I am told that the World Series is over and the offseason has begun. Indeed, it seems the Angels agreed to a 5-year arrangement with Justin Upton within mere moments of Carlos Correa proposing to his girlfriend. After a 2015-16 offseason that commenced with two exciting additions and then deteriorated into a death march of watching players the White Sox desperately needed sign elsewhere, and a 2016-17 offseason that saw the emphatic detonation of the Robin Ventura Era, here we are. It’s unclear what to hope for the front office to do, let alone predict what they will, in fact, do. Only one or two players remain on the roster who could theoretically still be sold — more on that below — and it seems early to try to start adding stars until we have more information on the players already in the fold. Still, there is no force on earth that will stop baseball fans from speculating about moves in the offseason, and so, I submit for your consideration the following musings:
1. Jose Abreu & Nate Jones: These are the two players I was referring to above as trade chips. Rick Hahn & Co. were so effective at cashing in major leaguers for future pieces that they scorched all the way down to shuffling Dan Jennings and World Series Champion Tyler Clippard off the roster. One imagines Jones might have fetched a significant return if he had been healthy, and it seems unlikely that he would be dealt over the winter before he could demonstrate he is healthy again.
Abreu is even harder to evaluate. Not in terms of who he is on the field (or off it, for that matter) as his superlative 2017 corrected data points which had previously been trending downward, and he grabbed hold of the role of clubhouse leader with both hands and a big smile as all other veterans were purged. Abreu is under team control through 2019, which may mean he is around for the first good White Sox season in almost a decade, and departing as the window truly opens in earnest. Maybe he sticks around and is dealt at the deadline in 2019 if they’re not in it. Maybe he and the organization agree to buy out his arb years and tack on a few more. As it stands now, anyway, my sense is that the White Sox would have to be absolutely blown away to part with him this winter, as he means more than just the excellent offense he provides. It also strikes me as unusual that someone would want to “overpay” in talent for Abreu when there are good corner bats on the market for only money.
2. The “Jon Lester” Deal: This is a label that I have given this kind of signing, and I’ve mentioned it on a few podcasts and articles. The Cubs signed Lester to a huge deal before it was necessarily clear that the new crop of talent was ready to contend for the playoffs. Obviously that 2015 team did contend, but even if they hadn’t, the organization identified Lester as someone they wanted to have around through the next competitive window, and he would be a free agent before 2015 and not after.
Another thing to consider here, however, is that as a class, most free agents are reaching the market either in the middle of their peak or, as is often the case, on their downside away from it. Most free agent contracts are intended to provide most of their value up front, with the back end of the contract being less pleasant. In that sense, it may not be very helpful to line what should be the best year of a contract up with a season where you’re not trying to contend yet. Still, it’s worth remembering that it is nearly impossible to graduate a whole playoff team at once, and the free agent market may not always have what you want when you want it.
Still another general principle influencing the process here is that one of the biggest benefits of being a team that “plans” on losing a lot is having a surplus of playing time to distribute among players who may or may not be good for the purposes of evaluation. Sure, the Astros got Correa as a direct result of being the worst team in the league in a given year, but they also still have Marwin Gonzalez and Dallas Keuchel because who else was going to get those at bats and those innings on those teams? And hey, they turned out to be crazy valuable. Signing mid-level free agents in a rebuilding year may only serve to block an audition for a player who turns out to be much better than you anticipated.
There may not be a Lester-esque fit in this class. But, it might make sense to scoop up Lorenzo Cain if it looks like he’s going to sign for less than he should. He’s older than one might think, but as a plus defender with good on-base skills, Cain may age more gracefully than some.
3. Buying A Potential Mirage: In the 2015 playoffs, Daniel Murphy morphed from a slightly above average hitter with a below average glove to a juggernaut and then hit free agency. Clearly, given that he was only able to command a 3-year, $37.5 million contract, teams didn’t buy that those playoffs were for real. Turns out it was! Murphy has gone on to slaughter baseballs for the next two seasons and the Nationals found an absolute steal.
Logan Morrison and Yonder Alonso, 30 and 31 years old respectively, are both free agents coming off of very good years at the plate after drowning a good amount of prospect shine with thousands of plate appearances of mediocrity. If pressed, I would certainly predict them both to fall back toward their previous performance levels. But at a certain point, if the price tag is low enough, the risk that they do may be offset by the possibility that 2017 represents their new normal and you wind up with a good bat on the cheap.
This is only scratching the surface of the possibilities out there, but we hope you join us for another White Sox offseason, and thank you for spending the 2017 season here at BP South Side.
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