White Sox Are Stuck In The Middle

The White Sox cleared payroll this weekend, trading Carlos Quentin and Jason Frasor to the Padres and the Blue Jays, respectively. As Eno Sarris predicted a month ago, Chicago didn’t get spectacular returns for either player. But the question still remains — why aren’t the White Sox tearing it all down and starting over? The answer might be because they can’t.

Long before the White Sox signed John Danks to a contract extension, the team had several veterans locked up not only through 2012, but into 2013 as well:

- Jake Peavy: ’12: $17M, ’13: $22M or $4M buyout
- Adam Dunn: ’12: $14M, ’13:$15M, ’14:$15M
- Alex Rios: ’12: $12M, ’13: $12.5M, ’14:$12.5M, ’15:$13.5M or $1M buyout
- Paul Konerko: ’12: $12M, ’13: $13.5M
- Gavin Floyd: ’12: $7M, ’13: $9.5M club option
- A.J. Pierzynski: ’12: $6M
- Matt Thornton: ’12: $5.5M, ’13: $5.5M, ’14: $6M or $1M buyout
- Alexei Ramirez: ’12:$5M, ’13:$7M, ’14:$9.5M, ’15:$10M, ’16:$10M club option
- Jesse Crain: ’12: $4.5M, ’13: $4.5M
- Will Ohman: ’12: $2.5M
- Dayan Viciedo: ’12: $2.5M

Throw in Danks’ salary, and that’s $96 million committed to 12 players for next season. Assuming Floyd’s relatively modest option is picked up and Peavy’s gargantuan one is declined, the are committed to $85.75 million for eight players in 2013 (including the $4 million for Peavy’s buyout). That’s a good chunk of change. What complicates matters further is that many of the contracts are undesirable. Could the White Sox move Crain and Thornton? Sure, but at those prices they probably wouldn’t get much unless they ate most of the salary, something they have not yet done in their dealings this winter. Peavy, Ohman and Pierzynski only have one year left on their deals, so they likely wouldn’t fetch much, either. Rios and Dunn are probably impossible to trade, which leaves Ramirez, Konerko, Danks and Floyd.

It seems unlikely that the White Sox would trade Danks so quickly after signing him to an extension; then again that’s how they did Sergio Santos, so I guess there’s a precedent there. Still, Chicago hasn’t made it known publicly that they’re interested in dealing him. They need Viciedo in right field now that Quentin is a Friar, and Ramirez has only been the team’s best player the past two seasons. This leaves only Konerko and Floyd as players who could fetch a reasonable bounty and that the team might be able to survive without. Floyd, in particular, is interesting, especially now that the team has acquired new rotation candidates in Nestor Molina, Simon Castro and Pedro Hernandez. But even if the Sox trade Floyd, they might still be stuck with their other high-priced veterans.

Playing with what they have certainly isn’t appealing. The pitching staff was good last year — the team’s pitching WAR was second-best in the major leagues, and their staff FIP (3.66, sixth overall) and xFIP (3.69, fifth) were both exemplary. But with three of the top seven pitchers from last season (Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson and Santos) gone, Chicago will be hard-pressed to duplicate that quality. Zach Stewart and Addison Reed could help stem the tide, but they’re greenhorns, as is Chris Sale in his new role as a starter.

The offense on the other hand, will have a hard time pulling its weight — even more so now that Quentin has been traded. The White Sox team 89 wRC+ tied for 23rd last year, and even an optimistic projection would put them league-average, at best. Even if Dunn and Rios bounce back, the team should see regression from both Alejandro De Aza and Brent Lillibridge — and perhaps some from Konerko as well, though I’ve stopped trying to predict when Konerko (with his .362, .415 and .383 wOBA’s the past three seasons) will stop hitting. In that sense, it becomes a little easier to understand why the White Sox would be interested in Yeonis Cespedes, even though the move could greatly increase bloating on an already bloated roster. Yes, Cespedes is risky, but the bar in center field is low and the Sox might be stuck for the next couple of years. If they could sign Cespedes to a short-term deal, the move might make sense (assuming they’re willing to bench Rios).

The White Sox are in an incredibly unenviable spot. They’re not a good team, they have a lot of money committed to veterans and the team might not be able to significantly restock their farm system even if they do trade or sell them all. It’s not a one-year thing either, as the Sox have a lot of money already tied up for the 2013 season. Things could finally bottom out in 2014, but it might not happen then either if they trade the savings they got from the Quentin and Frasor deals and tie it up in another big commitment with Cespedes. This team will have to bottom out at some point, but with so much money already committed for 2012, it might be worth seeing if the offense rebounds enough to keep them in contention in a shallow American League Central. It’s a risky proposition, but when you’re stuck in the middle, there’s no easy way out.




