Comparing White Sox's, Cubs' Long-Term Outlooks After Yasmani Grandal Signing

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistNovember 22, 2019

Comparing White Sox's, Cubs' Long-Term Outlooks After Yasmani Grandal Signing

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    The first big domino fell on the position-player side of the MLB free-agent class when catcher Yasmani Grandal agreed to terms with the Chicago White Sox.

    The team announced his four-year, $73 million deal Thursday. It will pay him $18.25 million annually, making him the highest-paid player on the roster, ahead of first baseman Jose Abreu, who accepted a one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer earlier this month.

    Meanwhile, on Chicago's North Side, the Cubs are gearing up for a busy offseason of their own.

    After a disappointing 84-78 campaign, the team parted ways with manager Joe Maddon, and there's a good chance he won't be the only familiar face to leave town this winter. With limited financial flexibility and significant pitching needs, the club could use one of its core position players as a trade chip.

    On the heels of the Grandal signing, it's worth examining how the two Chicago teams stack up.

    Let's start with a look at what the Grandal signing means in the short term before diving into some side-by-side comparisons of the teams' future outlooks.

Immediate Impact of the Yasmani Grandal Signing

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    James McCann
    James McCannVictor Decolongon/Getty Images

    On the surface, the decision to splurge on Grandal is a head-scratcher.

    For one, the White Sox already have an All-Star catcher, albeit one with a less impressive track record than Grandal's.

    The team signed James McCann to a one-year, $2.5 million deal last offseason after the Detroit Tigers non-tendered him. The 29-year-old hit .273/.328/.460 with 26 doubles, 18 home runs and 60 RBI in a 3.8 WAR season to earn a spot on the AL All-Star team.

    However, he's under team control for just one more season (arbitration eligible), and his performance was fueled by some luck, as evidenced by a .359 BABIP and a likely unsustainable 18.6 percent home run-to-fly-ball ratio.

    In recent seasons, teams such as the Atlanta Braves (Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers in 2018) and Seattle Mariners (Omar Narvaez and Tom Murphy in 2019) have had great success with a two-catcher system. The other could serve as designated hitter when he's not in the crouch, which might help keep both players fresh.

    Still, that doesn't change the fact that there were more pressing needs on this roster, namely help for a pitching staff that ranked 22nd in the majors with a 4.90 ERA.

    To justify the signing, the White Sox need to make more offseason moves, but there's still plenty of time for that to happen.

Who Has the Better Farm System?

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    Luis Robert
    Luis RobertCharles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    White Sox's Farm System

    The White Sox finished the 2019 season in the No. 12 spot in Bleacher Report's farm system rankings. Here's quick rundown of the team's top 10 prospects, with top-100 prospects bolded:

    1. OF Luis Robert
    2. RHP Michael Kopech
    3. 1B Andrew Vaughn
    4. 2B Nick Madrigal
    5. RHP Dane Dunning
    6. OF Steele Walker
    7. RHP Jonathan Stiever
    8. C/1B Zack Collins
    9. OF Blake Rutherford
    10. LHP Konnor Pilkington

    Despite graduating top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, the White Sox still have a deep farm system.

    Outfielder Luis Robert was USA Today's Minor League Player of the Year after he hit .328/.376/.624 with 74 extra-base hits and 36 steals while reaching Triple-A, and he should assume a regular spot in the MLB outfield before the All-Star break.

    Recent first-round picks Andrew Vaughn and Nick Madrigal figure to share the right side of the infield for years, while flame-thrower Michael Kopech will look to regain his status as one of the most promising young pitchers in baseball on the heels of Tommy John surgery.


    Cubs' Farm System

    Meanwhile, the Cubs wrapped up the 2019 campaign with the No. 26 farm system in B/R's rankings. Here's an overview of their top 10 prospects, with the top-100 guys again bolded:

    1. IF Nico Hoerner
    2. C Miguel Amaya
    3. LHP Brailyn Marquez
    4. OF Brennen Davis
    5. RHP Adbert Alzolay
    6. RHP Ryan Jensen
    7. SS Aramis Ademan
    8. OF Cole Roederer
    9. RHP Kohl Franklin
    10. 2B Chase Strumpf

    While the Cubs' prospect pipeline has run a bit dry in recent seasons, there are still some intriguing up-and-comers.

    After going No. 24 overall in the 2018 draft, Nico Hoerner raced through the minor leagues to make his MLB debut this past September, hitting .282/.305/.436 in 20 games. There's a good chance he will be the team's everyday second baseman in 2020.

    A trio of 20-year-olds are slotted below him in the rankings, with catcher Miguel Amaya, toolsy outfielder Brennen Davis and hard-throwing lefty Brailyn Marquez all showing top-100 prospect upside.

    Marquez, in particular, is one to watch given the dearth of pitching talent that has emerged from the team's minor league ranks in recent years. The list of southpaws who can touch 100 mph on the radar gun is a short one.

Who Has the Better Future Lineup?

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    Javier Baez
    Javier BaezJim McIsaac/Getty Images

    White Sox's Projected Lineup

    The White Sox lineup appears to be in excellent shape, starting with incumbent cornerstone pieces in shortstop Tim Anderson, third baseman Yoan Moncada and outfielder Eloy Jimenez.

