Big payday awaits: Closer Colomé is the sole significant salary expenditure expected through the arbitration process. (@AlexanderColome)
The White Sox continue to add talent this offseason, and right-handed reliever Steve Cishek is the latest addition to the squad. The signing isn’t yet official but in short order, the organization’s expenditures over the course of this offseason will surpass $200 million in total outlay. With a reported agreement for designated hitter Edwin Encarnación also on the precipice of becoming official, it could be a busy week of roster juggling for the franchise.
Friday is the deadline for clubs to reach agreement with arbitration-eligible players. Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox has been involved in trade discussions in advance of his penultimate year of arbitration, and he’s expected to set a record for salary among players yet to reach free agency. Kris Bryant‘s situation with the Chicago Cubs is tenuous as well, due partly to the effects of the salary arbitration process. While the White Sox won’t be the focus across the sport in this regard, the club has its own decisions to make by Friday’s exchange date.
As an organization, the White Sox generally like to settle on a number rather than exchanging figures to be glossed over by an arbitrator. The franchise went many years without an arbitration fight, prior to Avisaíl García and Yolmer Sánchez heading down the process in recent years.
This year, six players are eligible to receive salary arbitration from the club.
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) December 2, 2019
Catcher James McCann agreed to a $5.4 million contract with the club early in December, and he’s signed on for his final season before he reaches unrestricted free agency. More of these deals should become official in the coming days. Pitchers Alex Colomé, Evan Marshall and Carlos Rodón along with outfielders Leury García and Nomar Mazara are the arbitration-eligible players on the White Sox. Fighting their own players is atypical to the modus operandi employed by the organization, so it’s expected that the five players will settle before the deadline.
The fine folks at MLB Trade Rumors do a commendable job of predicting arbitration raises annually and they see Colomé and Marshall getting somewhere in the neighborhood of $10.3 million and $1.3 million, respectively.
Rodón is in a tricky situation while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery as well, earning $4.2 million last year for just 34 ⅔ innings. Rodón is projected to receive $4.5 million for the 2020 season, in his third year of salary arbitration as a Super Two player.
García, a 28-year-old superutility player, earned $1.55 million last season; because he plays multiple positions for the White Sox, he’s slated to turn his 1.3 fWAR season into a projected $4 million commitment.
Outfielder Mazara is expected to receive a salary bump as well. The 24-year-old has been a bit of an enigma early on in his career. Regarded as one of the best prospects in the game on his way to the Rangers from the minor leagues, Nomar hasn’t lived up to his high billing. The lefty slugger earned $3.3 million in 2019; while struggling mightily vs left-handed pitching throughout his career, Mazara posted an .844 OPS with a 110 wRC+ vs RHP in 2019. He’s expected to receive $5.7 million for 2020.
The 2020 payroll, in review
Jerry Reinsdorf has opened his wallet this offseason, upping overall payroll from some uncommon recent lows. In 2019, the White Sox were 26th in baseball with a total payroll of $91,371,201. The organization currently has leaped to 16th in payroll and is expected to spend between $125-$130 million in player salary for this upcoming season.
It can be astutely argued that they haven’t gone far enough, but the increase is a marked improvement that has quelled some recent criticism of the front office. The first addition to the 2020 club was catcher Yasmani Grandal back in November. The 31-year-old signed a four-year contract worth $73 million, so the switch-hitting backstop will earn $18.25 million next season.
The front office followed up the contract with a new deal for first baseman José Abreu. Abreu signed a three-year, $50 million contract extension with the team and he’ll earn $12.6 million against the payroll in 2020.
The next two signings slotted right into the starting rotation. First, Gio González signed a one-year contract that will pay him $4.5 million. And the biggest addition on the pitching front came days later, when the White Sox inked veteran southpaw Dallas Keuchel. The 32-year-old will earn $55.5 million over the course of his three-year commitment with the White Sox, and $18 million in 2020.
OFFICIAL: The #WhiteSox have agreed to terms on a three-year, $55.5-million contract with former Cy Young Award winner and two-time All-Star left-handed pitcher Dallas Keuchel, which includes a club option for 2023. pic.twitter.com/IqvBs5VUlG
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) December 30, 2019
With the agreements and the trade for Mazara at December’s winter meetings, the front office effectively completed their shopping list. The decision-makers landed two starting pitchers, a right fielder and found some offensive pop from the left side. While the designated shopping list was all checked off, the organization remained motivated to add talent to the 2020 club. Edwin Encarnación is expected to make $11 million next season as the team’s primary designated hitter. Better production in that spot was another priority of general manager Rick Hahn.
And most recently, even the bullpen got a tuneup:
Reliever Steve Cishek and the Chicago White Sox are in agreement on a one-year, $6 million deal, sources familiar with the agreement tell ESPN. The contract includes an option that could take the deal to a second year at $12 million total.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 7, 2020
The 33-year-old reliever is the latest addition in Chicago. He’ll earn $5.25 million in 2020 and with an option year, could also be around for multiple seasons.
While five free agents have been added to the team, one of the bigger moves of the offseason was struck with a player already in the organization. Luis Robert will be the opening day center fielder after signing an extension that will keep him in Chicago for the next eight years.
2020: The Year of t̶h̶e̶ ̶R̶a̶t̶ La Pantera pic.twitter.com/wjuzdd5OF0
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) January 2, 2020
Before their offseason signing frenzy, the White Sox had committed just $14.8 million to three players: Shortstop Tim Anderson, outfielder Eloy Jiménez and reliever Kelvin Herrera were the only members of the team not under arbitration or pre-arb status. Much has been done since that time, giving the roster a radically different look by Opening Day. While the heavy lifting has likely been consummated, another reliever, right-handed hitting outfielder or utility infielder could still be added to the mix, in addition to a bevy of non-roster invitees.
The current White Sox payroll according to Spotrac.com is $119.2 million. Depending on what else the organization decides to add before spring training, the official 2020 payroll should be in the $130 million range. The White Sox are projected to be 16th in baseball, and there’s no reason they can’t ascend into the 11-15 range on an annual basis, as the Washington Nationals are currently 10th in baseball with a total hovering around $152 million.
The White Sox don’t seem likely to threaten the $208 million competitive balance tax threshold anytime soon, and it’s not necessary for them to do so. The payroll should increase continually, right along with the expectations of the team. And nobody will care what the payroll is as long as the team wins division titles and finds a way to keep their own over this next decade.