Free agent pool taking shape, with White Sox’s contributions to come

There’s always some wiggle room when it comes to the size of the free agency class due to mutual options and opt-outs, and it seems like the pool is taking more of a maximalist approach, with both teams and players declining options. Among the noteworthy decisions: *Nick Castellanos opted out […]

There’s always some wiggle room when it comes to the size of the free agency class due to mutual options and opt-outs, and it seems like the pool is taking more of a maximalist approach, with both teams and players declining options. Among the noteworthy decisions:

*Nick Castellanos opted out of the last two years and $34 million remaining on his contract with Cincinnati, although he’ll have to contend with the qualifying offer on him this time around.

*Avisaíl García declined his half of a $12 million mutual option with the Milwaukee Brewers.

*Yusei Kikuchi declined a $13 million player option with Seattle, which was made possible by the Mariners declining the option to exercise an option that effectively led to a four-year, $66 million extension.

We’ll see whether this means that players are bullish about their chances to earn fair value around a potential lockout. We’ll also see whether the White Sox add to this pool, as maybe Rick Hahn will mention something about Craig Kimbrel or César Hernández when he finally talks to the media later this morning.

For the time being, Keith Law ranked Kimbrel as 39th on his free agent rankings:

The Cubs gave Kimbrel a three-year deal partway through the 2019 season, and the first two years were disastrous: 36 innings, 24 runs allowed, including 11 homers, and 24 walks for a 6.00 ERA. He was a revenant for the first four months of 2021, was traded to the other side of Chicago, and turned right back into a pumpkin, with a 5.09 ERA and a big spike in his home run rate again. His stuff has dropped off since his last full, good season in 2018, but it didn’t change appreciably between 2019-20 and 2021, and his curveball is still a hammer. He doesn’t locate his fastball as well as he used to, and that’s where he gives up nearly all of his damage: 14 of the 16 homers he has allowed in the last three years were on four-seamers, and just two on the curveball. You’re rolling the dice here, but one year and $10 million might work for a contender hoping to catch the good Kimbrel in a bottle. I couldn’t go longer given his track record over the longer term.

SPARE PARTS

Tony La Russa said his entire coaching staff will return, and he expects improvement out of the whole organization now that everybody is familiar with strengths and shortcomings, including one we just talked about:

“There’s all kinds of stuff,” La Russa said. “We can make better pitches. Have better at-bats. I’m not going to give you a scouting report but there are big things, little things and things in the middle. We’ll have a list, and we’ll prioritize. It was obvious to everybody we can do better defending the steal.”

Mike Petriello put Carlos Rodón in the “likely to receive an offer” group.

Rodón’s path has been wild. A year ago, the oft-injured lefty was non-tendered by the White Sox, who months later signed him to a mere one-year, $3 million deal without a promise of a rotation spot. They were rewarded with a stunning season, as Rodón threw a no-hitter, made the All-Star team and will probably get some Cy Young votes. The problem, given his history, is that he had repeated issues with shoulder soreness down the stretch; he pitched just 28 innings in the final two months. This is a tricky one, but because Rodón was so good this year (and managed to hit 99.4 mph in his brief ALDS appearance) that we think he’ll try his luck on the market.

Prediction: Receives offer, declines it

For additional context, Keith Law had Rodón 17th on his list.

Lucas Giolito’s first attempt to follow Harvard-Westlake teammate Max Fried as disrupted by COVID-19, but he bounced back in time to catch Game 6 at Minute Maid Park, the site where Giolito faltered in the ALDS.

But playoff games, even crowd-silencing routs, are long and allow time for the mind to wander, and for Giolito to think of his own team’s situation.

“It served as motivation like, yeah, I really fucking want this,” Giolito said. “I was texting with a couple guys on our team while I was there about ‘OK, yeah, this is doable for us.’ We’ve got to clean up a few things. But I’m watching this game and I’m like, that could be us next year. And we’ve got to come ready to go.”

One hundred years before curmudgeons groused about analytics ruining the game, Chicago Tribune writer Hugh Fullerton was slammed for collecting his own data on games he watched in the 1910s, which allowed him to know something was amiss when the White Sox played the Reds in 1919.

As more recent innovators have found, traditionalists didn’t like his new approach. A letter to Baseball Magazine complained that Fullerton “would have us believe that good ball can only be played by those men who work with the assistance of a tape-measure, a tee-square and an intimate knowledge of algebra and fractions”.

Tucker Barnhart, whose $7.5 million option for the 2022 season made him a questionable fit for Cincinnati’s budget, found a pretty good landing spot in Detroit. The Tigers only had to give up 2019 second-round pick Nick Quintana, a 24-year-old third baseman who hit .196 in Low-A. I’d hoped that the White Sox might be able to swing a deal for Barnhart, but the Tigers are instead getting the two-time Gold Glove winner.

I’ve seen this Cubs-Cardinals brawl surface as a standalone clip a few times, but I never actually looked into how it came to be that a manager and two hitters found themselves around the batter’s box as an umpire called spite strikes. Now I know the rest of the story.

Speaking of catchers, Buster Posey’s abrupt retirement announcement slapped a bow on the neatest of packages. In 12 seasons — 10 full seasons, one injury-shortened, one cup of coffee — he won Rookie of the Year, MVP, three World Series rings, a batting title, a Gold Glove, three Silver Sluggers and seven All-Star nods. He hit .302/.372/.460 while finishing with exactly 1,500 hits. You know airplane/black box joke format? After returning from opting out of the 2020 season to hit .304/.390/.499 for a 107-win Giants team, he basically made his entire career out of his best work.

(Photo by Arturo Pardavila III)

Spare Parts: Free agent pool taking shape, with White Sox’s contributions to come

Shaqil Heaton

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