Four Free Agent Pitchers the White Sox can afford for 2019
By Jeff Shirk
Buy low, sell high. Such could be White Sox GM Rick Hahn’s personal creed or spiritual mantra.
The truth of that could well answer the question of whether or not the White Sox will be serious contenders in the sweepstakes for Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.
They likely won’t be, because there is no higher buying than paying hundreds of millions for a multiple year commitment. It’s just not the South Side style. Finding bargains hiding in plain sight is much more so.
There’s nothing like finding something everyone else has overlooked or failed to spot. Anyone who’s spent any amount of time in thrift stores or at flea markets knows exactly what I mean. As Paul Newman puts it to Tom Cruise in The Color of Money, “Money found is twice as sweet as money earned.”
Rick Hahn is good at finding money. And prospects. But, free agents? That’s another story.
Other than a few relief-pitching finds, I’m not sure Hahn has a stellar record of free agent acquisitions that turned out well and made a difference with the team. That last part is key. It’s not just how the players performed as individuals, it’s the resulting impact on the team and standings based on the players selected that demonstrates the team’s ability to address its needs most effectively.
Pitchers who can be bought low
Looking over the available Major League free agent starting pitchers, a few names pop right out based on their 2018 performance and salary. Each is affordable given their 2018 salary, has shown to be an effective starter, and is young enough to contribute over the next 2-3 seasons. The names the popped out to me are Wade Miley, Tyson Ross, Trevor Cahill, and Anibal Sanchez.
Miley, Ross and Cahill will each be 31 or 32 years old during the 2019 season. Sanchez is a bit older at 35, but had arguably the best season of the four in 2018. The below table presents a high-level view of how each compares to each other:
Wade Miley – 5-2, 2.57 ERA, 80.7 IP, 27 BB, 50 K – $2,500,000
Tyson Ross – 8-9, 4.15 ERA, 149.7 IP, 62 BB, 122 K – $2,700,000
Trevor Cahill – 7-4, 3.76 ERA, 110.0 IP, 41 BB, 100 K – $1,500,000
Anibal Sanchez – 7-6, 2.83 ERA, 136.2 IP, 42 BB, 135 K – $1,000,000
It’s likely each will make more in 2019 given their success this past season, so it’s reasonable to expect an increase in salary in the coming year. It’s also reasonable that these increases could be higher than typical across the league given the low amounts they earned in 2018. For sake of argument, let’s assume a 50% increase for each player. That would mean a cumulative 2019 salary $11.5 million for the four.
Big returns on investments
Anyone see a problem with that? That the club could add 27 wins and 477 innings for less than $12 Million in this fictitious scenario is worth considering. Do they need to sign all four? Probably not, but you can bet the team has modeled this out within its own considerations.
To allow for such accommodation, certain spots on the 40-man roster might have to be freed up but this is an ongoing consideration given the upcoming Rule-5 draft and the team needing to add several prospects to protect them.
Moves that make it possible
If the team doesn’t make any major moves this offseason, it raises the question on what the strategy of the rebuild is? To be clear, the team has already rebuilt. There will never be a perfect time when all the prospects like stars will align and an entirely homegrown team making the major league minimum salary will emerge. The fruition of prospect talent generated through the effort is what’s happening now and moving forward, and this is going to be an ongoing phase until which time the team changes its focus toward winning now rather than sometime in the future. It ideally will and should be an ongoing process.
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With Eloy Jimenez likely to reach the majors this year and barring injury claim Left Field for what Sox fans hope is years to come, one more brick in the team’s future is set and one less problem to solve for. Add First Base (Abreu), Second Base (Moncada), Shortstop (Anderson), Catcher (Castillo/Narvaez) to the mix and other than pitching the only remaining uncertainties lie at Center Field, Right Field and Third Base.
A Moncada-position switch to third to allow Nick Madrigal as the plan for second answers the third base question, and Daniel Palka playing every day in right field allows the team to off-board Avisail Garcia and establish a DH tandem of Matt Davidson and Nicky Delmonico. Luis Robert is clearly the plan for center field, so perhaps another year of Adam Engel or a modest upgrade at the position is in the works.
The injury that created the problem
Either way, the framework is more than halfway there and the team needs to decide when 100-loss seasons aren’t acceptable. I’m not certain they’ve decided this for the upcoming year; that truth will emerge this offseason. Michael Kopech’s torn UCL may have influenced that decision for them, but he’s just one guy (albeit a big one) in a broader framework.
The key for me here is the team’s signal to its fans. Will 2019 be a year to spend some money and try to improve, or will it be another year to save our dollars for another time? Because whatever the team signals is precisely what the fans will do when it comes to attending games. At the end of the day each in-game experience is the product, not the team’s position in the standings. Will fans get the signal to save their money and stay home because the team is doing the same thing?
There is a big difference between a franchise not being expected to win and one that’s not trying to. We still don’t know in which camp the 2019 White Sox will reside, but we’ll likely know soon.