With a forgettable year coming to an unmerciful close, Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn now looks to overhaul a disappointing roster. Unlike last season, though, Hahn and the White Sox have quite a bit of payroll flexibility.
In 2013, the Opening Day payroll was just under $119 million, but in 2014 the White Sox only have $48.25 million earmarked for player salaries. That gives Hahn ample room to improve the offense while adding speed and shoring up a porous defense.
Let’s break down what the GM has to work with and how this winter could play out.
A Look Back, and a Look Forward
In order to get a handle on the White Sox's finances going into the offseason, it is important to look at who the top earners were when this past season began and the only five players under contract for 2014.
|John Danks||$15.75M||John Danks||$15.75M|
|Adam Dunn||$15M||Adam Dunn||$15M|
|Jake Peavy||$14.5M||Alexei Ramirez||$9.5M|
|Paul Konerko||$13.5M||Jeff Keppinger||$4M|
|Alex Rios||$13M||Chris Sale||$3.5M|
Courtesy of BaseballProspectus.com
The dramatic difference in overall dollars committed to player salaries is due to two factors. First, the White Sox had two rather large contracts that expired at the end of the 2013 season.
Paul Konerko was in the last year of the three-year, $37.5 million deal he signed before the 2011 season. Konerko has not decided if he will retire or continue playing, but if he does return, it will be for considerably less money. The other one belonged to Gavin Floyd, who was on a one-year, $9.5 million contract when he underwent Tommy John surgery.
The second reason is that Hahn traded away Alex Rios and Jake Peavy—who were both under contract next season—in moves that dumped salary and replenished the minor league ranks. Were Peavy and Rios still on the roster, the baseline that Hahn is starting from would be $75.75 million.
Of course, the albatross contracts of Adam Dunn and John Danks are still on the books, but the financial situation is not as dire as it was at the beginning of this past campaign.
Arbitration, Options and Lesser Contracts
In addition to the committed salaries above, the White Sox have six players eligible for arbitration.
Gordon Beckham and Alejandro De Aza will be going through the process for the second time, and they will likely see substantial increases in the respective $2.925 million and $2.075 million contacts they had in 2013. Tyler Flowers and David Purcey are both eligible for the first time and will probably be offered arbitration. The others—Ramon Troncoso and Brent Morel—will likely not be in a White Sox uniform next season.
It would stand to figure that Beckham is a lock to be back next year. After coming back from surgery on the hamate bone in his right hand, he had one of his more productive showings at the plate. His defense took a step back, but he will be on the 25-man roster for some time.
De Aza is a different story. He is 29 years old, does not get on base near enough for a leadoff hitter, is suspect in the field and is a below-average baserunner. He could be back for one more season, but if there is an option to replace him the White Sox would be wise to pursue it.
Matt Lindstrom is the only player with an option to pick up for the 2014 season. If Hahn exercises it, Lindstrom would earn $4 million next year with an additional $2.25 million in incentives possible based on the number of games he finishes. He does have a $500,000 buyout, but the right-hander figures to be one of the primary setup men next year so expect his return.
The rest of the roster is comprised of guys like Hector Santiago, Jose Quintana, Addison Reed, Nate Jones and Avisail Garcia who will not be eligible for arbitration until 2016, at the earliest. Each of their salaries in 2014 will probably be in the $500,000-$600,000 range.
What Can Hahn Do?
All told, Hahn set the White Sox up fairly well. They opened this season a tick above $12.575 million over the average team payroll. Next year, however, they are $17.5 million below the salary mean.
What Hahn does with the flexibility will go a long way towards determining the franchise’s future. He sounds like he plans on being aggressive, per CSNChicago.com’s Chuck Garfien.
I expect things to look different. As to how drastically different things will look, it's going to depend on the market and what's available to us...But we don't want to make changes just because it's different and we don't have to see this anymore. We want to make changes because they're a step towards our ultimate goal of annual contention and another World Series championship. So we're not going to force anything, but if I had my druthers there will be a lot of changes because we'll head down that path.
One option is to trade Ramirez this offseason, let De Aza find a new home and sign a guy like Shin-Soo Choo or Curtis Granderson to play center field. Moving Ramirez clears up an additional $9.5 million next season and $10 million in 2015 and opens up a spot on the 25-man roster for Marcus Semien. Signing Choo or Granderson will provide stability at the top of the order and put in place a piece that should get the White Sox offense back to relevancy.
What Hahn should not do is put the White Sox in a restrictive financial position like his predecessor Kenny Williams did. When Williams signed Dunn and Danks to contracts that were above market value, he put the team in an unenviable position that they are finally beginning to find some relief from.
Regardless of what happens, though, the White Sox are in a very good spot. With only $48.75 million in player salaries allocated for the 2014 season before arbitration and Lindstom's option, anything is possible.