By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The acquisition of right-hander James Shields is just a partial piece to the plan the White Sox have for going the distance this season. After picking up $27 million over the next three seasons of the $58 million left on Shields’ contract, Chicago’s front office has put itself in position to still add at least two more important cogs for a playoff push.
The economic breakdown of the Shields deal was essential to the plan executive Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams have in mind. Shields will be paid $5 million by Chicago this season and $11 million in 2017 and 2018, assuming he doesn’t doesn’t opt out. San Diego will pick up the rest of the money Shields is owed each season.
The White Sox’s payroll now sits at around $117 million for 2016. With Adam LaRoche’s $13 million coming off of the books back in March after his abrupt retirement, the team is still under its projected payroll figure for this year. Projecting further into the future, the financial commitment to John Danks — $14.25 million this season — is done after 2016, which made it easier to take on the Shields money for 2017 and allows for some flexibility for a short-term buy-in.
A left-handed bat and a left-handed set up man would be ideal additions for the White Sox. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf is involved on a daily basis regarding the vision of Hahn and Williams. The group has broken down what areas of the team it wants to add to and the impact of future contracts going forward.
“He is not the least bit shy about pointing out to us certain things we need to improve upon,” Hahn said of Reinsdorf. “We usually have a pretty healthy exchange about it. You see it most readily as an example in the Shields deal. He was lockstep with us as we went through the search. He knew what the options were.
“He understood where we saw this market going over the next four to six weeks. He understood why we felt we needed to act early. He saw that we could close a deal on the terms that we did that can help us for now and the future. Also, that this gives us an opportunity to further improve this club.”
Trading for a player like Shields in early June is quite irregular in normal baseball circumstances. In this case, there the right combination of a team that needed an innings-eating starting pitcher and one that was mandated to dump salary.
How soon will the White Sox add more players? It takes two to tango. Chicago will once again approach the Cincinnati and other clubs regarding left-handed bats. Reds outfielder Jay Bruce remains a logical target. He’s making $12.5 million here in 2016 before he becomes a free agent at season’s end. There’s also a $1 million buyout option for 2017.
The 29-year-old Bruce is having a strong season despite the Reds’ awful record, hitting .280 with 13 home runs, 40 RBIs and a .922 OPS in 52 games. He’s also a quality defender with a strong arm and was also a clubhouse leader in Cincinnati with former Reds teammate and current White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier.
When the teams discussed a deal in spring training, the Reds were adamant about the White Sox taking at least $11 million of the $12.5 million due on Bruce’s contract. The chances of Chicago giving up shortstop Tim Anderson or right-hander Carson Fulmer, their top prospects, are close to zero this season.
The White Sox have traded seven minor league prospects for three key players since last winter. Three prospects were shipped off in the three-team deal to acquire Frazier, two were used in the trade for second baseman Brett Lawrie and two more left Saturday when they acquired Shields.
You can count on the White Sox continuing their pursuit of more help. Because in baseball, only the proactive survive.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.