The playoffs are not yet over, but with the White Sox managerial search grabbing headlines, I was inspired to write my mock offseason a little earlier than usual. I did this same exercise last year, which you can read here. In summary, I thought the team would go for a little more quantity and less quality, so they made none of the moves I predicted (such as signing Nick Castellanos, Cole Hamels, and trading for Joc Pederson). Maybe this means I’m due for some positive regression this year! Even despite my inaccuracy, the team was plenty active, and in spite of a depressed market, I expect more of the same this winter.
This year, the holes on the roster are again plenty obvious. First and foremost, there is no manager or pitching coach at the moment. On the field, the team is in dire need of a starting pitcher or two, a right fielder, and general depth. Due to the uncertain nature of this offseason, I will be omitting relievers from these predictions, as there will simply be so many available that it will be nearly impossible to project their destinations. I do, however, expect the White Sox to add a couple of cheap middle-inning relief options to complement a young bullpen already loaded with back-end arms.
First, let’s discuss players with contract options, arbitration-eligible players, and pending free agents. I believe the White Sox will decline the $12 million option on Edwin Encarnacion and the $7 million option on Gio Gonzalez. The club could easily replace their 2020 production for cheaper. I do foresee Leury Garcia’s $3.5 million option being accepted, as he provides plenty of value for that relatively modest sum.
With respect to arbitration-eligible players, I think everybody will get tendered an offer aside from Nomar Mazara, Carlos Rodon, and Yolmer Sanchez. Mazara and Rodon will likely be too expensive to keep as players whose roles in 2021 would be unclear, and Sanchez has no real place on the roster next year with Danny Mendick, Leury Garcia, and perhaps even the Cuban defensive wizard Yolbert Sanchez backing up the infielders.
Alex Colome, Jarrod Dyson, and James McCann are the team’s impending free agents this offseason, and I do not envision the White Sox re-signing any of them. McCann deserves better than a backup role, and he will certainly have plenty of suitors on the market. Dyson was a fine pinch runner, but he seems like a player the White Sox would (again) acquire at the trade deadline next year if they feel his skillset is needed. Finally, Colome could potentially return depending on how the reliever market shakes out, but it is easy to see a team like the Phillies rushing to pay for him. Now, let’s get to the more significant acquisitions.
Coaching Staff: Hire A.J. Hinch as manager, promote Matt Zaleski to pitching coach
I am not going to dive into my complete thoughts on hiring A.J. Hinch — maybe some other time. He is one of the most successful and analytically-inclined managers available, and I believe he is the team’s top target. Matt Zaleski is the current AAA Charlotte pitching coach, and given his data-driven approach, he seems like a natural fit. It also would not surprise me to see bullpen coach Curt Hasler promoted to pitching coach.
Aside from the manager and pitching coach, there will likely be some sort of shuffle among the rest of the coaching staff, but that largely will be up to the new manager.
Signing: SP Marcus Stroman, 4 years, $72 million
I know, this isn’t Trevor Bauer, but Marcus Stroman’s career numbers are actually slightly better than Bauer’s. Of course, Bauer has a markedly higher ceiling, but I think about it this way: if you sign Stroman for $18 million/year, you are very likely to get a three-to-four-win pitcher (in terms of WAR). You could sign Bauer for $25 million/year or more, and you could get the nearly six-win Bauer we saw in 2018 and 2020. However, Bauer’s down years are worse than Stroman’s down years, to the point where Bauer is roughly a two-win pitcher. For an extra $7 million/year, I do not know if I would want to take that risk when Stroman is so reliable.
Granted, nobody can predict exactly what Bauer and Stroman will command this winter. An $18 million/year pact for Stroman is what I would expect in a normal offseason, but perhaps the league’s economic situation makes the prices in this article seem outrageous. Nevertheless, Stroman is a relatively low-risk move, aside from the obvious injury risk that comes with every player. I wrote about this in May when it was rumored that the White Sox would pursue him, but Stroman would slot in perfectly behind Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel. He would bring an energy and competitiveness that would mesh well with this expressive White Sox team, and it should be noted that he and Tim Anderson have publicly settled their differences since their 2017 run-in and even appear to be friends now.
Signing: SP/RP Jose Quintana, 2 years, $20 million
Jose Quintana has not been the same pitcher since leaving the White Sox, but he was still a very competent back-end starter for the Cubs. By signing Quintana, the White Sox would be adding much-needed starting pitching depth and a player who can take the Gio Gonzalez swingman role in the remotely possible event that the team has “too much” healthy and effective starting pitching.
