It’s a new year and we’re starting to see teams take shape this offseason, but a few big name players – outfielders in particular – are still lying unclaimed the free agent market. Yoenis Cespedes, previously thought to be one of the most highly sought after players entering free agency, doesn’t seem to have any serious offers. Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, and Chris Davis are also available. The Orioles, Angels, Giants, Royals, Tigers, and the Chicago White Sox are speculated to be connected to one or a few of these players by MLB Trade Rumors, but heavy pursuit of these free agents by any organization isn’t happening right now. But, as the saying goes, it only takes one team, and plenty of clubs still need outfielders. Among those in need are the White Sox.
The White Sox were among the lowest-scoring offenses in 2015 and since their World Series win in 2005, the club has struggled to finish above .500. They’ve been unsuccessful in doing so since 2012. So, Chicago’s offense situation is traditionally dire. The team slashed a .250/.306/.380 in 2015, paling in comparison to the American League average of .255/.318/.412.
This winter, the organization scrambled to rebuild their suffering offense. Picking up infielders Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier is a significant step toward improving the positions of second and third that were exceptionally bad this past season. But, an outfielder with a good bat is still a priority for Chicago.
The White Sox probably won't want to exceed $120 million for their payroll in 2016 and a portion of the available money has already gone to Lawrie and Frazier. GM Rick Hahn said Chicago is willing to get creative financially to make a wise expenditure, though, and John Danks and Adam LaRoche are coming off the books at the end of the year. In a recent report by Bob Nightengale, the organization made clear that they’re interested in Cespedes and Gordon – if the players will sign for a maximum of three years. It's unclear if the players are equally interested in such an arrangement
Cespedes stated early on that it’s going to take at least a six-year contract to get his signature. There may be some wiggle room in there, however, given no club has really taken an interest.
Still, it seems very unlikely that a player of his caliber would sign for anything less than six years. He’s arguably the best of the outfielders left on the market. The White Sox could probably make more use of a lefty bat, but Cespedes’ power at the plate could be of use to the White Sox. His WAR in 2015 was 6.7 with 35 HRs and 89 RBIs. He would fit, but it might be harder to get his financial expectations in line with what the Sox are comfortable offering.
Gordon probably has at least another three good years left before aging really takes its toll, so he’s likely to sign for longer. Sources told Jon Heyman the three-time All-Star let the Kansas City Royals know there was "no chance" he’d take their offer of around 4 year, $50 million. The left-handed hitter would fit well in Chicago but would certainly be a risk.
Though he’s the most decorated of the three outfielders, his defensive and base running performance took a dip in 2015, which includes a groin strain that benched him for 48 games. He didn’t falter at the plate though, averaging his standard .271/.377/.432. The White Sox would have to weigh their options with Gordon and decide whether an upswing in defense and a consistent bat are things they think he can give them. But it does seem more likely to get Gordon to sign a shorter deal if the dollars are sufficient than Cespedes.
We haven’t heard a lot about Justin Upton and the White Sox together, but the outfielder is younger than Cespedes and Gordon. He could be a wiser investment for the White Sox due to his age, even though he’s not considered as strong of a player. He had 28 HRs and and 81 RBIs in 2015, with a WAR of 3.6. The Sox would trading a bit of quality for age in targeting Upton, but his youth also makes it less likely he'd settle for a shorter term.
Gordon is probably the most likely of the three to sign a deal around three years, but it seems the White Sox will have to make a more legitimate offer, both in time and financial commitment, to land one of these players. Three years likely isn't realistic, but it's not a terrible starting place if you're targeting Gordon. Even if the team becomes willing to offer a four year contract, it's unlikely Cespedes will take it due to his impressive 2015 and power potential and it's unlikely Upton will take it due to his youth. Whoever the White Sox go with, it’ll be a player that Hahn knows will aid him in the process of "maximizing [the White Sox's] chances to win." Realistically, Gordon is the best fit if they are hesitant to give out a huge deal. He can provide plenty if value in the near term without quite as much risk at the end.
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Rachel Heacock is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score.