As the MLB offseason finally began to show some signs of life, the White Sox had themselves a busy week. Signing Liam Hendriks dominated the headlines, and rightly so, but there were also a number of other under-the-radar White Sox news stories and notes worth dissecting. Here, we will break down all of the prior week’s events for the South Siders.
Liam Hendriks Signing
Late Monday night, reports indicated Liam Hendriks would sign a four-year, $54 million deal with the White Sox. The 31-year-old closer was the White Sox top free-agent target this offseason by all accounts. He has proven to be the best reliever in baseball over the past two seasons, evidenced by MLB Network ranking him the #1 relief pitcher in baseball this offseason (Aaron Bummer came in at #8).
Many fans wanted to see the team keep Alex Colome, who was as reliable as it gets over his two seasons with the White Sox. But clearly, the front office felt that Colome’s lack of strikeouts was a cause for concern as the team moves into more serious contention. Arming Tony La Russa with a more intimidating presence at the back end of the bullpen was clearly a priority and Rick Hahn delivered.
As has been previously noted, paying at the top of the reliever market does have significant risks. So the structure of this deal is important, and the White Sox added some intrigue of their own. Based on reports, it appeared that teams preferred to cap the term at three years for Hendriks, but as pursuits by the Astros and Blue Jays picked up, the White Sox were forced to include the fourth year if they were serious about landing Hendriks.
Rick Hahn got creative here and added the fourth year as a team option at $15 million, but if the White sox do not excercise that option, Hendriks will receive a $15 million buyout in equal installments over the course of the following ten years. The organization has utilized this type of payout structure in the past (Paul Konerko received $1 million from the White Sox in 2020), and it makes sense to ease the burden on any given year while also guaranteeing the player the same amount of money.
Adding Liam Hendriks to a bullpen that already includes the likes of Evan Marshall, Aaron Bummer, Garrett Crochet, Matt Foster, and Codi Heuer makes for arguably the best relief corps in the American League, and perhaps the entire MLB, on paper. The White Sox pitching staff now boasts four of the top ten finishers in Cy Young voting from the 2020 campaign.
Yoan Moncada is Fully Recovered
In a story that did not get nearly the attention it should have, James Fegan of The Athletic released an article on Wednesday in which he talked with Yoan Moncada about his 2020 season and how he is feeling today. After testing positive for COVID-19 prior to the season starting, Moncada reported mild symptoms while he had the virus. As the season progressed, he was clearly not himself.
Moncada reported feeling fatigued and generally off-kilter throughout the course of the season. The clearest illustration came toward the end of the season in Cleveland when Moncada sprinted from first to home and subsequently could not catch his breath in the dugout. It reached a point where the team was concerned about whether or not he could go back out for the bottom of the inning.
These symptoms are consistent with the “long-haul” effects of COVID-19 that those who have contracted the virus have also reported. No one knows for certain exactly how long these effects last or what can be done to recover. But based on Moncada’s interview, he finally has his strength back and is feeling like himself.
Moncada stated that the effects lasted a few weeks after the season ended, but some good old fashioned rest and relaxation finally got rid of the fatigue that dogged him throughout 2020. Moncada is now back to his regular workout regimen and gearing up for the 2021 season.
In 2019, Moncada ranked ninth in the American League in WAR over just 132 games. In the aforementioned interview, Moncada stated that he wants to be even better than he was in 2019. While one of his original goals going into 2020 was to stay healthy throughout an entire 162-game season, his goal is now to remain healthy throughout a playoff run into October. That’s an exciting thought for White Sox fans.
This news is a huge relief for the team. Of all the moves the White Sox make this offseason, getting a healthy Yoan Moncada back to full strength could be the most important for the team’s success.
International Signings Become Official
Friday brought the most White Sox news-heavy day as the signings we already knew about finally became official. The team finalized and officially announced the Hendriks deal, and if it was unclear before, Hendriks has the makings of a fan favorite if his performance holds. His fiery persona on the mound mixed with his Australian charm with the media makes him an easy guy to root for.
Additionally, the international signings of Yoelqui Cespedes ($2.05 million) and Norge Vera ($1.5 million) became official on Friday. These signings further bolster the already strong Cuban pipeline that the organization has built.
Cespedes, the half-brother of Yoenis, is a 23-year-old outfielder who was the top-ranked international prospect in this signing period. The White Sox likely view Cespedes as a potential corner outfielder who could move through the system quickly. His statistics in Cuba certainly do not jump off the page, but he displayed good speed and a plus arm. More likely than not, Cespedes will begin the 2021 season in Advanced-A ball with the Winston-Salem Dash.
He has not played competitively since 2019 and spent the past year-plus working out with Yoenis in Florida, from which he appears noticeably stronger in pictures on social media. The recent lack of in-game action has led to a wide variance in public opinion on Cespedes, as James Fox of FutureSox ranks him as the sixth-best prospect in the White Sox organization while Fangraphs ranks him 25th overall. The $2.05 million financial investment indicates the White Sox feel optimistic about his future.
While most of the attention from this signing period goes to Cespedes, Vera is also an intriguing prospect. Marco Paddy, the White Sox special assistant to the GM in charge of international scouting, touted Vera’s 95-97 MPH fastball, two breaking pitches, and an improving changeup.
Vera is just 20 years old and still growing, but the team believes he has frontline starter potential. James Fox ranks Vera ranked as the tenth-best prospect in the system while FanGraphs ranks him at #14.
Friday also marked the MLB arbitration deadline. The White Sox avoided a contentious arbitration hearing with any of their players by agreeing to pay Reynaldo Lopez $2.1 million and Lucas Giolito $4.15 million for the 2021 season, respectively.
In Lopez’s case, the team is looking to see if Ethan Katz can rub any pixie dust on him and revive his career. After being a highly-touted prospect, he appears headed for the bullpen to start the season. It is also worth noting that he has one more minor-league option remaining, so the White Sox can stash him a little bit longer. But if Lopez does not show positive trends this season, his time in Chicago may be running out.
As for Giolito, his 2021 salary exemplifies the injustice of the arbitration system as it relates to younger players. Giolito’s market value far exceeds the $4.15 million salary he will receive next season, but such is the system. The White Sox now have a well-documented history of signing core players to more lucrative extensions during their arbitration years. Locking Giolito up for the next four to five years appears to be next on that list.
The offseason is always lengthy and daunting, but Spring Training is just around the corner. Check back for an article later this week about what’s next on the White Sox agenda and how they can accomplish it. For further White Sox analysis and commentary, tune in to the Sox On Tap podcast.