Reassuring or frustrating depending on your perspective or relative sense of exhaustion, the possible/likely/implied White Sox move toward a rebuild has opened general manager Rick Hahn to discussing the team’s situation in more frank terms.
“When you look at the top end of our roster, arguably we could measure up against anybody. The middle and bottom part of the roster is where we’ve had some issues and certainly from a depth standpoint in being able to fill when something goes awry from a health or performance issue in Chicago.
It’s a matter of taking this premium core and being able to fill in around them both at the big league level as well as from a depth standpoint. How much does that cost?”
To parrot Nick Schaefer, the White Sox have done the hard part as well as anyone, but find themselves unable to polish off the easy stuff of building a team. If cost and a lack of prospect resources is holding them back from completing a contending roster, the Cubs rebuild may not be the best comparison, since it’s unlikely that the spending is going to open up in the same way once the theoretical new core becomes productive.
Something more recognizable might be the Astros, who have still yet to eclipse a $100 million payroll since Jeff Luhnow took over as general manager in 2011. Despite seemingly experiencing a breakthrough in 2015, they grew conservative after Colby Rasmus surprisingly accepting a qualifying offer, Dallas Keuchel‘s large arbitration figure, and the final years of Carlos Gomez and Scott Feldman‘s contract spiked their Opening Day payroll to $96 million; their highest since 2009. That figure came even after shedding Chris Carter‘s salary to the Brewers and staying extremely quiet in free agency save for an unsuccessful buy-low bid with Doug Fister. The 2016 team was not without promise, including near MVP-caliber work from Jose Altuve, but the Astros ultimately stagnated.
Now, they’re doing this:
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 9, 2016
As Morosi alludes to, the Astros have essentially waited out their budget opening up. Now that they have only $38 million committed before arbitration, they can continue to chug forward, which they already started to do mid-season when they brought in Yulieski Gurriel from Cuba.
There are dueling reactions here, between appreciation for the deftness at which the Astros have stripped nearly everything from their roster but functional core pieces (they just shipped out reliever Pat Neshek to get rid of $6 million), but also shock. The Astros, the team what underwent possibly the most brutal rebuild of the past decade, the team that reduced its opening day payroll to $26 million in 2013 and struck the deepest nadirs of unwatchability while they purged everything of value from the major league roster, still basically had to punt away a year of contention to stay under budget. And Sportrac only had them at 24th in payroll last year.
The Astros are shaping up to be good in 2017, and with a dearth of free agent pitching available, the Sox could really making a killing if they follow the Astros’ scorched earth model, but the restrictions are…restrictive. Even the most heartless rebuilds produce limited windows if there is not room to be aggressive spenders at some point in the contending cycle. While everyone can get excited for the prospect hugging portion of the rebuild, how the team will work when everyone is ready is the question. Aggressive pre-arb extensions for players like Tim Anderson, or Carlos Rodon if he would ever agree to one, might be necessary to keep everyone who actually does stay affordable.
Lead Image Credit: Thomas Shea // USA Today Sports Images