Evan Marshall

White Sox avoid arbitration with five players as 2020 payroll comes into focus


White Sox avoid arbitration with five players as 2020 payroll comes into focus

The White Sox will not go to arbitration this year, avoiding the process by agreeing to terms on one-year contracts with their five remaining arbitration-eligible players Friday.

Closer Alex Colome got the biggest payday, $10,532,500 for the 2020 season. In his first season with the White Sox in 2019, he saved 30 games, bringing his total since the start of the 2016 campaign to 126. His first- and second-half splits were noticeable: a 2.02 first-half ERA followed up by a 3.91 ERA after the All-Star break. But he remains an accomplished ninth-inning man and a valuable piece of the South Side relief corps as the team looks to make a run at a playoff spot in 2020.

Newly acquired right fielder Nomar Mazara will make $5.56 million this season. At the moment, he figures to be the White Sox everyday right fielder, an upgrade from a group of players who struggled to make much of an impact in 2019. Mazara is just 24 years old though has four big league seasons under his belt already, with an average of nearly 20 homers and exactly 77 RBIs in that span. Rick Hahn's front office traded for Mazara during the Winter Meetings, and the general manager has repeatedly discussed what the team believes to be untapped potential in the left-handed hitter. Mazara has struggled against left-handed pitching in his career, with a .231/.272/.361 slash line versus southpaws, leading to the possibility of the White Sox seeking a platoon partner. But as of this writing, Mazara is slated to get the bulk of the at-bats in right.

Starting pitcher Carlos Rodon will make $4.45 million in 2020, though he likely won't pitch during much of the season. He's on the mend from Tommy John surgery, which the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft underwent last May. That leaves a total mystery as to what kind of impact he'll be able to make this season, though he could conceivably provide, at the very least, starting depth later in the season, if not more. Rodon is only under team control for two more seasons, so he'll have a limited window to prove he belongs in the White Sox long-term plans once he returns to full strength.

Utility man Leury Garcia will make $3.25 million in 2020. He played a ton during the 2019 season, finishing with a .279/.310/.378 slash line in 140 games, primarily as a starter in the outfield. He can play all three outfield positions and at three of the four spots on the infield, as well. He could see a lot of time at second base until the White Sox deem highly ranked prospect Nick Madrigal ready for the big leagues. Garcia figures to be a versatile and valuable piece for Rick Renteria, and Garcia's ability to play outfield — plus a mighty affordable price tag — keeps the White Sox bench in good shape despite the decision to non-tender Gold Glove winner Yolmer Sanchez earlier this offseason.

Relief pitcher Evan Marshall will make $1.1 million a year after joining the White Sox as a minor league free agent. He came up to the big league club in May and turned in some stellar numbers out of the 'pen: a 2.49 ERA in 50.2 innings over 55 appearances. While the volatility of relief pitching makes it difficult to bank on that kind of production again in 2020, he remains part of the back-end group of that bullpen, along with Colome, Aaron Bummer, Jimmy Cordero and Steve Cishek, who is reportedly signing with the team, though his deal has not yet been announced.

Catcher James McCann also entered the offseason as arbitration eligible, but he and the White Sox agreed on a one-year, $5.4 million deal to avoid arbitration more than a month ago.

RosterResource.com estimates the White Sox payroll for the 2020 season to be nearly $128 million, an increase of more than $30 million — or more than 33 percent — from the 2019 payroll. Spending doesn't always equal wins, but the White Sox have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they're willing to spend to improve the roster and attempt to make the transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode. They've handed out big free-agent contracts to Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel and Edwin Encarnacion, as well as rich extensions to Jose Abreu and Luis Robert.

The White Sox highest Opening Day payroll ever came in 2011, when it stood at $129,285,539. That's less than $2 million more than the estimated Opening Day payroll for 2020, meaning one more addition could make this the most expensive White Sox squad in franchise history.

Possibilities for another addition include one more arm for the bullpen or the aforementioned platoon partner for Mazara in right field. But even if Hahn's work is done for the winter, it will still have been a massive offseason for the South Siders. A massive offseason breeding big, new expectations.

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Projecting the White Sox 2020 bullpen, now including Steve Cishek

Projecting the White Sox 2020 bullpen, now including Steve Cishek

Declaring after the Dallas Keuchel signing became official that his front office's focus would be on improving the bullpen in the new year, Rick Hahn got right to work on that front, reportedly adding Steve Cishek on a free-agent deal Tuesday.

He might not yet be done adding to a relief corps that was surprisingly solid in 2019. You might not have realized it by watching them, but White Sox relievers ranked seventh in the American League with a 4.31 ERA, behind only the five teams that made the postseason and a team that almost did, the Cleveland Indians.

With a lot of those pieces back for 2020, the White Sox bullpen isn't terribly difficult to project for the upcoming campaign. Let's take a look.

Late-inning locks: Alex Colome, Aaron Bummer, Steve Cishek

Here are your high-leverage, late-inning guys. They number a closer who has racked up 126 saves since the start of the 2016 season, a 26-year-old with tons of team control who logged a 2.13 ERA during a breakout 2019 season and a guy who posted a 2.55 ERA in a whopping 150 appearances over the last two years on the North Side. It's not hard to be confident about that group, though there are some alarmed by Colome's first- and second-half splits in 2019: a 2.02 ERA before the All-Star break and a 3.91 ERA after it. As Hahn will tell you, the performance of relief pitchers is volatile and can swing wildly from one year to the next. But this is a very strong trio.