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Paul Swydan is the co-managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for ESPN MLB Insider and the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


25 Responses to “White Sox Are Stuck In The Middle”

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  1. U-God says:

    $7MM of Konerko’s 2013 salary is deferred as $1MM installments from 2014-2020.

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  2. U-God says:

    And in regards to replicating the pitching performance, the White Sox pitching staff is third in the majors in fWAR since Don Cooper became the pitching coach. I wouldn’t be too shocked by another top 10 finish.

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  3. Jeff says:

    Danks has a full no-trade for the first year of the contract, so dealing in the near him is pretty much out of the question

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    • Spike says:

      trading Danks in yr 1 of his extension would be silly anyway, but a good SPer in his prime will always have solid value considering that he has a controllable contract.

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      • Sophist says:

        If the Sox are considerably behind Detroit in July, they could probably get Danks to waive his no-trade and get a decent haul for him. That seems like Williams’ failsafe in this mess: if he doesn’t get lucky with a Dunn bounceback in 2012, and subsequent dead-cat bounce for the team, he should get a better return for guys like Danks, Floyd, and maybe even Konerko and Peavy (if he’s healthy and good again) at the trade deadline.

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  4. Spike says:

    it’s also not very likely that Dunn and Rios will be completely useless players again in ’12. There is upside here for them to make some noise by ’13 if the pitching develops.

    It’s not a totally unenviable situation considering a staff core of Danks, Floyd, Humber, Sale, Molina, & Reed to build around.

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  5. Paul Wilson says:

    I don’t understand what Kenny Williams is still doing in the GM chair. Bring in Dave Cameron for an interview, Reinsdorf!

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  6. This article is overdue, thanks for writing it.

    They can’t completely gut the roster for prospects because the pieces they would want to move have little trade value at this point.

    I also don’t think you “rebuild” by trading players entering their prime years that you’ll want to build around. Ramirez and Danks are worth holding on to unless you get a package you just can’t refuse.

    Using our methods, we have to expect rebounds from Dunn, Rios somewhat but much less the track record of Dunn. Those contracts are just going to have to run their course. AJ stays because Flowers hasn’t blossomed (pun intended), and AJ probably doesn’t bring value in return.

    But CWS have added young pitching while not resigning Vasquel, Pierre, and Castro.

    I’m with you on Konerko. His bat was supposed to slow a few years ago, but it hasn’t. The team was needing Beckham and Morel to develop, but that hasn’t happened as planned. The team had players they thought would be younger pieces worth building around but they haven’t panned out.

    I’m not convinced that “gutting the house” is the best way to rebuild even if it were possible. The team is in the position where they are going to have to play with some older players under contract combined with the good players they do have.

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens if/when some of their players rebound with some of their young pitchers getting more IP. While the forecast is likely gloom and doom, they might be a decent team.

    But I am glad that someone showed why the CWS haven’t traded Danks, Ramirez, Floyd, etc for prospects. They’d still be left with older players with big contracts only they’d be missing their good contributors and have them replaced with B and C level prospects, which probably doesn’t help them in the future.

    When the big contracts expire, they’ll have their key players in productive age years and money available, with perhaps some youngers players (Morel, Beckham, Sale, etc) producing. That would be a good rebuild.

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    • Brian says:

      At CircleChange11:
      That’s the problem with big payroll teams. When the team is hot, that said team will usually be hot for several years to come. But what happens when the team cools off? All that is left over is a bunch of veterans with pricey contracts whom are difficult to trade away. Rebuilding will be very difficult.

      As for small payroll teams, well, if they run into problems, at least it’s easier for them to start the rebuild. The contracts are simply just smaller, and thus easier to move/trade.

      It’s just my opinion, but the Phillies will be in the exact same position as the White Sox within the next few years.

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  7. tonysoprano says:

    I’m a life long Sox fan and this is a tough situation. You are correct…the Sox are stuck with the contracts of Peavy, Rios and Dunn. I don’t see anyway possible the Sox pay Peavy 22 million in 2013.

    At this point I don’t see the Sox contending with Konerko…they are just too far off. As much as I hate to say it I think it best they attempt to get his trade approval and deal him.

