MLB free agency now going full force, as of 11:01 p.m. CT
— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) November 5, 2013
This should be an exciting time, since the Sox are in a rare position of having both obvious needs and available funds. But Rick Hahn is out ahead of the game stomping out the flames of excitement before they can rise above a flicker.
“There may be a couple of opportunities to make modest upgrades in the middle part of the free agent market as opposed to the top but we will explore it all,” Hahn said.
This is coming from a Dan Hayes article titled “Sox will explore free agency, but don’t expect a big splash,” which sounds like it’s trying to tramp down enthusiasm, but upon re-examination, it depends on the expectations. If the point is to announce that the Sox aren’t going to be in on Robinson Cano, Masahiro Tanaka or even Jacoby Ellsbury, that could have been discerned pretty quickly.
However, the reaction from the beat seemed to be that the ceiling for free agent targets is even lower than that. The Yankees offering Curtis Granderson a qualifying offer–meaning that the Sox would have to surrender their second round pick if they signed him–is being treated as an effective elimination of the Chicago native from his hometown team’s offseason plan.
Statistically, the odds of a second round pick, even a high second=round pick, producing more value over their entire career than Granderson will in the next three seasons, is pretty remote. Cynically, for the White Sox to be leaning toward preferring to keep the pick represents a relative disinterest in the short-term fate of their team, since they know it to be doomed. More optimistically, and I would consider it a more fair assessment, the Sox realize their prime opportunity to win big is not at hand, and while they are willing to spend money to improve the team in the immediate, they are not willing to sacrifice future assets for the sake of it.
For an organization regularly criticized during the Williams regime for never being able to pass up a puncher’s chance at the present for the health of the future, that’s not a nothing concession. For those who want to see something better than 2013’s slop, mid-tier free agents who weren’t extended qualifying offers still promise better performance than what the Sox received last season.
That means the combination of power hitting and terrible defense that A.J. Pierzynski made so popular in 2012 could return in the form of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but there’s also rebound candidates like OF Chris Young, 1B/DH Corey Hart, and potential third base fill-ins Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante. Additionally, if the Sox trade away from their starting rotation for offense, there’s plenty of Scott Feldman, Dan Haren-types milling about. Neither Ricky Nolasco nor Matt Garza nor A.J. Burnett received qualifying offers, it should be noted, even if that doesn’t seem like the White Sox speed.
As much as every Sox beat writer has discouraged notions of a Pierzynski reunion, or even Carlos Ruiz, because both represent a kind of stopgap signing, if they miss out on Saltalamacchia, it’s hard to see the Sox, or any major league baseball franchise, breaking camp with just Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley in tow behind the plate. There’s a difference between not wasting long-term resources on the present and blatant disregard for it.
According to Cot’s, the White Sox have $60.4 million committed prior to arbitration. To factor in the cost of Abreu’s signing bonus, that goes to $68.7, and if all of Gordon Beckham, Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza receive arbitration, that rises the payroll to around $79.4, which is still around $16-18 million lower than any Opening Day payroll the Sox have had since winning the World Series. It’s not nuts to expect something.
But to prepare for the drudgery of watching other teams be more exciting and reckless, the White Sox kicked things off with boring formalities of their own, as they declined to give qualifying offers to Paul Konerko and Gavin Floyd. It was fun enough to watch reporters field outraged complaints that the Sox had let Konerko go rather than simply hold off on paying him more money in a season than he had ever made, but in all likelihood, it was the last transaction news involving the Sox and these two players ever.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan