Chicago White Sox Face Financial Issues Entering The 2010 Offseason

Joe SlowikCorrespondent IOctober 3, 2010

Chicago White Sox Face Financial Issues Entering The 2010 Offseason

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    Though the Sox exceeded the expectations of many preseason predictions, they still finished a distant second to the Twins and enter the offseason with some work to do.

    Before we even talk about making any upgrades to the roster, the Sox have several major decisions to make regarding their current players. The team already has a number of sizable salary commitments and would need to make a few more to keep this same core together.

    Money will be a big theme this offseason, and Kenny Williams will probably have to creative to improve this team.

The Payroll Crunch

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    Let's start this slide with an assumption: The White Sox will not have a payroll significantly over $100 million.

    Though the Sox have had large payrolls in recent years (especially given their middle of the pack attendance), they do not work on an unlimited budget. Since the World Series win in 2005, they have had payrolls between $95 and $110 mil with one outlier in 2008 when they spent $121 million. One also has to remember that they received significant subsidies as part of the Thome, Vazquez and Pierre acquisitions, making those figures look a little higher than their actual costs.

    So what does that mean for the 2011 season?

    Well, the Sox already have over $80 million on the books for next season, roughly 80 percent of their expected payroll

    Here are the itemized contract totals for 2011. There are several key players that are not included as I will discuss in future slides.

     

    Jake Peavy- $16 million

    Mark Buehrle- $14 million

    Alex Rios- $12.5 million

    Edwin Jackson- $8.75 million

    Juan Pierre- $8.5 million (technically $3.5 mil is paid by the Dodgers)

    Scott Linebrink- $5.5 million

    Gavin Floyd- $5 million

    Mark Teahen- $4.75 million

    Matt Thornton- $2.25 million (club option that will be picked up)

    Dayan Viciedo- $2.25 million

    Alexei Ramirez- $1.125 million

    Total money already on the books- $80.6 million ($77 mil if you count the money for Pierre)

    Note: Pre-arbitration players like Gordon Beckham, Sergio Santos and Chris Sale are not included, which would probably add a few more million dollars to the payroll ($300-400k per player).

     

    Can they actually move any of these contracts? I have my doubts. The Sox would probably give Linebrink or Teahen away at those prices. Pierre would be hard to move unless they paid half of his contract, and though they have talent, their contracts make Peavy and Buehrle hard to move.  They're probably stuck with the bulk of these players.

Free Agents/Arbitration Players

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    Besides those players that already have a guaranteed salary for next season, the following players have expiring contracts or arbitration totals that have not been added to the previous payroll total yet.

    I have included the 2010 salary for every player on this list.

    As you could probably guess from those previous salary figures, it doesn't look possible to keep everyone on the previous list and bring back all of these players without raising the payroll.

     

    Paul Konerko- $12 million, FA

    Bobby Jenks- $7.5 million, ARB

    AJ Pierzynski- $6.25 million, FA

    John Danks- $3.45 million, ARB

    Carlos Quentin- $3.2 million, ARB

    JJ Putz- $3 million, FA

    Omar Vizquel- $1.375 mil, FA

    Tony Pena- $1.2 mil, ARB

    Freddy Garcia- $1 million, FA

    Ramon Castro- $800k, $1.2 million club option/200k buyout

    Andruw Jones- 500k, FA

     

    Even if one were to assume that AJ and Jenks are gone, Konerko and Danks alone would put a major dent in any payroll flexibility.

Major Issue #1- Does Paul Konerko Stay or Go?

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    Konerko had what was probably the best season of his career in 2010, just in time for his new contract. He was the MVP for the Sox this year, but will he be back on the south side?

    Paulie's price should be relatively reasonable for a few reasons. He's about to turn 35, he had several relatively marginal years before this stellar season and he plays a deep position.

    That said, if it would cost the team three years and $30 million to bring him back, does it make sense?

    He's certainly worth it at his 2010 level, but it's far from a lock that he performs like that again. You'd probably live with what he did in 2007 or 2009 at that price too, but 35 is certainly when you start worrying about a rapid decline.

    The Sox clearly need to replace his bat if he leaves and could probably use an offensive upgrade either way. However, that could be difficult for them to find.

    I have a very hard time seeing the Sox splurging and signing someone like Adam Dunn, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, or Victor Martinez, so finding some bats could definitely be an adventure. Players like Hideki Matsui, Derek Lee, or Lance Berkman probably aren't any safer than Konerko, and guys like David DeJesus or Brad Hawpe aren't good enough to drastically improve the Sox offense.

    The Sox may be in a position where Paul is the best signing for the price, but it still may come back to bite them.

Major Issue #2- The Rotation: Can Sox Extend Danks? Will a Starter Get Traded?

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    Let's start with Danks.

    Obviously the Sox want to bring him back. He's their youngest, cheapest (for now), and probably their best starter. He will get a raise in arbitration, but the Sox will try to get him to sign a long-term extension.

    Danks still has two arbitration years, so I would guess the target deal for the Sox would be for three years (buying out a free agency year) at around $10 mil a year (typically back-loaded), much like previous contracts signed by Jon Garland, Jose Contreras, and Javier Vazquez.

    If they can't come to an agreement, the Sox will have to decide if they want to pay market value for a mid-20's left handed starter with an ERA+ of about 120 over the last three years (which will be quite high) or try to deal him before he becomes a free agent.

    As for the rest of the rotation, it looks very good on paper. However, you could have said the same thing entering 2010, and the Sox finished in the middle of the pack in starter ERA.

    As you may have noticed, it's also a very expensive rotation. Roughly half of their payroll will be tied up in the rotation once the arbitration/extension figure for Danks comes in. That massive commitment will make things difficult while the Sox try to sign players at other positions.

