By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The media and fan base seem skeptical of the Chicago White Sox’s plan going forward. For a number of reasons, though, they should take the team’s front office at its word. They have a plan, though it’s not one management will share with the public as of now.
It’s really not that complicated.
My guess is the plan has more than one variable to it. First and foremost, the White Sox will be the most talked-to club in the fall by the other 29 teams. Each and every one of those major league franchises will want to know what it will take to acquire pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.
Why will Chicago be the first team most other pitching-hungry franchises go to? The answer is simple: supply and demand.
There are few names of pitching stature on the free-agent market this offseason. Andrew Cashner, Rich Hill, Ryan Vogelsong, Jered Weaver and Alfredo Simon are set to be the cream of the crop, while the 43-year-old Bartolo Colon will be the most accomplished player on the starting pitcher free-agent list.
With that as context, you have a better understanding of what the White Sox might have in the way of value. The White Sox brass hold two of the most sought-after, durable, economically desirable pitchers in the game. Both Sale and Quintana are signed to team-friendly deals. The 27-year-old Sale is under contract for three more seasons, and the grand total of his contract is $39 million, with a possible $4.5 million in Cy Young incentives tossed in.
The 27-year-old Quintana is signed through 2018 at a total of $15.8 million. Chicago has club-only options for 2019 and 2020 at $10.5 million and $11.5 million, respectively. Altogether, Quintana is the property of the White Sox — or any other club that trades for him — at a total of about $38 million over four years.
Consider this: As the White Sox have arguably two of the top five left-handed starters in the game under contract control at a combined average of about $22 million annually for the next three years, the likes of Clayton Kershaw ($105 million over the next three years) and Zack Greinke ($102.5 million over the next three years) will be making $34 million to $35 million annually as individuals. That illustrates why the White Sox will have the top leverage point with the best players on the table at the optimum time in the marketplace.
Ahead of the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline, the Red Sox wouldn’t part with outfielder Jackie Bradley in a deal for Sale or Quintana, as Bradley and the young players on their 25-man roster are needed now in the push for a championship.
As we look ahead, would a starting pitching-hungry franchise like Boston part with Bradley and some of its other top prospects in the dead of the winter? You can bet the Red Sox would give it a long thought. That’s especially true with the lame starting pitching free-agent market.
There’s another route the White Sox could go. They could hold onto Sale and Quintana and attempt to pry away other young players for quality veterans like Jose Abreau, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera. This is yet another way to get younger better and cheaper while young pitchers like Carlos Rodon and Carson Fulmer get ready to compete and contribute 32 or 33 starts a season.
Remember, starting pitching is and always will be the top priority in the game. As the Ken “Hawk” Harrelson would say, “The White Sox are in the cat/bird seat,” with leverage as the only plan they initially need going into the GM meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. in November.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.