A guide to the open market include rankings, qualifying offers, and early machinations from other teams
Today marks the first day of MLB free agency. The White Sox broke open last year’s edition with the Welington Castillo signing, then stayed quiet for the remainder of the offseason, save the return of Miguel Gonzalez.
The White Sox have reason to be more aggressive this time around, if only because they know which positions have no immediate solutions in the high minors. That list includes a starting pitcher or two, a third baseman, an outfielder who can play center, and a veteran reliever wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.
But after 100 losses and no immediate path to improvement — that’ll probably come when they bring up Eloy Jimenez and have a firm timetable for Michael Kopech — a huge outlay could be difficult for them to rationalize at this point. And even if they wanted to spend, would marquee players want to take it to join a team that’s still multiple seasons away?
Below are some reading materials that will give you a sense of who’s available, and which teams pose the greatest competition.
Rankings and predictions:
*MLB Trade Rumors Top 50: The White Sox receive honorable mentions for a number of players, but aren’t predicted to land any of them. In the comments, Michael Kenny noted that MLBTR even forgot to list the White Sox among the teams to not be called a favorite.
*Keith Law’s top 50: Law leaned into Yasmani Grandal’s receiving issues in the postseason:
He leads baseball in passed balls over the past four years, doesn’t block balls well and has a reputation of not working well on game-planning with pitchers.
Good-framing catchers tend to have a passed-ball problem, the byproduct of trying to keep the glove still on pitches with movement, so that part doesn’t necessarily concern me.
Seven players received qualifying offers this time around. If they accept it, they’ll return to their teams for one year and $17.9 million. If they decline it, then their teams will gain a sandwich pick after the first round if the player receives a contract of $50 million or more. If the contract comes to less than that, they’ll receive a compensatory pick after Competitive Balance Round B.
If the White Sox sign a free agent who declines a qualifying offer, they have to give up their second-highest draft pick and $500,000 of international bonus pool money.
The players who received qualifying offers this year:
- Bryce Harper
- A.J. Pollock
- Patrick Corbin
- Dallas Keuchel
- Craig Kimbrel
- Hyun-Jin Ryu
One of the surprising omissions was Michael Brantley, who proved himself fully healthy and hit .309/.364/.468 with 12 steals for the Indians, good for 3-4 WAR by any metric (more on this in a bit). Charlie Morton also didn’t receive a qualifying offer, and thus should be popular in free agency.
Maneuvering and rumors
*The Dodgers kept Clayton Kershaw off the market by signing him to a three-year, $93 million extension. Kershaw had an opt-out for the remaining two years and $65 million, so he was able to get another year guaranteed for $28 million plus potential bonuses.
*The Cubs picked up the $20 million option on Cole Hamels, although they had to shed salary to do so, which they accomplished by trading Drew Smyly and his $7 million obligation to the Rangers for a player to be named later. The Rangers were on the hook for Hamels’ $6 million buyout if the Cubs didn’t exercise the option, so they kinda bought Smyly for $1 million, although the trade includes a player to be named later on each side.
Patrick Mooney of The Athletic says the Cubs’ pursuits could be seriously limited by the luxury tax., making Bryce Harper more wishful thinking than a legit possibility.
The Cubs are already positioned to blow past next year’s $206 million luxury-tax threshold without adding a veteran backup catcher, another experienced hitter and a ninth-inning insurance policy against injured closer Brandon Morrow. Epstein’s baseball operations department also usually sets aside funds for the trade deadline and unexpected in-season additions. […]
That winning environment and star power will help fuel the Harper-to-Chicago buzz during next week’s general manager meetings in Southern California. Epstein will always be known for making bold, aggressive moves. But Friday’s accounting for Smyly and Hamels sure didn’t make it look like the Cubs are about to hand out the biggest contract in major-league history.
*The Indians are trying to tighten belts, according to Buster Olney. That could be why they couldn’t tolerate the risk of a high salary for Brantley, even if it was only a one-year commitment. Olney says Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez aren’t going anywhere, but everybody else could be on the block:
The Indians will hold on to shortstop Francisco Lindor and MVP candidate Jose Ramirez next season, but they have indicated to the industry that they are prepared to discuss other accomplished players, including 2017 Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, pitcher Carlos Carrasco, catchers Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez, slugger Edwin Encarnacion and second baseman Jason Kipnis, among others.
While the Indians have been an AL Central monster the past three seasons, their ’90s-like dominance hasn’t resulted in ’90s-like attendance figures. They drew just 1.93 million during a third consecutive pennant-winning season, down from 2.05 million the year before.
Indians' payroll/attendance ranking
In short: Increased spending dramatically; won a lot of games and reached postseason/WS; didn't get much of a bump in attendance.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 3, 2018
For context, the White Sox drew 2.5 million fans in 2008, the year after losing 90 games, which is what I always think about when people freak out about potential relocation. A second Chicago team that had its act together would be a divisional monster. Alas.
The Indians should be the easy favorites even if they have to reallocate resources in 2019. That makes the White Sox’ stumbles of the past season so unfortunate. Cleveland coasted last winter due to the lack of a legit challenge, and unless the White Sox can gain 25-30 wins in an offseason without blowing up a pipeline that’s still under construction, only the Twins will pose a semi-projectable challenge.
Perhaps the White Sox can incorporate the weak division into their free-agent pitches. The AL East would bury them, but the AL Central gives any mediocre team a puncher’s chance.