How Much Will the White Sox Spend in Free Agency?

20140124_mm_soxfest0230It’s hard to believe that the free agency period for the 2015-2016 Major League Baseball off-season has already begun. Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday that Tim McIlrath of Rise Against was singing the National Anthem before a sellout crowd at U.S. Cellular Field for the White Sox home opener?

Well, seven disappointing months later, the White Sox are ready to put the 2015 season behind them and begin re-tooling for 2016.

As of today, the Sox will have roughly $88 million committed to their 2016 payroll which is the 10th highest monetary commitment for next season out of all MLB teams. Traditionally, 10th highest or so has been their comfort zone in the league’s payroll rankings. In ten seasons since their World Series title in 2005, the Sox have averaged a $108 million annual payroll, which ranks the 9th highest in baseball.

The sample size of the last ten seasons has been split between two different general managers, but the annual payroll has been almost identical between both GMs. Kenny Williams was the team’s GM from 2006-2012, and Rick Hahn has taken over those duties since the 2013 season. In a striking similarity, the Sox averaged a $107.5 annual payroll from 2006-2012 with Williams, and have averaged a $108.3 annual payroll in three seasons thus far with Hahn.

Based off of that evidence, it doesn’t appear to matter who is calling the shots. The bottom line is that Jerry Reinsdorf will give his front office a limit, and the staff will have to operate within those confines to make the White Sox a contender. I probably don’t need to reiterate the fact that the highest payrolls don’t always equate to championship runs, as just once in the last decade has the highest payroll won the World Series (2009 Yankees – $201 million). If the 2009 Yankees aberration is removed from the sample data, the World Series winners since 2006 have averaged a $119 annual payroll, which is just slightly more expensive than the Sox prefer.

Therefore, with $88 million already committed to the team’s 2016 payroll, we can probably expect the Sox to have a budget this winter of about $20-30 million for next year. That budget would put them in the $108-118 range that is not only within their traditional means, but also enough to give them a legitimate chance at having enough weapons on their roster to contend for the playoffs.

Will a $20-30 million budget for next season land a top-tier free agent like Chris Davis, Jason Heyward, or Zack Greinke? Probably not. But the blockbuster free agent signing has never been the White Sox way to go about their business, so don’t expect it to change now; especially considering the Sox already have some star power on their roster in Chris Sale and Jose Abreu.

The organization still appears very optimistic that some of the veterans who had disappointing campaigns in 2015 will have bounce-back seasons in 2016. Adam LaRoche had the worst season of his career. Melky Cabrera turned up his game a notch after the All Star break, but he still left a whole lot to be desired. If either of those players are more productive in 2016 than they were this year, then the Sox can essentially improve their roster by having a quiet offseason.

All in all, don’t expect this winter to be as exciting as last winter. It appears that the Sox will target the middle tier of free agents, if anything at all.



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