After announcing John Danks’ five year contract extension for $65 million, the Chicago White Sox and their general manager Kenny Williams were immediately criticized for what was assumed to be a wishy-washy stance on rebuilding.
It’s interesting because if two things don’t happen, this deal is likely regarded as fair for both sides. Those two things being:
- The Chicago White Sox trade their closer, Sergio Santos, along with his incredibly team friendly contract to the Toronto Blue Jays for a younger pitching prospect in Nestor Molina; and
- The San Diego Padres traded pitcher Matt Latos for an overrated haul of prospects from the Cincinnati Reds, which include Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal.
The first seemed to be a clear sign of intent from the White Sox that they were in rebuild move. Santos with his contract was one of the team’s best assets and they moved him for, presumably, a player that Chicago believed would eventually be a member of the team’s starting rotation under team control for several seasons.
The second seemed to be an answer to the White Sox prayers. The high cost of trading for a young starting pitcher was established by the Latos deal and seemed to work in Chicago’s favour if they were willing to part with Danks.
However, they weren’t willing to part with Danks. And while that may seem curious to some given the two factors we’ve already looked at, allow me to give you a few more factors that might have played into the White Sox making this decision:
- They play in the American League Central where the turnaround time from rebuild to competitor is noticeably shorter than in other divisions.
- Danks is only 26 years old.
- It’s a very fair deal for the sides.
Danks was scheduled to become a free agent after this season, so if we look at MLB Trade Rumors’ projected salary through arbitration, Danks would have made $7.6 million in 2012, meaning that the White Sox essentially gave him a four year extension after 2012 to cover his first four free agency years for $58 million. That type of payment expects a return of roughly 11 wins above replacement from 2013-2016, or age 28-31 seasons, which is far from a ridiculous expectation on a pitcher who attained 15.5 wins above replacement during his 23-26 seasons.
It can be argued that while that kind of value isn’t easily attained, it’s essentially wasted on a rebuilding team that would be better off trading him to attain more usable assets. It’s certainly a valid argument, and similar to one I used to criticize the Minnesota Twins for signing Josh Willingham. However, to bring this point up, is to ignore a couple of realities.
The first of which is that several rumours at the beginning of the off season had the White Sox shopping Danks. As much we might look to the Padres and Reds deal as a precedence setter, there’s no guarantee that Chicago’s southpaw would have brought back the same haul. If anything, there’s an indication that he wouldn’t have.
As I touched on earlier, it’s also somewhat misguided to think that baseball teams in the American League Central can’t bounce back faster than in other divisions. The White Sox had a terrible season last year, but were still only one game back of the supposedly upstart Cleveland Indians despite three regular position players putting in below replacement level performances. Chicago is unlikely to unload Adam Dunn or Alex Rios anytime soon, and if those two players can offer something closer to their career averages over the next two seasons, the White Sox aren’t that far off the pace at all.
While it wouldn’t be a great strategy in a tougher division, picking and choosing the right deals rather than going all in or immigrating to Tank Nation is perfectly acceptable in a division where a window of opportunity might exist between the Detroit Tigers impending fall and the Kansas City Royals’ predicted rise.
Extending John Danks is a smart move. A far more apt criticism would be the team’s evaluation of Nestor Molina after a solitary season of good numbers in the Minor Leagues.