Sunday, December 8, 2013
White Sox rein in winter spending
By Doug Padilla
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Heading into this week’s winter meetings, the Chicago White Sox have significant cash on hand. Just don’t be surprised if they don’t pull out their wallet for a spending spree.
That $2.5 million price tag for the Sox to bring back Paul Konerko for one last season -- $1.5 million when taking into account that $1 million was deferred -- fits right into the team’s apparent plan to slash payroll.
The White Sox have yet to officially call 2014 a money-saving season, but as the roster takes shape with more youth than usual, the White Sox are poised to cut the budget dramatically.
Sure, Jose Abreu was given a six-year, $68 million contract in October, the largest in team history in terms of overall money, but the front office is playing it much more conservatively with its cash, despite the large chunk of change given to its new first baseman.
After a payroll that approached $120 million last season, the White Sox are in position to cut that by as much as $30 million in 2014, not necessarily the kind of news that sends loyalists rushing to the internet to order season tickets.
Paul Konerko helped the White Sox pare down payroll with his team friendly $2.5 million deal.
The plan is essentially addition by subtraction in order to improve the roster, while a fix could take a couple of years at the earliest. Again, it’s not they kind of thing that many hardcore fans want to hear, but sometimes getting healthy again means taking your medicine.
Barring a surprise decision to do something like join the Shin-Soo Choo bidding, the payroll could end up being the Sox's lowest since the team spent $75 million on its 2005 championship team.
More should be known about the White Sox’s roster intentions this week, but don’t be surprised if adding an experienced left-handed reliever is about as sexy as it gets between now and the start of spring training. The White Sox are certain to continue exploring trade options.
“We want to continue to make steps toward retooling this offense,” general manager Rick Hahn said last week. “There have been a couple of opportunities to solidify the pitching staff that have come across our desk, and that’s something we’re going to continue to consider. We’re not closing off any options toward getting better, whether they’re on the position side of things, where we clearly feel we have a need to improve, or even on the pitching side, which we feel is a strength right now. It’s more about finding the right fits for the long term.”
“Long-term fits” have been a talking point since July when a miserable first four months of the 2013 season forced trade-deadline deals. The club switched into remodeling mode when Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain and Jake Peavy were traded in July. It continued into August when Alex Rios was dealt.
In all of their midseason dealings, the White Sox didn’t acquire a player older than 22. They traded away four players, all of whom were at least 32 years old. Nothing signals a youth movement more than that.
At 26, Abreu is the grandfather of White Sox acquisitions thus far. That’s what happens when a $118 million investment goes belly up. The White Sox aren’t getting all Cubs-like with their remodel, but they clearly want to get younger in order to help them get better.
Bringing back Konerko didn’t help them to get younger, but the price tag went a long way toward significantly lowering the payroll.
Let’s break down the potential 2014 roster (*projected salary):
If the above team is the one that breaks camp this spring, the White Sox are looking at a payroll of around $84 million. And in an ideal world, they'd find somebody interested in trading for Keppinger, which opens a roster spot for Leury Garcia. That would save another $3.4 million or so.
Hahn also said last week that despite the trend around baseball to go to a 13-man pitching staff, the White Sox have actually talked about an 11-man staff, which would get Leury Garcia on the roster. Hahn did admit that six relievers is not ideal.
Despite a potentially awkward roster that has three DH/first basemen, it makes sense for the White Sox to see what they can get out of a much more affordable club in 2014 and then see exactly where they need to spend in 2015. With the Dunn and Lindstrom contracts coming off the books after 2014, that gives the team another $19 million to spend.
Will Viciedo show in 2014 that he is the long-term answer in left field? Maybe the team will have to pony up some cash for an outfielder if Viciedo struggles again and their lauded outfield prospects continue to need more seasoning.
Will Beckham earn a multi-year deal that absorbs his final arbitration year in 2015? The White Sox do have second base options in Leury Garcia and Marcus Semien.
Perhaps Quintana will earn a deal that is not only team friendly but will give him financial stability, much like what Sale received.
The White Sox could make one or two of those decisions and still have plenty of room to spend on free agents for 2015, assuming they would be willing to trek back toward the $118-million mark in salary.
So while baseball was buzzing over the past week with some eye-opening signings and deals, the White Sox managed to get into the news by bringing back the face of the franchise at a $9 million savings. That’s what kind of offseason it has been.
Despite the cost-cutting measures, though, there is still a scenario where the White Sox could be among baseball’s noise-makers exactly one year from now with a bag full of money at their disposal.
Nobody wants to see another season of struggles and there still remains time for big spending. But the opportunity to spend even more next year, while also spending smarter, makes so much more sense.