This is not a new thought nor does it qualify as particularly deep analysis but not every idea has to be new or cutting edge. Sometimes things just have to be. Things are starting to look up for the 2018 Chicago White Sox as they’ve won 4 of their last 6 for the first time all season, but we all know wins aren’t really the ultimate measure of success this season (though they do make the growing pains a lot more palatable). But once October rolls around and we’ve assessed how the Baby Sox have grown, Rick Hahn & Co are going to have to face the sobering realization that they have to start spending on the major league payroll again.
Real quick quiz for you: where does the 2018 White Sox payroll rank in MLB? 25th? 28th?
Nope. 29th. The White Sox, who do still play in the third largest media market in the country have the second lowest payroll, only ahead of the notoriously thrifty Oakland Athletics. The Sox Opening Day payroll this year sits at a cool $71.2 million. $5 million less than Tampa, a team that is experimenting with not using starting pitchers. $23M less than San Diego who rostered multiple Rule 5 minor leaguers last season. $27M less than Derek Jeter’s Marlins who sent just shy of every useful player they had out of town this winter.
The most damning comparison though might just be the gap between the Sox and the next lowest payroll in the AL Central. The Royals, at the beginning of a hard rebuild themselves, have $122.2M committed to this year’s model. That’s a difference of $51M. The Sox’ payroll is 58 percent of Kansas City’s.
That is absurd.
Yes, it’s not exactly a sound business practice to pay high salaries a year after you’ve traded away almost all your larger contracts but it’s not like the payroll would be that much higher with Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, and Jose Quintana still around. We’re still talking about a franchise whose largest contract ever is Jose Abreu’s 6 year, $68 million deal. The Sox are one of four team to have never handed out a contract worth more than $100M and they haven’t even come close to bumping that barrier. And unlike Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City, they can’t cry market size. Yeah, they share Chicagoland with the Cubs and will likely always play second fiddle but they’re still far larger than Cincinnati, San Diego, and Milwaukee.
Forbes valued the White Sox franchise as worth $1.5 billion last month. One. Point. Five. Billion. After accounting for arbitration raises, next year’s payroll is sitting somewhere around $40-45M. That’s insulting. I’m not saying this offseason will be a failure if Bryce Harper or Manny Machado don’t find their way to the South Side, but something finally has to give or it’s going to be pretty damn hard to keep selling the fan base on improvement if you’re not willing to pay for the necessary improvements.