Baseball

If the early signing of Yasmani Grandal gave you a perhaps unrealistic amount of naive faith that things might be changing for the White Sox when it comes to the free agent market, Zack Wheeler signing in Philadelphia may have brought you crashing back to earth. If you feel as though you match this description, you are not alone. Despite my very best efforts, even after the Grandal signing, to not get my hopes and expectations up for the White Sox this offseason to avoid crushing disappointment like I felt in late February after the Machado ordeal, I started to truly believe the Sox were going to sign Wheeler, both because of my own naiveté and because of some info I was being relayed by folks I know with more connections than I have (which is zero).

The irony of my disappointment with the Sox losing on Wheeler  is that when I saw the contract he signed he signed in Philly was for 5 years and $118-million, my initial reaction was that I was very fine with the White Sox not giving him that kind of money. Then it came out that the Sox actually offered Wheeler more than what he took in the city of Brotherly Love, and he took John Middleton‘s money over Jerry Reinsdorf’s because his fiance is from Jersey. Poor guy.

We can argue until we are blue in the face about what Wheeler’s value is, and after two strong seasons in a row and being worth 4+ fWAR in each of those years before hitting FA at 29, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t worth the money he got, but the injury history and lack of a track record before these last two years was reason enough to be a little gunshy with him. I’m not personally convinced he is a $24M pitcher, let alone the $25M guy the Sox apparently valued him at (Bob Nightengale, who is Kenny William’s media mouthpiece, reported the Sox offered Wheeler 5/$125M), but my opinion is worth jack and shit in this regard. For what it’s worth, FanGraph’s “player value” projections have Wheelers 2018 and 2019 being worth more than $30M each, but I also don’t trust that teams use the same kind of $/WAR valuations that FG does across the board.

In the end, it’s hard to be mad at the White Sox for not getting Wheeler here. They offered him a full million-plus more per year than he accepted, it just wasn’t enough to convince him to pick money over the happiness of his fiance. But based on some of the reports that came out after the fact, like the one from Jon Heyman below, I am a bit suspicious as to whether or not the Sox ever had a real chance.

Obviously we can’t know for sure if my suspicion is true, and I can only go off aforementioned reports and “info” I’ve gotten, but it feels to me like the Sox got used here. For weeks, most of the reports regarding Wheeler tied him to the Sox, Twins, Reds, and/or Rangers, none of which are east coast teams. Then all of the sudden Wednesday morning the Phillies are involved, then not long after that the Rangers aren’t, and then a few hours later Wheeler signs in Philly and we’re told it’s because of his girl and because he preferred east coast. If the Sox offer was indeed 5-years for $125M and he ended up taking less in Philly because it’s closer to where he wanted to be, that feels an awful lot like the Sox were just an ends to a means. “Look, Phillies, I want to come there, but I can get a lot more money in Chicago.” Acceptable offer from preferred location roles in, job done.

Basically what I am getting at here is that, despite White Sox Twitter’s best efforts to turn the White Sox offering a free agent the most money he was offered into a bad thing, because some of these motherfuckers are miserable just to be miserable, the Sox did all they could. Wheeler just viewed them as a backup option if more preferred destinations didn’t get involved with good offers.

Now, if you want to place blame on the Sox for anything in this situation, it has to be that last part. Being a backup option for top tier free agents is clearly not ideal, but it’s a bed the Sox put themselves in. While it’s tough to accept as a fan, the Sox clearly have something of a bad reputation in the market place, and it’s not as if they haven’t earned it. Even with signing Yasmani Grandal to a franchise record contract, they still have a lot more to prove both the free agents and their own fans when it comes to playing in this market, because that record deal was still just $73M, which is relatively routine in today’s MLB. Now sure, the Sox offered Machado $250M and Wheeler $125M, but until those offers go from hypothetical to actual pen on paper, there isn’t a great deal of solace that the team can expect folks to take in them, and it’d be a bit naive of the Sox to assume that players should want to come here just because they’re offering fair market money.

