Hurry Rick! Limited Quantities?
I woke up the morning of the latest Sox in the Basement Episode, fresh off of David Kaplan coming on the show and suggesting that Jerry isn’t done spending because he wants to win it, and I see that free agents are indeed falling off the market like a bowl of chips knocked asunder from the table.
While J.T. Realmuto got a contract that only the Phillies would have offered because literally no one else was publicly offering him a contract, he was of no matter to the Sox as Realmuto is the 1a to Yasmani Grandal’s 1b. Except when Grandal is 1a, then Realmuto is 1b. They are the various 1a’s and 1b’s of MLB catchers. So whatever, but that’s a big free agent off the board and to the extent teams were getting a notion on him, they can move on.
But Andrelton Simmons is now a Twin, which makes sense because the Twins had no great SS options. Solid grab at $10.5 million for the Twins, which leaves them really looking for a DH and a LF, although one of those should be their top prospect Alex Kirilloff.
Freddie Galvis is an Oriole, nice knowing you Freddie. Cesar Hernandez re-signed with the Cleveland Baseball Assemblage because they are building a team of nothing but starting pitchers and middle infielders.
Marcus Semien is a Blue Jay..? Ok…that makes…sense? I guess Cavan Biggio or Semien are now manning 3B? Where he fits on the field is of little import to the Sox, but as an AL contender suddenly their lineup is deep, although the rotation isn’t impressive and the bullpen rides on Kirby Yates’ recently repaired elbow.
But to the sound of Sox fan hearts breaking all over before they immediately declared him overrated, Tommy LaStella joined the San Francisco over-30 baseball club known colloquially as “The Giants”. I’ll toot my own horn as I predicted in last Thursday’s blog that LaStella was going to nab a multi year deal that the Sox don’t want to give out for a DH (more on that below). LaStella will join “Donny Barrels” Donovan Solano, forever ago AL ROY Evan Longoria, the somehow only 33 years old Brandon Crawford and the underrated Brandon Belt in an infield where Tommy will get playing time because one of the incumbents will break a hip in the shower.
There was also more news that Masahiro Tanaka, a very viable fourth starter candidate, might return to Japan. While there are concerns that he has a torn ligament in his elbow, he’s had that pretty much his entire Yankee career and has still been reliable. Really, though, if the Sox are just looking for a stopgap, and Tanaka can go home to finish with a multi year deal, you’d suspect he’s going home vs. coming to Chicago.
So what chips are left on the table? Plenty, really. There are 11 of MLB.com’s top 25 left, including intriguing options like James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Nelson Cruz; some possible guys in Jake Odorizzi, Justin Turner and Joc Pederson, and names that the Sox are probably priced out of in Trevor Bauer and Marcell Ozuna. Guys like Kolten Wong, Didi Gregorious and Jackie Bradley Jr. don’t make as much sense for the Sox but they are there. Expanding that, there are 18 of the top 60 free agents on CBS Sports, adding in possible fits like Mitch Moreland, Adam Wainwright, C.J. Cron, Brett Gardner and Brad Miller. MLB Rumors’ top 50 has 19 guys left with names like Rick Porcello and Chris Archer still out there.
Blockheads need not apply
Nothing gets my Sox in the Basement co-host more annoyed with me than when I suggest a prospect is blocked by a major league player, especially when that player is not great. In Chris Lanuti’s mind, you prove your worth on the field and play your way into the lineup and past that veteran. It is the circle of life, the way of all things, and if you say different you get to watch Chris throw his hands around like a wacky waving inflatable tube guy while he loudly expresses his contrary opinion. He’s like a loud Kermit the Frog celebrating special guest star Dom DeLouise. We got into the disagreement off air in the last show, but trust me he hates the concept.
I don’t disagree with him, except in one area: high priced free agent signings. That is a definitive block to the players in the system, and at a minimum a statement that the team will not consider playing that youngster in the majors anytime soon. So I agree that the Sox remaining youth need to prove it rather than be handed it, but that’s not the point. Spending considerable dollars and committing multiple years to a free agent is not something you do if you expect to have to walk it back.
Cases in point:
Adam Eaton will be the Sox opening day Right Fielder. It will not be Luis Gonzalez, Blake Rutherford, the newly slimmed down OF-wannabe Gavin Sheets, Micker Adolfo or any other young OF besides Adam Engel, who might be his platoon partner to a degree. Eaton was signed because the Sox do not think that any of their OF prospects are ready to play everyday at the major league level, and contribute to a championship team. But Eaton is here for a year guaranteed, two tops if they grab his option. The Sox think they will have a younger, cheaper and better option in 2022, and they’re likely right. None of those prospects is really blocked, because Adam Eaton is fairly disposable as a 1-year guy. Frankly, if he’s hurt or ineffective, Sheets, Gonzalez or Engel could take his place if they’re ready.
