Baseball

Jose Abreu and the White Sox did what we all thought they were going to do and agreed to a multi-year contract in lieu of the qualifying offer the Cuban first baseman accepted just over a week ago. With his countryman Yasmani Grandal now in the fold too, Abreu’s signing makes things more complicated than the QO reality of a few days ago.

The three-year, $50M pact was met with a mostly collective “sure. cool. whatever.” Not everyone was willing to congratulate Abreu and look ahead in what’s become a pretty active early off-season for the Sox, though. A vocal sect of media and fans are a bit sour on going to a three-year commitment with the streaky 32 year-old slugger when the team had him for one year, seemingly the preferred position from an analytical standpoint.

But this deal isn’t really about analytics, and if you can’t see the intangibles at play you’re really not even trying. Abreu and Jerry Reinsdorf apparently have a pretty great relationship, because his new paper represents the same kind of loyalty that Jerry shows his front office. Abreu has done a lot to keep the Sox relevant through the failed runs earlier in the decade and the subsequent tear down and rebuild they find themselves in at the end of it. Declining wRC+ be damned, Jerry decided he was going to welcome Jose into the family.

So is this going to be the regret that the un-silent minority thinks it is? Are the leadership and RBI binges, Cuban mentor/ambassador qualities all enough to justify the term/dollars? Is it really even that much in dollars? What does it mean for the future at first base and DH, specifically Andrew Vaughn?

First, the doom-and-gloom outlook. Yes, Abreu hasn’t been the same hitter the last two years that he was in his first four stateside. He dealt with many a nagging injury in 2018, but his 116 wRC+ across 2018-19 is more than 20 points worse than his 2014-17 average of 139. Sure, a continued decline is a possibility for a slugger on the fringes of his prime. But the underlying numbers say his 2019 wasn’t as bad as the surface suggests (highest hard-hit rate in his career, 2nd highest barrel rate) and FanGraphs Steamer projections have him at 32/89/.332 for 2020. Another addition to the lineup via RF could help improve/protect Abreu further as he ages.

The 3/$50M price looks a bit rough, again, on the surface, but I don’t need to delve further into how Abreu is the heart of this team, looked up to by many of the young players set to take the Sox to the next level. Eloy said he’s like a father. Yeah, an $18M cheerleader doesn’t look great in 2022, but the dollars here are all more complicated than they appear as well. Abreu will collect on that $50M, but he won’t see the last payment of it until 2026 with $4M in deferred money. Add to that a $5M signing bonus, and the deal is actually $11M/’20, $16M/’21, $14M/’18 for 3/$41. This could’ve definitely been worse in terms of loyalty deals, and as stated Abreu might justify this with his bat regardless.

So where does that bat fit across these next three seasons? This is where it gets interesting. The Sox don’t lack for players that will push Abreu through this deal, especially with Grandal onboard through ’23. Abreu, Grandal, James McCann, Zack Collins and Yermin Mercedes look like they’re set to create a timeshare between 1B/DH/C in 2020. 2019 third overall pick Andrew Vaughn looks set to push for work with the big club by the end of 2020 but you can argue they’ve got plenty of cover to keep him in minors regardless, barring injury to at least two of those five; and even that would have to coincide with Vaughn forcing the issue in a major way with his bat. Like with Eloy, Robert, and Nick Madrigal the Sox have shown they’re willing to let the kids marinate. Maybe it’s different if they’re pushing for the playoffs, but that’s a bridge to be crossed when it approaches.

So what of the two years beyond next season? Well, while everyone wants Vaughn, or even Gavin Sheets for that matter, to force the issue we all know nothing is certain. So Vaughn can’t just be expected to be mashing in the MLB by the end of 2020. Given the track record, there are many worse options than having Abreu, with the aforementioned contingent, making up the playing time at first base. This gets real muddy if Eloy can’t stay in the field, but with reports that he’s headed to winterball this week to specifically work on his defense (“his goal is to win a Gold Glove in the MLB” says Hector Gomez) he appears seriously committed to improving that aspect of his game and staying in Left.

Basically, you can’t sort out how to deal with Abreu and his time at 1B/DH and who else is pushing for those ABs until they get there. And the Sox absolutely need him in 2020 at the very least, and at first for the most part. Easing him into more DH time helps the team solve its problems there as well, possibly to the point of moving him there full time by the end of this deal. 30 HR and a 116 wRC+ from the DH position in ’21-22 would be the best DH season Sox fans have seen in…half a decade? longer?

Rick Hahn has also been a pretty complimentary of Zack Collins and Yermin Mercedes since the end of the season, going as far as to protect former AAA Rule 5 draftee Mercedes with a 40-man spot after a strong offensive season in Charlotte’s bandbox of a stadium. Collins very well could find himself in another organization if the right(fielder) fit is available via trade. I’d think they look to dangle guys like Collins, Sheets, Blake Rutherford, players they know have tough paths to real roles with this team that could help improve them elsewhere. If you’re banking of using Abreu as a bridge to Vaughn, six years of control on Collins might be better used by another team, but 2020 will also see the addition of a 26th roster spot – conceivably making room for everyone for a year, at least (whether that space is best used for a 1B/DH/C collective is probably a whole other post).

If you want to get crazy maybe Vaughn himself becomes expendable for a Mookie Betts deal, but I’d sooner expect the Bears to win the Super Bowl this season. Vaughn is a part of the plan moving forward, Abreu deal or not. Collins is the guy who just had his path to more at bats immediately affected by the signings last week. Maybe Abreu invited him to the celebration in Miami before he changes teams. It’s the least he could do for making him expendable.