That reputation they have as a cheap organization, mostly among fans, is evident every time they miss on a free agent they clearly wanted. As the reports came out about the Sox offer to Wheeler being more, it was met with various reactions of “of course they’re saying this” or my personal favorite “no one works harder to tell you they just missed than the Sox.” And while being speculative of those reports and/or mocking the Sox for working so hard to to get said reports out there quickly is very fair, I again find it hard to blame the Sox for doing so. If they don’t work to make sure that people know they actually made a fair offer to Wheeler, and one that was actually more than he took, then the hive-mind, assume-the-worst reaction from baseball fans and Sox fans especially would run rampant. Until they shake the reputation, they do admittedly have to run this kind of damage control.

The baseball world writ large seems to recognize that the Sox have the a young core in place that could be the makings of something special. But in the same sense as the contract offers only being significant once they come to fruition, this solid young core may have to deliver a bit more in terms of overall team results before it can serve as the kind of team that other players look at and want to be a part of for reasons other than money. Yasmani Grandal saying he likes what the team is building toward when he signed may help that out a bit, but it clearly has not accomplished it to any extent Rick Hahn and company would hope for. Until the Sox can find someone to take their 9-digit contract offers and/or put an actually competitive team on the field when they mean to, their earned reputation will proceed them.

Baseball

Yesterday we went over the putrid recent history of what the Sox have tried to trot out at RF. I’ve save another 300 or so words and remind you that it’s a BIG NEED.

Nicholas Castellanos has been discussed, and there’s no doubt they’ll be linked with Marcell Ozuna, Kole Calhoun, etc, etc in free agency. But Rick Hahn hasn’t been shy in the past to add to his roster via trade when the opportunities on the free market aren’t to his liking (which is seemingly always since 2015). Could Hahn and KW go to an old trading partner to fill the gaping void in their outfield?

Enter the spiralling Pittsburgh Pirates and Starling Marte. The Buccos had a dreadful second half in 2019 to finish dead last in the NL Central at 69-93, claimed to be keeping manager Clint  Hurdle only to fire him a day after the season, then bounced long time GM Neil Huntington (seemingly out of nowhere) while he was conducting the search for the new manager.

Sure sounds like another rebuild coming in the Steel City, and whoa, hey, they happen to have an affordable OF vet still in his prime (kinda) that makes below market value. Make the call, Rick.

Why Him? Starling Marte is about as steady and rounded as they come, a 31 year old OF with at least 3.0 WAR in six of seven seasons he’s played dating back to 2013. Marte is in the 20/20 club for HR/SB the last two years, and has over 20 steals in seven straight seasons, going over 30 all but twice. So he’s got pop, he can run, and while he doesn’t take many walks he also only strikes out in about 18% of PAs and hasn’t been under .312 BABIP in the last three seasons. Marte could slot in pretty much anywhere in the top half of the Sox lineup and greatly improve this team.

Best of all? unlike his freely available counterparts on the open market, he’s a savvy fielder. Marte has won multiple gold gloves and while he’s had a bit of a decline in the field in 2019 in Center, he’d be able to move over to RF while Engel handles CF until Luis Robert debuts in May. If they wanted/needed him to cover CF he’s also got that versatility. No matter how you look at it, Marte improves the defense.

His contract is another plus, as he’s going to earn an affordable $11.5M this season, with another team option at $12.5M next year ($1M buyout). Castellanos and Ozuna are likely to get something for 4-5 years and around $14M-$18M per year. Marte represents a more valuable commitment, 2 years at $24M and the opportunity to qualify him an offer after that for an arguably similar/better player.

You know Jerry loves him a smaller number, every time.

Why Not Him? That one year he didn’t reach 3.0 WAR was because he was suspended for 80 games for PEDs. He claimed it was an accident, of course, but there remains the threat that he could get that second strike and be banned for a full 162 next time. Probably not too concerning, but it’s there.