Yasmani Grandal is blocking Zack Collins. First, there’s no real comparing the two right now in terms of being a starting catcher; Grandal is the best or right at the top of the heap for MLB catchers and Collins is a prospect who has gone kinda suspect defensively and offensively. But Collins could hit .750 with an OPS of 1.358 in the spring and start of the AAA season with top-end framing and defensive metrics and at best, he’s a DH and backup catcher. Grandal is in year two of his very expensive deal and if he’s healthy and playing at his regular level, he’s the Sox catcher. Collins will need to wait until Grandal is gone from the team to take that starting job. No team in the league would do any different. Even if the Sox traded Grandal this spring to make way for Collins, you’d wonder why they didn’t just spend that cash on another player, like adding a George Springer or Michael Brantley this year, or last year Hyun-Jin Ryu or Nick Castellanos.
As we look at the White Sox’ last two holes…they can’t be blocks to what’s coming up. At DH, Andrew Vaughn is a top prospect not just for the Sox but for the MLB in general. He will hit. Is he ready now? His small sample of pro ball makes that hard to say yes. But he could be there raking on Opening Day. Signing Marcell Ozuna to a multiyear deal makes no sense…you’re blocking Vaughn in 2021 and possibly beyond unless you think Eaton would be expendable, with Ozuna playing right. That’s possible too, but then why was Eaton signed? Just sign Ozuna at the start of the offseason. As I mentioned above, Tommy LaStella taking a multiyear deal with the Giants is something the Sox couldn’t really do. LaStella’s fit is as a backup IF and DH. If Vaughn outhits LaStella, LaStella becomes an expensive Danny Mendick. If the Sox committed to getting LaStella regular at-bats, you’re choosing to let Vaughn, Madrigal or Moncada sit more to make space.
If you are signing a guy to a multi-year deal, it better be because he has a place to play that you aren’t going to fill. Joc Pederson (sigh) could merit a few years from the Sox because he would be doing for them what he did on the Dodgers: messing up righties and getting semi-regular at bats between OF, 1B and DH. He’s a platoon/backup to Vaughn, Abreu, Jimenez, and in 2021 Robert where Eaton plays center. He can do that next year and the year after, as long as he mashes right handers and is productive in a bench role where he has versatility. So it also has to be the right price. Eaton is getting $8 million, which isn’t much in the grand scheme and writing off a prorated part if you drop him this year wouldn’t be a killer. But if you sign Joc to 3 years $39 million, you’re saying he’s a true starter and will be going forward, because eating that in 2021 or 2022 would be insane for a team on such a tight budget. And because hitters are less of a commodity, you gamble that there’s no secondary market for a DH if Vaughn hits his way onto the team.
So if the Sox were to commit to a DH long-term or sign a DH to a large one-year deal, the goal would be to make Vaughn/Sheets/prospects outhit Adam Eaton. It only makes sense if the DH is someone like Ozuna taking a deal below his market value to join the Sox, but that’s not happening with a top end free agent hitter. I would be baffled if the Sox engaged in blocking their young hitters with a high-priced free agent, instead of pushing them with a mid-tier guy that can be expendable or a bench luxury.
Conversely, the Sox aren’t blocking their pitchers if they were to sign a longer deal or sign a high-priced veteran. Multiyear deal candidates like Taijuan Walker or Jake Odorizzi would have value if Lance Lynn leaves after this year, or as trade bait in the off season if Lynn extends and the Cease/Kopech duo arrives. Pitchers are always a commodity, so a proven starter under contract is always a trade possibility. Kopech earning innings in AAA this year is not a failing on the Sox’ part or his part; the guy hasn’t thrown a game pitch in almost 3 years. So if pie in the sky stuff happens and Trevor Bauer descends with ice cream and sprinkles from on high into the Sox rotation, you simply let Lynn walk next year if Kopech and Cease (or Stiever or whoever) each establishes himself in the rotation. And this year, you go six-man or wait for the inevitable IL stint for one of the starters.
So if Dave Kaplan is right and as he said on the show Jerry wants to win, and that means Jerry will still spend, expect the hitter(s) signed to be underwhelming but don’t be shocked if a pitcher is here to stay.