I have not seen many White Sox fans clamoring for Quintana, and I am unsure if this signing would be well-received, but one would have to assume that he will be reasonably priced and that there is mutual interest. Provided he is not “the” starting pitcher brought in this offseason, I think a Quintana signing would be an overwhelming positive for the White Sox. It also might be the most plausible acquisition the White Sox make.
Signing: RF George Springer, 4 years, $84 million
I really have no idea what the White Sox will do about right field next year. Nomar Mazara is an almost certain non-tender candidate, and one would presume the team will prioritize finding a left-handed bat. Maybe the White Sox will finally acquire Joc Pederson. Robbie Grossman is an option, but while he would be an upgrade, he would be underwhelming given the available players. I could also easily see trades being made — Michael Conforto is a perfect long-term fit, for example, but he is a free agent after the 2021 season. In my opinion, hiring A.J. Hinch as manager would serve as bonus enticement for George Springer, who is supposedly close with his former manager. At thirty-one years of age, Springer is not likely to see a nine-figure mega-contract in free agency. Thus, he should be a feasible target for the White Sox.
For transparency’s sake, I wanted to make a splashy trade for Michael Conforto here, but I just could not think of a package that would align with the Mets’ vision. One would figure the White Sox would prefer Conforto packaged with a reliever like Edwin Diaz or Seth Lugo, but Dylan Cease and Jonathan Stiever feels like a light return, and I doubt the White Sox will trade any of their more tantalizing prospects such as Michael Kopech, Andrew Vaughn, or Garrett Crochet.
Back to George Springer: the powerful outfielder has had some durability issues, but with a 129 wRC+ for his career against right-handed pitching and a 147 wRC+ against left-handers, he would serve as a long-term fix that, unlike many other available right fielders, is not simply a platoon player.
The issue here is money: I already have allocated $28 million in 2021 to Stroman and Quintana, and Springer brings that total to $49 million. Of course, by declining options, non-tendering multiple players, and declining to re-sign McCann or Colome, this is not a flat $49 million payroll increase. But, once you account for arbitration raises, this would bring the White Sox payroll to the $140 million to $150 million range. That payroll would be around league-average, but it would certainly be an increase over what would have been a payroll between $125 million and $130 million had there been a full season in 2020. Hopefully, a league-average payroll is not too much to ask for after years of rebuilding, but it is worth mentioning that this level of spending could be a tad optimistic. I almost switched out Springer for a one-year, $7 million deal with Robbie Grossman, but that would be far less fun.
Extensions: SP Lucas Giolito and 1B/DH Andrew Vaughn
In 2019, it was Eloy Jimenez. This year, it was Luis Robert, Yoan Moncada, and Aaron Bummer. In 2021, I am predicting that Lucas Giolito and Andrew Vaughn will agree to contract extensions during the offseason. Giolito would be controlled through, say, the 2025 season rather than the 2023 season. Vaughn would begin the year on the MLB roster, much like the aforementioned Jimenez and Robert did after signing their extensions.
This might be one of the hardest winters to predict across baseball due to the general lack of knowledge concerning the amount of money teams will be spending. Perhaps many of these players will sign in February as spring training nears. Maybe the White Sox will astutely jump the market to ensure that they hit their targets like they did last year with Yasmani Grandal. Either way, there are many ways the White Sox offseason can go, but as long as they sign a playoff rotation-caliber starting pitcher and make a true upgrade in right field, the team will be in great position in 2021 with Michael Kopech and Andrew Vaughn arriving.
I do not think these will be the only moves the White Sox make — I am sure plenty of minor deals will be struck to add depth to the bullpen, for instance. I could also understand a backup catcher signing, and perhaps even adding another infielder in case Nick Madrigal’s recent shoulder surgery leads to him not being 100% ready for the start of the season. However, in terms of major moves, anything other than a couple of starting pitchers and a right fielder would be a surprise.
With good health, the team below would likely be the favorite to win the division in 2021 and should be a true World Series contender.
Early season rotation: Giolito, Keuchel, Stroman, Quintana, Dunning/Cease
Late season rotation: Giolito, Keuchel, Stroman, Kopech, Quintana/Dunning/Cease
Lineup: SS Anderson, 3B Moncada, RF Springer, 1B Abreu, LF Jimenez, C Grandal, CF Robert, DH Vaughn, 2B Madrigal
Bench: C Collins, OF Engel, IF Mendick, UTIL Garcia
Be sure to follow us on social media @SoxOn35th for more updates!
Featured Photo: Mets/Twitter