2019 also saw Marte’s worst defensive season, by far. He went from 5.2 dWAR in 2018 to -5.7 dWAR in 2019, which on the surface looks pretty damn concerning. He’s clearly still got the speed, though, and based on the the JUMP stat (this is a real thing, I promise) that tracks how well OFs read and react to fly balls he was ranked ninth best in the league. Marte has a strong case for positive regression in 2020 in the field, and I’m willing to chalk this up to the Pirates being weird and playing their OF real shallow because they’re idiots. Fight me. At worst he likely needs to be moved off CF and to a corner, which the Sox can accommodate.

There really isn’t issue on the offensive side, but if we’re picking nits his low walk rate would mean that any kind of decline with the bat would be a sharp one. There isn’t any indicator that will happen, but stranger things and all that. You also might appreciate more than ~20 HR from your RF. He’s right handed, so this doesn’t check off the LH impact bat, but if they fucking sign Grandal already everyone can worry less about handedness.

How Much Is This Free Resort Weekend? Herein lies the biggest problem with the idea of Marte – the Pirates don’t need to deal him, and the latest word is they aren’t looking to. Huntington no longer being in charge is also a bummer, as he’s probably out of a job for all the horrific trades he’s been on the wrong side of lately (Ivan Nova notwithstanding).

Still, there is history between these clubs and any remaining scouts are likely familiar with what the Sox have to peddle. Say Reynaldo Lopez straight up, or if that’s too rich for you maybe a package of Blake Rutherford and Dane Dunning. This shouldn’t cost any of the top youths, and if they ask for Jonathan Stiever I’m helping to pack his bags. The Sox won’t be the only interested party, so they can’t really afford to posture on middle tier prospects if the Pirates get serious about making a deal.

In an offseason with little to get excited about for free agent OFs, Marte represents the Sox best option available – if he actually is, you know, available.

Baseball

Right field has been a black hole of SUCK on the Southside going on, oh, a decade? Magglio Ordonez and Jermaine Dye are the last great players to man the position for the White Sox, and the ineptitude of management to fill the O-E-O/WS MVP sized hole is a bit jarring. Yes, dead last in the entire MLB in 2019 in OPS jarring. The likes of Carlos Quentin, Avi Garcia, and Adam Eaton were passable if unspectacular in stints over the years, but the Sox have also trotted out the likes of Jason Coats, Willy Garcia, Andruw Jones (the ol’ KW past his prime special!), Brent Lillibridge, Rymer Liriano, Alex Rios, Moises Sierra, Michael Taylor, Blake Tekotte, Trayce Thompson and Dayan Viciedo since Dye hung em up in 2009. Folks,,,,, that’s not great!

John Jay was brought in as part of the “recruitment” of Manny Machado last offseason and thought to be the everyday right fielder, but injury kept him out a majority of the year. The cast of characters used to fill in were all way, way under-qualified for every day MLB duty – Ryan Cordell, Charlie Tilson and Daniel Palka all saw far more at bats than any competent team would dare give them and they responded with that league worst performance at the position at the dish. The defense was also meh at best, but with a suspect free agent class the Sox don’t really have the current lineup to hide a defensive wizard they get no offensive production from (otherwise they’d just stick Robert in RF and let Adam Engel patrol CF, but alas).

So who out there is available, plays RF (even barely), can get on base, park a few baseballs into the Rate bullpens and would actually be willing to take Rick Hahn’s checks? Dear reader, you already know him, or got a small taste of him after last year’s deadline.

Nicholas Castellanos, come one down!

Why Him? Castellanos can hit a bit, as the Sox know all too well from being the victim of his bat for almost six years as he came along in Detroit. His 2019 is a little misleading as his high average (.321) helped him to 16 homers and 36 RBI in just 51 games after a trade to the Cubs. That comes out to a scorching 154 wRC+. Prior to the trade, though, he carried just 11 homers and 37 RBI on a .273/.328/.462 line for a wRC+ of 105 in 100 games.