    I would also attempt to deal Matt Thornton. I would hope Rios and Dunn start this year strong and could be dealt at the trade deadline for something…anything…just to get their salaries of the books.

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  8. MikeS says:

    KW brought a world championship to the White Sox and that gets him some love. But the current state is nobodies fault but his own. Bad drafting, worst farm system in baseball and, most importantly, a seeming utter lack of an overall strategy. I’ve been one of his staunchest backers but I don’t know how he can retain his job. I’m not even talking about Dunn/Rios/Peavy – everybody misses. He has as many good moves as bad in that regard. It’s the mismanagement elsewhere that left him unable to cover for those mistakes.

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  9. I think KW’s aggressive personality and style allowed him to be the victim of his own success.

    So many of his early moves were outright robbery that he may feel as though he has the Midas Touch, where he’s awesomeness would light a fire under Rios and keep Peavey healthy.

    I don’t think anyone can knock him for Adam Dunn. As far as stats go he and Pujols were the two easiest players to project. That Dunn was going to a hitter’s park AND not playing the field were to be two great aspects in his favor. We’ll see if he’s Dunn or just plain Done.

    I’ve been a KW defender primarily just to balance out the treatment, but he’s got to shape something useful in the next two years or I think he’ll be gone. He needs to show that it wasn’t just beginner’s luck and that he can GM in the modern statistical era.

    However, the doom of KW and the CWS is at this point an annual prediction.

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    • puffy says:

      Danks is just entering his prime was locked up at a GREAT price. He doesn’t force things. He’s a value investor.

      This is only confusing if your primary objective is to pander to the consensus. KW balances team objectives and market forces.

      This is only a topic of discussion because humans are stupid.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I was talking about Rios and Peavey.

        The Danks signing was a good one regardless of where the team is heading.

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      • baty says:

        Kenny is more a value investing hobbyist, and I wouldn’t use the word balance at all. If you total up every dollar that they invest in scouting, signing, and developing pre-MLBers, you’ve put yourself in the red the second your MLB product fails to meet any base expectation.

        You cannot successfully rebuild an organization by relying on the eventual inflation of depreciated prospects. They’ve definitely had success in the past with this method, but it’s a very unstable way to invest, and it’s only worked in the past organizationally because they used this as a way to only supplement. It worked for as long as they had space with payroll, and mediocre prospect packages to deal away for relatively inexpensive help to fill in gaps.

        Kenny might be the kind of guy you want to bring into an organization to make the best of the junk you have lying around when you’re on the verge of competing for something. He’s great at turning nothing into something, but he’s not the kind of guy you want to have if you’re looking to make a complete overhaul.

        Right now, they’re restocking and rebuilding this way.

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  10. Pat says:

    Rebuilding: You’re Doing It Wrong

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  11. Hushpuckena says:

    Those are some bad contracts to try moving.

    Even if a team takes a chance at the deadline in 2012 on Peavy, the best they can do is hope the Sox pick up some of his salary for the rest of the year, then come the questions over his durability. The pro-rated amount is still a lot to take on, plus the $4M club option next year. Rios’ contract was an albatross from start to finish and the White Sox should have left that alone at the start. Right now, all they can do is hope that Dunn regains some of his form from years past and that they aren’t on the hook for a whole lot of nothing. Maybe near the deadline, they could move Konerko to a contender needing a RH bat with some pop (Boston?) Floyd’s the most logical contract to deal here, and I’ve seen his name bandied about, but nothing definite so far.

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  12. ezb230 says:

    yeah, they’re screwed. really screwed.

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  13. CircleChange11 says:

    I wanted to look at the contracts and see just how good/bad they are/were …

    - Jake Peavy: ’12: $17M, ’13: $22M or $4M buyout

    Peavey probably projects at about 2.5 WAR, which would be pretty good for the CWS considering. This contract is a bad one in that the chances of getting their money’s worth are about nil. Take the 4M buyout in 2013.

    - Adam Dunn: ’12: $14M, ’13:$15M, ’14:$15M

    Historically bad season. At -3 WAR, Dunn owes the CWS 13.5M. He stole it.

    Dunn had pretty much averaged 30 batting runs a season for life … last year he was -20. Dunn should rebound, but probably not enough. This contract is likely going to be subpar, with the potential to be very bad.

