Baseball Prospectus had some great timing on Friday. They released their list of top prospects in the White Sox’ system the morning that reporters announced the extension to their top prospect, Luis Robert. The deal covers the entirety of his six-year rookie contract for $50 million, in addition to including two team options at $20 million per year.
It is no surprise that Robert topped BP’s list, and as baseball outlets start releasing their top prospect rankings for the entire league, you will likely see him in the top ten on several other lists. He is an incredible five-tool athlete who finally showed everyone what they believed he was capable of in 2019, where he slashed .328/.376/.624 across three levels.
One of the biggest knocks against Robert before last season was the lack of power, as he hit only three home runs over his first two minor league seasons total. Then he hit 32 homers in 2019. Half of that was over 223 plate appearances in Triple-A, though, where it is well known that the ball was just as juiced as it was in the majors. Still, he hit 16 HR in 328 PA over High-A and Double-A, and BP graded out his power as “plus,” — a vast improvement over the 30-grade power he showed previously.
There is some concern over how Robert’s hit tool will translate in the majors, and he has not shown great plate discipline either, walking only roughly five percent of the time in 2019. If he posts a sub-.300 OBP for awhile, he should still be able to get by thanks to his power, speed, and quality center field defense.
The White Sox’ deal with Robert is similar in situation to Eloy Jiménez, who also signed a slightly cheaper six-year deal with two team options before ever making a major league plate appearance. On the surface it might look like the White Sox are being generous with their highly touted prospects by taking on the risk of paying completely unproven talents, but as usual with major league franchises, they are acting in their own best interests.
To be fair, it is not like this was not a nice thing for the White Sox to do. There is obviously risk involved in guaranteeing that much money to someone who is unproven. If he turns out to be a bust, they won’t be able to cut him to minimize salary loss.
The White Sox could have simply done what teams always do: hold Robert down for a few weeks for reasons we all know are untrue so they can get that extra year of service time, just like their in-city rival Cubs did with Kris Bryant, and then pay him as little as possible while on his rookie contract. The thing is that the team options give the White Sox an extra year on top of the one they could get through service time manipulation, nor are they likely to end up paying much more money than if they had chosen to take their chances during his arbitration years.
While this does not rise to the grossly exploitative levels of the Ozzie Albies deal, it is still exploitative in that Robert had no leverage. If he could hit free agency right now, it would not surprise me if he got three times the amount the White Sox game him. Remember, he got a $26 million bonus just for signing with the team in the first place, before he even had a minor league at bat, let alone one in the major leagues. The deal is heavily back-loaded, but at an $8.3 million AAV, he will be worth the money if he becomes nothing more than a bench player, the likelihood of which is very low.
The White Sox really do not deserve a lot of credit here. This deal is much more likely to benefit them than it is to blow up in their faces. The players’ union needs to give young players more leverage in these negotiations so that teams will stop exploiting them. At least if Robert does not start the season with the major league club, we will know that it is for a legitimate reason.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.