    Here's a look at what the team's lineup might look like when the 2022 season rolls around:

    1. 2B Nick Madrigal
    2. 3B Yoan Moncada
    3. RF Luis Robert
    4. LF Eloy Jimenez
    5. 1B Andrew Vaughn
    6. C Yasmani Grandal
    7. SS Tim Anderson
    8. DH Zack Collins
    9. CF Steele Walker

    While it's a largely unproven group, it's also an extremely impressive one on paper, especially if Robert and Vaughn develop into the dynamic offensive threats most expect them to become.

    The only real "hole" here is center field, and not for lack of upside on the part of Steele Walker, who hit .284/.361/.451 with 51 extra-base hits in 2019 after being taken in the second round of the 2018 draft. A fringy arm and average athleticism raise questions about whether he can stick in center field long term.


    Cubs' Projected Lineup

    Now to the Cubs' projected lineup, which has an awful lot of question marks.

    1. LF Brennen Davis
    2. 2B Nico Hoerner
    3. SS Javier Baez
    4. 1B Anthony Rizzo
    5. LF Willson Contreras
    6. 3B David Bote
    7. RF Ian Happ
    8. C Miguel Amaya

    With Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber all headed for free agency after the 2021 season, we're making some assumptions here. It's unlikely everyone from that group will still be around, and as things stand, Bryant and Schwarber look like the most likely to be moved.

    Moving Willson Contreras to the outfield might be the best way to keep him healthy, and it would open the door for Miguel Amaya to take over behind the plate.

    This could go a lot of different ways, depending on what sort of moves the team makes this winter, but this looks like a reasonable overview of what the lineup could look like in 2022.

Who Has the Better Future Pitching Staff?

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    Lucas Giolito
    Lucas GiolitoJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    White Sox's Projected Rotation

    While pitching was far from a strength for the White Sox in 2019, there are plenty of reasons for optimism.

    Here's what the rotation could look like in 2022:

    • RHP Lucas Giolito
    • RHP Michael Kopech
    • RHP Dylan Cease
    • RHP Reynaldo Lopez
    • RHP Dane Dunning

    There's a lot of potential there, and things look better at the top after Lucas Giolito turned in a breakout 2020.

    That said, Michael Kopech and Dane Dunning are both on the mend from Tommy John surgery, while Dylan Cease (14 GS, 5.79 ERA) and Reynaldo Lopez (33 GS, 5.38 ERA) didn't exactly light the world on fire as part of the 2019 rotation.

    Prospects Jonathan Stiever, Konnor Pilkington and Jimmy Lambert are also worth keeping an eye on as potential rotation pieces, but the South Siders have significant question marks regarding pitching.


    Cubs' Projected Rotation

    It's not much different on the Cubs' end, with the rotation potentially lining up as follows:

    • RHP Kyle Hendricks
    • RHP Yu Darvish
    • LHP Brailyn Marquez
    • RHP Riley Thompson
    • RHP Adbert Alzolay

    With Jose Quintana hitting free agency after the upcoming season and Jon Lester off the books after 20201assuming the team buys out his $25 million option for $10 millionthe Cubs rotation will have a significantly different look by 2022.

    There's a steep drop-off on the prospect front after Brailyn Marquez, and he still has a ways to go in his development, so the team might need to continue to look outside the organization for answers.

    That will likely be where the club focuses its offseason attention if it trades any of its core position players. Otherwise, another splashy free-agent signing once Lester's contract is off the books is possible.

    Cory Abbott, Justin Steele, Kohl Franklin, Brendon Little, Tyson Miller and 2019 first-round pick Ryan Jensen are a few other names to watch down on the farm.

Who Is Best Positioned for Future Success?

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    Theo Epstein, David Ross and Jed Hoyer
    Theo Epstein, David Ross and Jed HoyerDavid Banks/Getty Images

    So which team is best positioned for future success?

    A simple look at both teams' farm systems and long-term assets suggests the Cubs are headed for a downturn as the purse strings continue to tighten while the young core moves further up the arbitration ladder.

    However, the Cubs are still a major-market team, and while they are a bit hamstrung financially, there is significant money coming off the books in the next few years, which will open the door for more spending.

    New manager David Ross will have a chance to usher in this new era, while team president Theo Epstein is under contract through the 2021 season and will be the architect of a necessary roster retooling.

    Still, it's hard not to be optimistic about the White Sox's long-term outlook.

    After the team failed to lure Manny Machado to the South Side last offseason, the Grandal signing might be exactly what it needed to break the free-agency seal.

    The White Sox ranked 22nd in team payroll in 2019, per Spotrac, and the club's spending was at its second-lowest Opening Day point since the 2005 season, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts.

    In other words, there is money to be spent.

    With a better farm system, several star-caliber core pieces in place and significant financial flexibility, the future is extremely bright for the White Sox.

    The window hasn't slammed shut for the Cubs just yet, but they appear to have far more work to do if they hope to remain a title contender.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.