Baseball

With the trade deadline gone and the White Sox well on their way to another top-10 draft pick, it’s not a secret that the remainder of this season means next to nothing for the big league club. The obvious catch is that it is still important that Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and (to a slightly lesser extent) Dylan Cease perform well moving forward. But outside of those six and a few bullpen arms, there is almost no one on the big league roster who should be considered a lock to be here next year, and even Lopez could be stretch in that regard. You could probably bet your house on Jose Abreu being here, but his performance this year casts some doubt on how worthy he really is of the extension he’s going to get. But I digress.

Looking even beyond next season, there is definitely no one presently on the team, aside from the aforementioned names, that belongs on any sort of Sox roster that is designed with contention in mind. Yolmer Sanchez looked at one point like a potentially useful utility guy for a winning team, but has been awful this year, currently the 59th-worst hitter in baseball according to FanGraphs wRC+. Ryan Cordell and Adam Engel are both near-automatic outs at the plate but solid defensively, so they might be 4th-outfielder types, but neither should be handed a roster spot automatically. James McCann is seemingly regressing to what he once was. The rest of the rotation sucks.

The team is not good. You get it.

Despite Rick Hahn’s stated plans to gather a “critical mass” of prospects, the Sox passed on the chance to add prospect depth to the organization at the deadline. They’ll tell us they kept Alex Colome because they want to compete next year, but really they just couldn’t get what they wanted for him because his peripheral numbers are unfavorable. They likely did keep Aaron Bummer and Jace Fry with contention on the mind, which is understandable but potentially misguided. But with all three still here and likely (though not guaranteed) to be on the 2020 Sox, it is clear that Hahn and company at least have a pipe dream of having a strong team next year.

And if they really do want to be in the thick of things in 2020, it’s time to start building that team now.

I wrote earlier this year that the White Sox should keep their foot on the accelerator when it comes to Luis Robert‘s war path rise through the minor leagues. By promoting him to AAA after just 56 games in AA, they showed that they are willing to do that, at least to the highest minor league level. But at this point, being in Charlotte just a waste of Robert’s time. He’s 18 games into his tenure there and has a .351/.420/.714 slash line with six homers and a 178 wRC+. And hitting the bouncy ball in a sandbox park like Charlotte has, it’s only going to get more superhuman. Robert is simply too tools-y and talented to be challenged at all by minor league pitching.

In the same vein, Nick Madrigal just made his AAA debut on Thursday, but any time spent there is as useful to him as Brent Seabrook is to the Blackhawks – the team thinks it will help, but really it will do nothing for you. Madrigal had solid but uninspiring numbers in High-A but really came on strong in AA, sporting a .341/.400/.451 line with a 152 wRC+ in a Birmingham stadium that suppresses offense like the ’85 Bears. Seriously, go look at the numbers on some of the Birmingham Barons players and you will truly appreciate that line from Madrigal. Getting the bump to AAA is nice and all, but with 70-hit tool that has led to a 2.8% K-rate in the minors and a Joey Votto-esque feel for the strike zone, Madrigal is also simply not going to struggle in AAA. In fact, given that he now gets to hit the same bouncy ball in that same Charlotte launch pad as Robert, his power numbers might see an uptick as well.

And if the Sox are really serious about contending in 2020, Robert and Madrigal need to not only be starting at center field and second base, respectively, but also hitting near at the top of the order. For that to happen, they need to be ready for MLB pitching from the moment they make an MLB lineup. And quite frankly, if that isn’t until mid-April, they likely will not be. Look no further than Eloy’s harsh two-month adjustment period, or Yoan Moncada‘s rough 2018 season as evidence. These guys are too good for the minors but will be seeing a caliber of pitching they almost never even dreamed of in the bigs, so the adjustments could admittedly be harsh. For the Sox to have any shot at the postseason, Robert and Madrigal will likely need to be effective in an MLB lineup as soon as possible, and Opening Day would be preferable.

Which is why getting them to Chicago needs to be done immediately. And I know what you’re going to say – the extra year of control is more valuable. 7 > 6 after all. But in reality, getting them to Chicago immediately would still give the Sox essentially seven years of control of these players. The only way you don’t get that seventh year is if you wait until September or Opening Day to get them here.

And you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t care about Jerry Reinsdorf’s 2027 books after the way the Machado/Harper pursuits turned out. Yes, I’m still bitter.

Finding those guys spots on this roster is easy. I already told you that Yolmer sucks, so DFA him (Sox are out of options, so minor assignments are not possible) and replace him with Madrigal. I’m tired of Cordell, so get Robert in here for him. You’re instantly better, and far, far more interesting.

There’s more they can do here, as well. Welington Castillo is expensive and terrible, and his only purpose in being here until even July 31 was to build potential trade value, and he didn’t do that. Ditch him and bring Zack Collins back, especially since you already started his service clock with no plans to actually use him. Ryan Goins has been pretty good, but the other shoe is going to drop for him soon and you know he won’t be here when you’re good, so just cut the losses there and bring up someone who might, like Danny Mendick.

The remainder of this season is neigh-worthless, with the wins and losses meaning absolutely nothing for this club. Quite frankly, I hope they lose more than they win and move up in the draft. But the process can still prove to be worthwhile, especially if the Sox put it to good use by getting their top-end prospects to the bigs now. Let them take their lumps for six or more weeks, give them an offseason to make the necessary adjustments, and head into 2020 with a group of confident young players and a Opening Day lineup that actually looks respectable, rather than one that is full of two-week placeholders for your real talent.