The White Sox have arguably been the biggest movers and shakers of this year's soft trade deadline, adding two gigantic contracts in the forms of Jake Peavy and Alex Rios. The White Sox, through these deals, have added over 110 million dollars of salary between 2010 and 2014. There's no question that Jake Peavy and Alex Rios will provide some sort of production over the course of these contracts, even if it's not the level of production that the White Sox are paying for. The question for the White Sox is whether or not they can still manage to operate from under the burden of these and other large contracts. Before adding Peavy and Rios, the White Sox were already at a $96MM payroll entering the season - 12th highest in the league, but the 13th highest was $82MM. The White Sox certainly belong to that second tier of large-market teams, behind the New York teams, the Cubs, and the Tigers, but more in line with the L.A. teams, Seattle, and Philadelphia.
It's possible that the White Sox could afford to add payroll because they subtracted over 25 million dollars in payroll over the 2008 offseason. Still, these additions have pushed them right back into that 120 million dollar range. With the economy as it is, I find it more feasible for the White Sox payroll to remain in the 100-110 million range as it did in 2006 and 2007. Let's take a look at the team that the White Sox will have under control for the 2010 season.
Now, they will need to fill a 5th rotation spot, 2 bullpen spots, a DH spot, and 5 bench spots (or 3 bullpen spots and 4 bench spots, depending on how they work their bullpen). If they do this internally, those 9 spots will cost 3.6M, taking their total guaranteed money for 2010 up to $93.675MM. Along with Wilson Betemit's contract, for 1.75MM through 2010 and Cuban defector Dayan Viciedo's $2.25M contract, this brings up the total to $97.675 Using Tom Tango's convenient payroll to expected win% formula, we can see what kind of team the White Sox should be getting out of this money.
For the purposes of this exercise, let's assume that the average payroll remains near $90MM, much like last year when it decreased by only $1MM. Then, with a $97.675MM payroll, the White Sox should expect a .505 win%, or win 82 games. With a replacement level set at a .300 win%, that means that a team with the payroll of the White Sox payroll should be roughly 33 wins above replacement. This year's White Sox team, without any major contributions from Rios or Peavy, is currently on pace to be at +37 wins above replacement. However, the White Sox will be losing a significant group of players next year (assuming Josh Fields goes to the minor leagues where he belongs, and Wilson Betemit remains in the minors where he belongs).
Removing these players and their 8 WAR, the White Sox would only be on pace for 26 WAR this year. Now, of course, given playing time consideration it's possible that the 16 players remaining with the team would be worth more than 26 WAR total. However, I highly doubt it would be the 7 WAR necessary to get up to the efficiency requirement.
Using 26 wins as our base, let's see what kind of performance we should expect out of the 2010 White Sox without any major free agent additions.
- The additions of Rios and Peavy (who I project at roughly 3.5 wins each) add 7 wins.
- Gordon Beckham should improve and receive more playing time. He could add anywhere from 1-3 more wins than he has produced this year (+1.1 through 61 games). If Beckham is a 3.0 win player next year (a conservative estimate), that would add an extra 1.5 wins to our base.
- Aging from Konerko, Buehrle, and Pierzynski should lead to decreased production, on the order of about 1.5 wins.
- Carlos Quentin's return to injury could add anywhere from 2-4 wins. For our purposes, Quentin adds 3 wins.
Then our rough projection for the White Sox WAR would be in the ballpark of 36 wins, with pretty large error bars, probably along the lines of 5 wins on the way down and 3 wins on the way up. This gives a win total estimate of 79-87. At the high end, this may be a playoff team, but it would be unlikely. If the Sox are willing to up their payroll to 110 million dollars, though, they may be able to add up to 5 wins, vaulting them to the 84-92 win range and putting them right in the thick of the race. Regardless, the young talent of players like Beckham, Danks, and Quentin offsets the large contracts of Peavy, Rios, Buehrle, and the other veterans on the team, and the White Sox are actually spending their money at a reasonably efficient level, especially given their status in the market.
Looking longer term, the White Sox only have 3 contracts coming off the books after the 2010 season: Paul Konerko ($12MM), AJ Pierzynski ($6.25MM), Wilson Betemit ($1.75MM), along with the buyouts for Dye and Thornton ($1.25MM), for a combined $21.25MM. With increases in the backloaded contracts of Peavy and Rios along with talented players entering their second and third years of arbitration (Danks, Jenks, Wise, Quentin), the relief will not be much. With their core getting older quickly, the White Sox will have to replenish the ML club with a depleted farm system, which has dealt two top arms in Poreda and Richard, and their 2nd best hitting prospect in Brandon Allen, all in a year in which two of their top 5 prospects graduated to the majors in Chris Getz and Beckham. If Kenny Williams is caught in a situation where he is inclined to buy in the near future, due to the large contracts for veterans and increasing contracts for young players already in place, the White Sox in 2012 may be due for a long rebuilding period. Still, Williams has the team in a condition to compete in 2010 and 2011 at least, and with good drafting the franchise could be set up for success.