By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) Despite another tough year at the turnstyles, the White Sox appear to have ample resources to sign at least two top-tier free agents this off season. The restructured player payroll has been reduced to the point that commitments for the 25-man roster will now be at about $60 million for 2015.
Chicago started the 2014 season with a $90 million payroll. The trades of Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham and Alejandro DeAza, as well as the retirement of Paul Konerko and contract expirations Ronald Belisario and Scott Downs commitments will pare $30 million from last year.
Depending on the payroll budget that chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and his directors give general manager Rick Hahn for 2015, the baseball department may have $85 million-$90 million to spend on players salaries. The White Sox, according to my best estimate, lost about $5.3 million in ticket and per-capita revenue from 2013. That variable is based on an average of $46 per customer lost from the prior season (attendance was down 116,000 from 2013).
If Hahn gets a hunk of money to spend — and again, that’s no certainty — the team will be able to bid on a top-flight pitcher and run-producing hitter who could help shorten the divisional gap with the Tigers and others. The White Sox lag behind the top three teams in the AL Central in roster depth. Shoring up the bullpen, acquiring a powerful left-handed hitter and adding a right-hander starter are keys to the club’s offseason.
The highest-paid White Sox player next year will be left-hander John Danks, who is set to make $14.25 million. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez is next at $10 million.
Hahn has stars Jose Abreu ($7 million) and Chris Sale ($6 million) under extremely manageable contracts for now and moving forward. No other player should top $4 million on the current roster.
The club has four players who are arbitration eligible, as Tyler Flowers, Dayan Viciedo, Nate Jones and Hector Noesi can file for it next month. None will be getting huge money, though. ( Jose Quintana has some arbitration and service-time clauses in his long-term contract.)
One free agent-to-be to keep an eye on is slugger Victor Martinez, who will still be pursued by Chicago even after his alleged pitch-stealing altercation with Sale in the last week of the season. Those misunderstandings have a way of being forgotten when your can add a difference-maker to your club.
Three big-time free agent pitchers will be viewed carefully by the White Sox top brass, too. Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields will be looking for long-term contracts that will likely begin with no less than a $20 million-per-year basement.
If they choose to, the White Sox will be able to go toe to toe with the biggest spenders in this off seasons free agent derby. We’ll just have to stayed tuned to see whether their chase is fruitful.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.