Guys who earned a spot in 2019: Evan Marshall, Jimmy Cordero

The need for Cishek stems from that volatility, and it's hard to say what exactly Marshall and Cordero will do in 2020. They don't have the veteran track records of guys like Colome and Cishek, so you can't bank on repeat performances from these two buy-low finds — Marshall was signed as a minor league free agent, while Cordero was an in-season waiver claim — despite strong stints with the 2019 White Sox. Marshall finished with a 2.49 ERA in 55 appearances, while Cordero had a 2.75 ERA in his 30 appearances after joining the team. Rick Renteria leaned on both of them last year, and they performed. Now there's some insurance in the form of Cishek in case they can't recapture the magic. And if they can, then this is a very deep back end of the bullpen.

Guys who weren't great in 2019 but aren't going anywhere: Kelvin Herrera, Jace Fry

Herrera and Fry struggled in 2019. Big time. Herrera, in the first year of what at the time looked like a great two-year, free-agent deal, had a 6.14 ERA. But there's reason to believe this season could go quite differently if he's unencumbered by the effects of his 2018 foot injury that lingered well into last year. A fully healthy spring ought to be beneficial, and perhaps he can return to some semblance of the guy who dominated the White Sox when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals. There was a positive showing in September, as Herrera gave up just two runs in his 10 appearances. Fry, meanwhile, struggled to find the zone, walking 43 opposing hitters in 55 innings. That's too many, obviously, but the White Sox still believe in Fry as a potential lights-out hurler, meaning he'll likely get a chance to prove it out of the gate.

One more guy (or two?)

There's a new 26th spot on big league rosters starting in 2020, and given the growing trend toward increased bullpen usage in recent years, you might assume that would be filled, in many cases, by another relief arm. That's not a bad assumption. But it can obviously be used elsewhere on the roster, too. The White Sox seemingly have a five-man rotation set with Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Gio Gonzalez. But then there's Michael Kopech, who will be limited in some fashion, but does that fashion involve him on or off the Opening Day roster? We don't know yet, and obviously that could impact how many pitchers the White Sox end up carrying in their bullpen.

Hahn, as mentioned, could also make another addition of note to the bullpen that would fill this spot. Interesting, too, that there's no long-relief option among this bunch, the best internal candidate for that role being someone like Dylan Covey or Ross Detwiler, guys the White Sox might need to have starting in the minors in the event of an injury in the big league rotation.

Basically, there are a lot of ways the White Sox could go with this final piece or two of the bullpen puzzle. Right now, how about we say it will be Jose Ruiz, who the team still values for his hard-throwing ways. He didn't fare so well in 2019, with a 5.63 ERA in 40 appearances. But with Zack Burdi probably not yet ready for a jump to the majors, Carson Fulmer unable to show he can get consistent outs and Ian Hamilton coming off a lost 2019 season, Ruiz might be the most likely of the guys currently on the 40-man roster to fill a final spot.

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Forget adding another outfielder, next focus for White Sox is reportedly upgrading bullpen


Forget adding another outfielder, next focus for White Sox is reportedly upgrading bullpen

Going into the offseason there were clear priorities for the White Sox: starting pitching, right field and designated hitter.

Now that Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez are on board, the starting pitching has been upgraded. Nomar Mazara was an upgrade in right field, albeit a relatively modest addition. Edwin Encarnacion serves as a proven DH.

So what’s next? Another outfielder to complement a relatively unproven Mazara? Despite rumors connecting the White Sox to Nicholas Castellanos and Yasiel Puig, USA Today's Bob Nightengale reports that upgrading the bullpen is next on the list.

If the White Sox want to make a splash in the pen, the free agent relievers available include former Sox pitcher Daniel Hudson, ex-Astros righty Will Harris and former Cubs Steve Cishek and Pedro Strop. Those will be among the names to watch.

Based on the bullpen the White Sox have under contract, it’s easy to see the need for another reliever or two to be confident in the whole group.

Alex Colome (30 saves) was effective as closer last season while Aaron Bummer (2.13 ERA, 27 holds) and Evan Marshall (2.49 ERA, 19 holds) had breakout seasons. Betting on year-to-year success with relievers is tricky, but it’s safe to say those three are going to be given spots in the White Sox bullpen in 2020.

Jimmy Cordero (2.75 ERA, 31 strikeouts, 11 walks, 24 hits in 36 innings) was solid after joining the team midseason and is likely in position to return. Kelvin Herrera was not effective after signing a two-year, $18 million contract last offseason, but given the contract it will be tough to move him.

After that, it’s fair game to question who the White Sox would fill out to make a seven-man bullpen. Jose Ruiz had an ERA north of five and a WHIP of 2.00 and logged 40 innings. That’s one spot prime for an upgrade.

Lefty Josh Osich shared the lead with Bummer in innings pitched among White Sox relievers at 67.2. He signed with the Red Sox. Another lefty, Jace Fry, saw his walk rate double from 2018 to 2019. Fry could be given another shot or the White Sox could try to get another lefty.

The White Sox could be looking to add as many as three relievers, although one or two is more likely. There are a couple of internal candidates who could provide solutions.

Ian Hamilton, a 24-year-old right-hander, set the minors on fire in 2018 and earned a brief call-up that year, but missed most of 2019 with two non-pitching related injuries. He got into a car accident in spring training, which delayed the start of his season. Then he was hit by a foul ball in the face while watching from the dugout in Triple-A Charlotte. A healthy Hamilton could serve as one addition.

Tayron Guerrero was claimed on waivers from the Marlins earlier this month. The 28-year-old right-hander walked 36 batters in 46.0 innings last season, but if he can harness his control, his high-velocity stuff plays in the majors. 

Even with internal options, given the White Sox's aggressiveness this offseason, it's not likely they stand pat and hope for the best.

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