Column: White Sox stasis continues while Cubs move on from another failed pursuit of Shohei Ohtani

posted in: News | 0

The Chicago White Sox acquired veteran catcher Max Stassi shortly after the news of Shohei Ohtani’s record $700 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers was released.

Suffice to say there were no Stassi-related celebrations on the South Side posted on Instagram.

The domino effect of the Ohtani signing means free agency should pick up. The Cubs will now turn to their lesser-priced targets, but whether the Sox plan to fully participate remains to be seen.

The acquisition of a 32-year-old, defensive-minded catcher who hasn’t played since 2022 provides the Sox with a veteran to handle what should be a very young pitching staff, albeit at the expense of providing any offense.

But the unintentional timing of the move, coming on the heels of the Dodgers’ gargantuan expenditure, only magnified the apparent direction (or misdirection) of the Sox. The offseason stasis adds to the litany of Sox lowlights, from the unsolved gunshots at Guaranteed Rate Field to the end of the 101-loss season, from announcer Jason Benetti’s surprising departure to Tony La Russa’s stealthy return as an “advisor.”

Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf was last seen hanging out with the mayor of Nashville, which happens to be looking for a major league baseball team. Another Sox negotiating ploy for a new ballpark? Or just the chairman trying to increase his Q-rating?

The addition of a low-priced catcher after the low-risk signing of starter Erick Fedde to a team-friendly, two-year deal suggests the White Sox teardown has picked up momentum.

General manager Chris Getz’s next step likely will be the dealing of Dylan Cease for several prospects. Or perhaps Eloy Jiménez goes first to a team that missed on Ohtani. Bye, mom?

The underachieving 2023 team’s payroll has been significantly reduced to $151 million, according to, and next year’s could be among the league’s lowest if the current trend continues. The Sox have only three players with guaranteed contracts in 2025: Andrew Benintendi ($17.1 million), Luis Robert Jr. ($15 million) and Fedde ($7.5 million). If Jiménez remains, the Sox figure to pick up his $16.5 million option in 2025, but they’re unlikely to do likewise with Yoán Moncada ($25 million option) or Stassi ($7.5 million).

So that’s only $39.6 million guaranteed, meaning the Sox should have plenty of room to spend for 2025 and beyond. Well, unless they just plan to leave the cupboard bare, as Oakland A’s owner John Fisher did while plotting his team’s escape to Las Vegas.

For now, the Sox are hoping to transform themselves in 2024 from a team with too many first basemen/DHs to one with more athleticism and defensive sensibilities. “Fast and Not Furious” could be the new White Sox marketing slogan.

Manager Pedro Grifol told reporters in Nashville at the winter meetings he’s looking for a different kind of player who plays “faster” and fits into the new clubhouse culture, which is not to be confused with the old one where relievers fell asleep in the bullpen.

Still, the operative word is “fast.”

“One of the things I learned last year is that we played a game that doesn’t win in the big leagues,” Grifol said. “We need to play faster. We need to be more athletic. We’ve got to catch a baseball. We have to do things a little better fundamentally. When we talk about getting more rounded, that’s what it’s about.

“Being able to bring in Nicky Lopez and Paul DeJong and what those guys can do defensively, and obviously we’re not done.”

DeJong has 23 career stolen bases in 729 games, while Lopez has 42 steals in 544 games. They are not exactly what would commonly be described as a “burner.” Other than 20 steals by Robert in 2023 and 13 by Benintendi, no other Sox player finished in double-digits last season.

“You talk about playing fast, it’s not literal in the sense of like, you can only run as fast as you can,” Getz explained. “It’s about playing intelligent baseball and finding players and teaching players, nurturing players, teach them to play a certain way because that is the expectation of the Chicago White Sox.”

In other words, playing “faster” really means playing smarter. Clip and save.

Meanwhile, the Cubs turned the page on their second failed attempt at signing Ohtani. Perhaps the third time will be a charm in 2034, when Chairman Tom Ricketts will be 70.

Cody Bellinger’s pillow deal in 2023 showed him everything to love about playing in Chicago, but it doesn’t mean he’ll return and play for a hometown discount. Agent Scott Boras doesn’t do discounts.

One thing I’ve learned is the lure of playing on the North Side might be overstated by provincial Chicagoans when waxing poetic about Wrigley and the ivy and scoreboard. But money matters most.

Considering the number of free-agent superstars the Cubs have signed over the years, divided by the number of superstars general managers have pursued, it’s really not a high percentage. (Andre Dawson, who pursued the Cubs in 1987 and played for basically nothing, doesn’t factor into the equation).

“I think we’re linked to a lot of free agents,” president Jed Hoyer said Tuesday in Nashville. “Which is good, because we’re a great city and a great ballpark and brand. It’s a benefit that people want to be there.”

Selling the improved farm system, and the incremental improvements following the sell-off of the stars of the last core (and subsequent rebuilding) in summer 2021, is Hoyer’s current strategy. No more videos of what it would be like to play in a World Series at Wrigley, as Jon Lester received before he signed nine years ago at the winter meetings.

In spite of the 2023 collapse, the Cubs, in Hoyer’s estimation, are an upwardly mobile franchise.

“People witnessed a really good trajectory last time and there are some similarities,” Hoyer said referring to the 2015-20 teams. “We try to (move on). We took down all the pictures of the World Series out of the clubhouse a long time ago to kind of close the yearbook a little bit.

“I feel like I want to always avoid the (narrative) of ‘Yes, this is what it can be like,’ but also (saying) ‘We’re not trying to recreate that.’ We have good young players, a good farm system and a lot of momentum in that regard. Wrigley and Chicago kind of sell themselves. We’re fortunate. Obviously I’d be a less good salesman if I worked for someone else.”

But there is one baseball maxim that never changes:

The easiest way to sign a free agent is by offering the most money.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.