• The White Sox lost 100 games last year, but they have a glut of young talent and a lot of space on their payroll. Should they roll the dice on Manny Machado?
By Emma Baccellieri
December 21, 2018

Manny Machado has reportedly wrapped up his multi-city tour of suitors—a trip that took him to see the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees. (Rumors of an additional mystery team have been flying around, too.) So what would acquiring the flashy free agent actually mean for any of these clubs? Yesterday, we tried to answer that question for the Phillies. Today, we’ll turn to the White Sox.

The Contract

The White Sox, preparing for the first wave of a rebuild as they come off their worst season since 1970, have very little in the way of established talent on the roster, which means ample financial flexibility. With $36.5 million in guaranteed contracts for 2019, they have less cash laid out than any team outside of the A’s and Rays. (Arbitration costs not yet included.) Beyond next year, Chicago has barely anything tied up: 2020, 2021 and 2022 each have less than $10 million on the books. The White Sox have a talent pipeline in place for the next few years, hoping to reap the fruits of a loaded farm system, but in terms of money, they’re essentially working with a blank slate for the immediate future. Just because they have room to buy doesn’t necessarily mean that they will—they don’t exactly have a record of big spending, to put it lightly; the franchise’s biggest contract ever remains Jose Abreu’s $68-million, six-year deal from 2013—but they’ve been suggesting that they’re interested. The team’s indicated that it would like to bid for the services of Machado and Bryce Harper, which doesn’t seem like a rumor that surfaces if you’re not prepared to spend.

As Jon Tayler noted in yesterday’s rundown on Machado and Philadelphia, the specific numbers of the potential contract aren’t terribly important here. Rather, the point is that the team has free payroll space (Chicago really, really, really does!) and has signified that they’re ready to spend. The White Sox seem like they’re in a fine spot to meet the shortstop’s contract desires, whatever those may be. If Machado goes after the straightforward big money of a long deal, as expected—$330 million, 10 years, say—Chicago should be able to offer it up. But if he wants something that’s a little more creative—an insanely loaded shorter deal, or something—the team doesn’t have any immediate cost burdens that would automatically cut them out of the picture.

APSTEIN: Anonymous Execs Weigh in on Harper v. Machado

Still, a long deal seems like it would make the most sense for player and team alike. The White Sox are currently just in the entryway of their rebuild. If Machado wants to join, he’d probably want to do so on a time frame that would let him enjoy the full upswing of that rebuild. For the purposes of this exercise, then, let’s assume that Chicago offers a 10-year, $320-million deal for Machado, with one or two opt-outs.

The Roster

Machado has said that he wants to play at shortstop, rather than third base, though it’s not clear just how much of a sticking point that is for him. If he is open to going to third, well, that would make things a little less complicated for the White Sox. The team’s current third baseman is Yolmer Sanchez, who can politely be described as very easily replaced. Meanwhile, the current shortstop is Tim Anderson, a speedy first-round pick who’s developed a nice glove and showed some strong improvement at the plate last year, though he’s still got plenty of room to cover in that department. As Machado seems a bit stronger at third than short—defensive metrics will say that it’s waaaay more than “a bit,” though defensive metrics certainly aren’t the end-all-be-all—an ideal alignment might have him at third and Anderson at short. If Machado’s heart is set on shortstop, though, Anderson will presumably be bumped to third (or over to second, with a move to the outfield for current second baseman Yoan Moncada) and it’ll still work out well enough.

The White Sox are fortunate to play in baseball’s easiest division. There’s Cleveland and… no one else to worry about, really, unless Minnesota returns to its playoff form from 2017. Even in the relative wasteland of the AL Central, though, they still have a long journey ahead before they’ll be contending. Yes, Machado’s addition would be a remarkable boon, and yes, there are plenty of exciting prospects on the way—but no player can transform a roster on his own, and no prospect is a guarantee. 

The White Sox lost 100 games in 2018, after all. There’s a lot to work on here! Eloy Jimenez, the slugging outfielder who represents the organization’s top prospect, should be up in 2019. Pitchers Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning might be up later in the year, too. But even if all of these guys manage to hit their ceilings right away, and even if the club gets instant huge contributions from a splashy signing like Machado, the earliest potential run for the White Sox looks more like 2020. Flamethrower Michael Kopech will have returned from Tommy John by then. Talented 21-year-old infielder Nick Madrigal might have made it to the major leagues. All of the young players mentioned here will have had more time to develop. This still feels like a slightly optimistic timeframe; 2021 seems more realistic, given how green this group is. All of it hinges greatly on how many of these prospects succeed—and which ones, and to what extent.

The White Sox look like they could already be on their way to something truly great. Machado would likely accelerate and amplify that, in a way that few other individual players could. Either way, though—without a major outside investment beyond Machado, don’t expect to see the team start to reach its full potential for another several years.

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