    - Alex Rios: ’12: $12M, ’13: $12.5M, ’14:$12.5M, ’15:$13.5M or $1M buyout

    Rios alternates good/bad seasons, so he is schedule for a 3+ WAR season. *grin* Overall this deal is a killer. Not too long ago, Rios was a 5 WAR CF. IMO, the CWS would be thrilled with 2 WAR/y from here on out. Bad contract.

    - Paul Konerko: ’12: $12M, ’13: $13.5M

    Paulie still earns his contract. 7 WAR over the last 2 years. Even with a decline he earns that money. People can say what they want, but Paulie still earns the money.

    - Gavin Floyd: ’12: $7M, ’13: $9.5M club option

    A lot of surplus here. Floyd is a 4 WAR pitcher for 1.5 WAR money.

    He has to be a very attractive pitcher for this money, either for the CWS or as a trade piece. If he’s trade bait, it’s trade him NOW. With 1 year left with a club option year, he’s high reward, medium to low risk … for a 4 WAR pitcher.

    - A.J. Pierzynski: ’12: $6M

    Fair contract. Next.

    - Matt Thornton: ’12: $5.5M, ’13: $5.5M, ’14: $6M or $1M buyout

    Probably a slight overpay, with the possibility of being a surplus. This contract is likely going to be “balanced” at the end of it.

    - Alexei Ramirez: ’12:$5M, ’13:$7M, ’14:$9.5M, ’15:$10M, ’16:$10M club option

    A freackin steal. Possibly 20 WAR for 42M. This has to be one of the team friendliest contracts in baseball. If there’s a player that could bring a very good prospect package, it should be Alexei … it won’t be because he’s underrated.

    - Jesse Crain: ’12: $4.5M, ’13: $4.5M

    Slight overpay.

    - Will Ohman: ’12: $2.5M

    Slight overpay.

    - Dayan Viciedo: ’12: $2.5M

    Fair contract. If he gets the PA’s, he’s probably a surplus performer.

    ——————————

    There’s some GOOD contracts in there … namely for the 3 younger players that they would want to build around (Floyd, Danks, Ramirez). Beckham and Morel have to provide some surplus value to negate the cost/performance of Rios and Peavey.

    I think we should have GM stats like “% Overpay” or “Surplus value” and things like that to really measure what they are doing.

    For example, with KW … the surplus performance of Ramirez, Floyd, Danks could be greater than the underperformance of Rios, Peavey, and Dunn in 2012 and beyond. How does that compare to other GMs? What’s average? I’m really surprised we’re still so much “gut feeling” with GMs in the sabermetric community.

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  14. West says:

    Dunn, Rios and Peavy are the only really bad ones. Also, aquiring Dunn and Rios were good moves at the time, the big mistake was trading for Peavy, even though they did not give up anything good.

    They also traded away Gio Gonzalez for Nick Swisher and Daniel Hudson for Edwin Jackson, they could have a really good and cheap young rotation of Danks, Floyd, Gonzalez, Hudson, Sale.

    GM’s are being ousted in Chicago, time for Kenny to join Jerry Angelo and Hendry

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  15. striker says:

    One major difference with Rios and Dunn this year will be a manager that won’t continue to play them if they are sucking. This move alone would have helped the team last year.

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  16. Sophist says:

    I think you’re all seeing too much doom and gloom here. Dunn and Rios will have comeback years, Konerko keeps getting better. Chris Sale will be great at starter, and I think he’ll even have an all-star year. AJ is in a contract year, which should mean a great year at the plate for him. Why, I woudn’t be surprised if little Gordon Beckham even starts to hit a bit. I don’t have much hope for Morel, but if the team’s in it, he’ll find someone to fill in at third–maybe the RSox would even be willing to part with Youkilis if they are out of it by July.

    Ventura is a rook manager, but he is a major league veteran, and I expect he will calm the team down, and probably not give away as many outs as Ozzie (with the bunting, and the caught stealings .. . ): maybe he’ll even direct his coaches to teach Alexei how to put down a tag or AJ how to get the ball from his mitt to his hand.

    As the article mentions, lots of young pitchers will try out for the #5 spot: if not Castro or Molina, maybe someone like Quintana will make it . . .

    (strange, as I try to post here on January 11, July 11 keeps popping up instead: some kind of computer glitch, I guess. Oh well . . .)

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    • Oasis says:

      Ooooh, that’s oh so witty.

      Seriously, what’s with the article resurrection going on lately? Yeah, sometimes the authors are wrong. Big f’ing deal. Here’s a news flash. Nobody is perfect.

      God almighty. Let it go …

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