It’s time for the White Sox to go big.
Hear me out.
It's time for the White Sox to go big and make a run at the AL Central in 2019.
Ordinarily, a couple years into a rebuild would be too early to sign a flashy free agent. But the White Sox are uniquely suited to buck convention and go for it.
Why? Because this winter's class of unsigned talent is unprecedentedly stacked with pitchers and hitters, and because their competition in the AL Central is positively putrid.
Let’s start with the latter. In 2018, just one team in the AL Central, the Cleveland Indians, finished with a winning record. Three teams — the Sox, the Tigers, and the Royals — posted win-loss records below .400.
Besides Cleveland and the White Sox, no team in the AL Central shows real signs of improving. And the Indians front office appears intent on selling off a handful of key players, including two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Should that happen, the Indians could be at their most vulnerable in years.
Outlandish as it might seem after losing 100 games in 2018, the White Sox could tack on enough wins to take the division.
Which leads to how they do it.
In 2014, when the Cubs were still lovable losers and in their own rebuild, the running joke on Twitter was that they'd accept any free agent on the market.
"Well you know who IS interested in my client?" /lights a cigar /puffs "…the Cubs…" /leans back
– Every Agent in baseball
— Mauricio Rubio Jr. (@MauricioRubioJr) 5 November 2014
This year, you could say the same thing about the White Sox.
The team has two fine starting pitchers in Carlos Rodón and Reynaldo López, but they’ll need to add to that. From the current free agent group, the best options are Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel.
Corbin had the best season of his career in 2018, striking out nearly 31 percent of batters and walking only 6 percent. In the era of hitters adjusting their swing planes to hit more home runs, Corbin had a fly ball rate of 11 percent — a third of last year's league average.
Keuchel’s numbers aren't as appealing, but he has a pedigree that fits with a team on the rise. He won the Cy Young in 2015 and played on Houston's World Series team in 2017.
Meanwhile, the White Sox bullpen was among the most broken in baseball last year — but not irreparably. Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel declined his 2019 option earlier this month, and could transform the Sox bullpen. He's been a powerhouse closer since taking the role with the Braves in 2011. Kimbrel’s 42 saves in 2018 were the third-highest in baseball.
Elsewhere, the White Sox would do well to explore possibilities in Andrew Miller, Jeurys Familia, and Zach Britton. No one of these players would be the difference maker that Kimbrel is, but each would fortify a bullpen in need of some stability.
Still, Chicago's biggest splash should come on the other side of the ball. The premier hitters in free agency include Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and it might not be that crazy for the White Sox to land… both?
Harper is a generational talent, and he'd change the face of the White Sox franchise instantly. Despite a “down” year in 2018, Harper has already amassed 30.7 fWAR in five seasons. The White Sox deservedly beloved first baseman José Abreu has about half that in the same time span.
Machado would do roughly the same thing. He earned some ill fame during the postseason for a perceived lack of hustle and dirty play, but he's been one of the most consistently great hitters of the last four seasons, and he can play both shortstop and third base.
Most importantly, the White Sox have the salary room to commit big money to improving. The team has just over $60 million committed for 2019; for reference, the Cubs have more than $200 million on the books next year. And the World Series champion Red Sox? $211 million.
In short, the Sox should spend big to win big — and bring some long-overdue wins to the South Side.