This does help to give him two straight years over 121 wRC+ and that makes him exponentially better than any Sox RF in 2019. He’s also gone .337 and .354 the last two seasons in OBP while averaging 25 homers and 81 XBH, and if he can continue that trend the White Sox probably wouldn’t care if he just hung out in the Goose Island section or had a beer with the #108 guys every half inning.

He’s also only 28, making him pretty young to be a free agent. He won’t come with a QO compensation penalty. Since JD Martinez isn’t available, Castellanos also represents a chance to sign an impact bat this offseason, deal with the defense for a year or two, and plan to use him at DH/LF with Eloy down the road and develop or sign your next RF later. Maybe that plan sees them sign Edwin Encarnacion on a Nelson Cruz-like one year pact (OR SIGN GRANDAL ALREADY LIKE AJ SAID) and just like that you’ve got some instant impact offensive upgrades to a team that sorely needs it.

One other plus – signing him would mean he can’t kill the Sox anymore (or maybe he’d find fun ways to ruin them from within…). This is some recency bias, but since 2018 Castellanos carries 7 HR/22 RBI/.413 OBP/1.065 OPS(!) in 28 games against the Sox, good for a wRC+ of about 185, or otherworldly. Small sample size and all that, but fuckin’ a does he MURDER White Sox pitching of late.

Why Not Him? Oh, that “defense”. Castellanos debuted as a third baseman and Detroit was all too generous to let him try and be that for four seasons while they lost a million games. He made the move to right field in 2018 and is the worst defensive RF in that time, posting -28 DRS (defensive runs saved) and a -17.6 UZR. I don’t know if that all actually makes him the worst RF since 2018, but being responsible for 28 runs scored against seems really bad.

If you want some kind of silver lining, Castellanos did actually improve by 10 full runs in DRS over 2018, and by 8+ points on his UZR, giving him a more palatable -9 DRS/-4.4 UZR in 2019. Still not good by any metric, but not comically bad. He might even be improving, and maybe he gets to a point where he’s league average and look at that I just talked us into Nick Castellanos, league average RF for the Chicago White Sox by 2021.

Honestly, if you sign Castellanos and you already have Eloy Jimenez being the ungraceful elk that he is in LF, you probably need to be ready to take him out of the field within a year or two. So the knock is, will he hit well enough to cover occasionally killing you in the field. And if you’re already looking at re-signing Jose Abreu and you’ve got Gavin Sheets and Andrew Vaughn on deck…is this really the best way to allocate funds/roster space?

How Much Is This Free Resort Weekend? MLBTR comes in with an estimate of 4/$58M and Fangraphs is in agreement with a 4/$56M estimate of their own. Unless some wild market creates itself out of nothing for lil Nicky here I can’t really see him getting more than 4/50, possibly even having to settle for something like 2/25 or 3/35 and a few option years. The bat has enough juice to get him a multi-year pact, sure, but that defense is brutally awful and the game is no longer kind to players of his abilities. Damned kids and their analytics. Without 30+ annual HR potential or a near .400 OBP, there just isn’t any one tool that really carries the weight to justify giving Castellanos that much term, so you’re really banking on his being younger than the rest of the FA OFs and hoping that defense is really improving and the 2018/Cubs version of the bat is the one you’re buying. Whole lotta optimism in there.

The Sox have already been reported to have interest, which probably doesn’t need to be read much into as they should have interest in any OF available via trade or free agency this winter. They’d probably be wise to explore other options and make Castellanos a plan B, waiting out the diminishing market for his type of player to mitigate the commitment for such a walking red flag.

Now that I’ve thoroughly fleshed out that I’m not really on board with a run at him, I have to admit that if the Sox do end up with Castellanos it will be a massive upgrade over the trash heap of career minor leaguers and Machado friends and family that Hahn tried to float by the masses last year. It could absolutely be worse, but I’d hope they explore a few more avenues or wait to see how many other teams are really falling over each other to add what might just be a slightly over league average DH to play everyday RF.