Black And Silver Linings

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Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Reynaldo Lopez throws against the Texas Rangers during the first inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 20, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

As Vincent ‘Vinnie’ Antonelli (aka Todd Wilkinson) once said, “Into each life some rain must fall.”

Unfortunately for us Sox fans, it’s monsoon season right now. The 2018 White Sox are literally the worst, record-wise, of all of the White Sox teams ever to this point of the season. Twelve decades of Southside baseball and this is the absolute nadir.

To help us all cope, here’s a list of things that are going right for our organization. And I’m gonna hold off until a future post bringing up the low-hanging fruit of our depth of prospects. Right now, we’re talking just the big league level reasons to feel good as a Sox fan:

– No team in all of baseball has fewer future payroll obligations. That’s another testament to how uniquely well-situated the ChiSox were in starting their rebuild, yet one that isn’t getting a whole lot of attention.

In 2019, the Sox are obligated to pay only five people a total of about $12M: Castillo ($7.5M guaranteed salary), Anderson ($1.4M guaranteed salary), Jones ($1.25M buy-out), Soria ($1M buy-out), and Peavy ($1M still owed to old Jake – really!).

In 2020, our target contention season, they owe all of $4M to TA and a $500k buy-out to Castillo. That’s it! The Sox have a blank financial slate to execute the rebuild exactly as they would like. No more dead money. No current contracts that could eventually bite them.

In today’s baseball world, where even the Dodgers, BoSox, and Yanks are watching their costs to avoid multi-year luxury tax penalties, do not sleep on this asset being every bit as valuable as a big prospect. For all their young, cheap talent, the Cubs aren’t winning a World Series w/o Lester, Zobrist, Fowler, Montero, Hammel, and Lackey – all free agents or trade acquisitions where salary was key.

And how about the Astros last year? Verlander, McCann, Reddick, Gurriel, Gregerson, and Beltran were also signings or salary-dictated trades.

That said, who knows if Hahn and the powers-that-be will actually spend the money necessary. We all know there’s a checkered past there. But I will say when a window of contention opened before the 2005 season, the Sox pushed past their financial comfort zone. And once they had success, they kept their payroll at pretty elevated levels for a few seasons thereafter.

They were never the Evil Empire, but they were above average. And hopefully they’ll get back comfortably into the top half of league payrolls once contention seems possible. Then firmly into the Top 10 once they’re truly established.

I’d like to tell you all this means that the Sox will go out and get a once-a-generation free agent in Manny Machado next off-season. A guy who makes baseball sense. A 26-year plus-fielding MVP-caliber 3B/SS… yes please!

A guy who makes marketing sense. We’re talking a national headline-making move to announce the arrival of the White Sox as a legit force, even if the real dividends won’t come for another season.

And someone who financial sense. Sox frontload the contract to make it more attractive to Manny, to align with their minimum payroll obligations for the next few seasons, and to lessen their late career exposure.

Maybe they will! Probably not, but who knows. What I can tell you is that they will be aggressive in signing their prospects to early-career longterm deals, a la Sale, Eaton, Quintana, and now Anderson. That you won’t see anyone getting ABs or innings only because of a pre-rebuild bad contract.

You also can expect the Sox to continue to have money for mid-level big leaguers like Castillo to fill spots that the prospects aren’t ready to take on. That they’ll have the flexibility to make trades like they did for Soria and Avilan, where they get assets for little in return beside the ability to take on salary.

It’s possible Hahn will even get creative and start making NBA-style moves. The kind where he’s willing to take on salary from teams up against the Luxury Tax threshold. Teams who need to make mid-season acquisitions but can’t do so w/o triggering penalties they want to avoid before next year’s free agency bonanza.

Got some overpaid middle reliever who isn’t cutting it? We’ll take him… and that Top 100 prospect. Got a year and a half left on an expensive vet who’s now just a bench piece? Throw us that Top 50 guy and your overpriced contract disappears from your books.

I have no idea if these trade scenarios will exist or what the “cost” of different levels of prospects would be in terms of salary relief. But the Sox certainly have the payroll space to work with, contenders will always need to upgrade mid-season or free resources for the future, and a lot of good teams are pretty maxed out in the payroll department.

One way or another, the incredible balance sheet the Sox have ahead of them is going to be a real asset for the rebuild.

– We’re about a quarter of a way into the season, and Yolmer, Abreu, Moncada, Davidson, and WCastillo are all hitting at a level that would make them perfectly solid or better longterm pieces. With a good week’s worth of production, TA and Leury could say the same thing.

Sure, all of them are also probably just a bad few weeks away from looking pretty meh. And we’re certainly all expecting Moncada to be a lot more than solid. But it’s still a lot of different guys handling the bat in a respectable fashion even as the losses mount up.

– Lopez produced 5 quality starts in his first 8 outings (that percentage is Top 25 in baseball), despite poor command and an extremely inconsistent ability to harness his K potential. And Giolito has been a mess with his walks (32 in 41 IP, against only 24 Ks), but he’s also somehow kept hitters to a .242 AVG and .405 SLG… fine numbers when you clearly don’t have your best control.

Jones really has had just one bad outing in his 16 appearances, and otherwise looks healthy, effective, and ready to be a very nice trade piece this summer or continue as the only reliable veteran end-of-game option on the Sox.

Fry has come up and tossed 6 innings w/o giving up a hit or run, allowing just a pair of walks while striking out 8.

Yes, I know nothing there really gets ya excited… but there is almost nothing good happening when White Sox pitchers take the mound this year. Those four guys are what constitutes the silver lining right now.

– Finally, you won’t find a better bang for your baseball buck than getting down to Guaranteed Rate Field, especially now that the weather has turned. Tickets are always easy to get, you can sit just about anywhere and still have plenty of space to spread out, and I bet you can get solid Sox seats for a family of four or five for the same price as just one decent ticket to a Cubs, Bears, Bulls, or Hawks game.

The amenities remain outstanding: clean open concourses, wide range of good food, incredible beer selection, plenty of respectable bathrooms, and endless parking. There’s tons to do – it’s easy and beautiful just to walk around in the park, Fundamentals and Southpaw are hits with kids, and there are a ton of in-game and even post-game bar options connected to the ballpark.

And eventually, you’re gonna start seeing wins. And I mean this year – the Sox can and will play better than they have. As the year continues and the pressure releases a bit, as experience grows and exciting youngsters come up, Guaranteed Rate is going to be home to some really good days and nights of White Sox baseball.

So go take advantage of the best part of the rebuild right now – a cheap, amazing ballpark experience.

Brian Pollina is a second generation White Sox fan proudly raising a third generation on the North Side.  When not busy trying to get a Sox Mt. Rushmore of Big Frank, Harold, Uribe, and Don Cooper commissioned, he works in the radio industry.

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