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Free Agent Fallacy

If there ever was a time for the White Sox to bite the bullet and spend at the top of the market, this was it. The limited financial commitments heading into 2020 and beyond should’ve positioned this team to go out and get any player they really wanted.

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We’ve been told a lot of things since the Sox stripped down their roster following the 2016 season. We’ve been told they were focusing on accumulating a “critical mass” of talent, that “the money will be spent,” and that “we deserve a seat at the table for premium free agents.” I really want to focus on this whole premium free agents part today. In the last 12 months, the following players have hit free agency: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Anthony Rendon. I’d say that’s a pretty good crop of premium free agents there. How many of those premium free agents are playing their home games at 35th/Shields? The same number that are playing in Park City, Utah, that’s how many.

One of the stated goals of the rebuild was to reset this team’s financial exposures so that they would be better positioned to aggressively procure the top-end talent that will help a team have an extended window of contention. Following a very public courtship of Manny Machado last winter, one that ultimately ended when he found a suitor that was willing to give him the guaranteed money he wanted all along and not an offer that is “better in some respects,” this team hasn’t even made an attempt to procure other high-end free agents to help this franchise actually win games. Machado was a bit of an outlier in the list above in that he is the only player not represented by Scott Boras. I recently wrote about the Sox needing to end this nearly two-decade cold war with the super agent, and well, it doesn’t appear that it’s ending any time soon.

After missing out on Machado last winter, the team had the opportunity to immediately pivot to Harper and add the 26-year-old left-handed slugging right fielder. Hey, those are a few areas of need this team was looking to address this winter, right? Did they make a meaningful effort to secure Harper’s services last winter? When asked about him directly following the Machado signing, general manager and lawyer extraordinaire Rick Hahn said: “I’m not going to get into that.” We know by Harper’s own admission that up until late January, the Sox were in fact the only team that had actually met with the now Phillies outfielder. But it doesn’t appear as though they actively pursued him in the aftermath of Machado leaving them at the altar.

We saw a very different story for the Los Angeles of Anaheim of California of the Pacific Time Zone or whatever they are calling themselves this week Angels. When Gerrit Cole decided to take $324M to join the New York Yankees, reports almost immediately surfaced that the Angels had shifted focus to Anthony Rendon. Less than a day later, the team had a new superstar at the hot corner. That is the type of aggressiveness you see from an ownership group that is committed to winning. It is not something you see from a team owned by Jerry Reinsdorf. It is, however, exactly what you SHOULD see from a team like the White Sox.

The limited financial exposure this team had coming into the winter has been well-documented, and this was all the more reason why seeing Rendon sign with the Angels was another slap in the face to us fans. When the star third baseman signed for a deal that was less in both years and total guaranteed dollars than the Sox “offered” Machado last winter, it struck a nerve with many of us. Yes, I knew the Sox weren’t going to sign Rendon, but the fact that they didn’t even make an attempt, much like the Harper situation last winter, tells us that things are status quo as it relates to premium free agents. It tells us that as long as Jerry Reinsdorf is breathing, they will never go shopping at luxury stores, instead choosing to shop at Old Navy.

I’m aware the Sox just set a franchise record for their highest guaranteed contract when they secured Yasmani Grandal a few weeks ago. That was a great move and one that will help this team tremendously in 2020 and beyond. But this team plays in the third-largest market in the country and they are still run like a mom-and-pop shop. The last two winters confirmed what many of us have long feared. That until the Reinsdorf reign of terror ends, this team will not be players for the biggest stars in the game.

If there ever was a time for this team to bite the bullet and spend at the top of the market, this was it. The limited financial commitments heading into 2020 and beyond should’ve positioned this team to go out and get any player they really wanted. Instead, Jerry Reinsdorf is too focused on building a coffin big enough to transfer all his wealth when his time on this planet ends. After all, signing a player like Rendon or Harper for a few hundred million dollars would be disastrous for the profit margins, and we all know that is his main evaluative criteria when assessing the success of a season, not a playoff appearance. Maybe he’s already constructing a mausoleum big enough to rival the pyramids of Egypt (credit to @MadrigalTruther) that will store all his cash because that certainly has more value than signing a superstar to him.

In the end, it’s status quo for this organization. They have no choice but to develop their own superstars because, until ownership changes, they won’t be able to get them any other way. They’ve now put themselves in a position where they have little margin for error if this rebuild is to work. There is still hope, but that’s not the best strategy. They could’ve stepped on the gas the last two winters, but one man chose not to and we all know why.


Featured Photo: NBC Sports

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Former scrub JUCO pitcher

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