scrambling to staple together a roster every year gets tiring, especially when an injury like Rodon’s can throw off the entire timeline. The hope is that the White Sox accumulated enough young talent that no one player can sink it, although they’ll have to draft better in order to keep the effects of the stimulus from wearing off.
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