    It would probably make sense for the Sox to try to trade a starter for a good, young hitter given that they appear to have five good starters on the roster and Chris Sale (more on him later) and Freddy Garcia as potential options behind them. They also don't have much high-value talent in the minors, so it may be the only way they could acquire an impact player.

    However, Peavy's injury makes it difficult for them to plan. Will he be ready at the start of the season? Will he be as effective as he has been in the past? It's a bit risky to go into the season with a somewhat suspect fifth starter when you're not totally sure what you will get from your expected ace.

    It also would probably be difficult for them to get the value they want. They would free up the most money by moving Peavy or Buehrle, but their contracts limit their potential destinations. Peavy is coming off two injury-plagued years and has two years at $34 million left on his deal as well as a sizeable option/buyout. Buehrle is signed at $14 million and is a free agent at the end of the year.

    Edwin Jackson is somewhat similar in that he will make $8.75 million this season, the last of his deal. He also has a pretty inconsistent past, and I have a hard time seeing the Sox get someone as talented and MLB ready as Daniel Hudson back.

    Can they trade those guys and still get major league caliber talent back? I don't know.

    They would find far more suitors for Gavin Floyd and John Danks, but they're far more valuable to the Sox for the same reasons people want them (they're good, young and affordable).

    I would like to see them keep this rotation together, but we don't totally know what that means for the rest of the roster yet.

Major Issue #3- What Do They Do With Chris Sale and The Rest of The Pen?

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    Chris Sale obviously has considerable talent, and the Sox have to figure out what to do with him. Do they choose to maximize his long term value by having him start in Charlotte or his short term value by making him a high-leverage reliever in the majors?

    Part of me says that he should start until he proves he can't. If he proves to be anywhere near as effective as a starter as he was out of the pen, that's a huge asset.

    However, he also seems too talented to waste in the minors this year. There's also the concern that his delivery won't allow him to be a durable, consistent major league starter, and he's obviously not going to be throwing 97 every pitch in the rotation.

    If he ends up in the bullpen, the Sox have three electric arms at the end of the game with Santos, Thornton, and Sale.

    Unfortunately, the only other reliever under contract is the very pricey Scott Linebrink, whose pitching often makes Sox fans want to cover their eyes. Tony Pena will also probably be back, but he wasn't exactly dependable.

    Bobby Jenks is due for another year of arbitration, and I simply can't see them offering it to him. Even if they offered him the minimum 20 percent below his 2010 salary, he'd be making at least $6 million. With JJ Putz hitting free agency, that would leave them with no proven closer.

    They would probably have to find at least one more legitimate reliever (two if Sale starts) and any money they have would probably be better spent on the offense.

Major Issue #4- What Can They Do To Improve The Offense?

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    Even with Konerko's phenomenal year and a rebound season from Alex Rios, the Sox were in the middle of the pack in runs scored in the AL, finishing eighth out of 14 teams.

    Pierzynski joining Konerko in free agency and Quentin due to get a raise in arbitration, there are definitely some question marks in this lineup.

    As I discussed in a previous slide, their offense needs a serious upgrade if they can't bring back Paulie. Even if he is back, an upgrade somewhere would certainly help. As frustrating as Carlos Quentin can be at times, it would be difficult to find a guy that can post a .821 OPS for the same price on the open market. Pierzynski is probably gone unless he takes a major pay cut, likely leaving them with a platoon of Ramon Castro and Tyler Flowers at catcher.

    Making matters more difficult for the Sox is that it's hard to project significant improvements from their current players besides Gordon Beckham.

    As I mentioned before, I can't see them being able to afford a star like Dunn or Crawford, so their best hope to add an impact bat is probably through trade (likely involving a starting pitcher).

    Their best option might be to play Brent Morel at third base (good fielder, might be a serviceable hitter) and Dayan Viciedo at DH (great batting average and slugging percentage, no plate disciple) to save money and take a flier on someone affordable like David DeJesus or Austin Kearns and hope they catch lightning in a bottle. It's certainly not the sexy move, but they can always hope they get another bargain like Jermaine Dye.

Conclusion- Potentially Interesting Offseason

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    It's hard to figure out exactly what the Sox have right now. Their record was respectable, but they were mediocre to poor for a lot of the season and are pretty much average in most categories. They also might lose several players that were fairly important to the team due to monetary concerns and might not have the funds to adequately replace them.

    This is going to sound awfully pessimistic, but this offseason feels a lot like the one before 2007. The Sox were coming off a 90-win season but didn't really contend, and they had some glaring holes on offense with a questionable bullpen.

    I don't think the Sox are nearly as devoid of young talent as they were back then, but I have the same feeling that they simply don't have enough solid players on the roster to contend as is and things could go horribly wrong if a few players get hurt or underachieve. As things stand right now, I'm also not sure they can count on contributions from the minor leagues, whether it be from development or through trade.

     The rotation should be very good if Peavy is healthy, and though depth is an issue I don't think the pen will be 2007-bad with Santos, Thornton, and Sale back there. I have serious concerns about the offense though; it appears that they need some things to go right to have an above-average offense.

    Though 2007 was a horrendous season for Sox fans, there were two good things that came out of that offseason: John Danks and Gavin Floyd. If Kenny could pull another rabbit or two out of the hat like he did then (and with Quentin the next year), that would go a long way towards helping this team. There's also the chance that Gordon Beckham will put it all together this year (he hit well after an awful start) and that they might find another productive young player or two.

    This could be an offseason of significant change, with several core players potentially leaving. How they replace those players and fill their existing holes will determine how successful the Sox are in the near future.