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What White Sox declining Tim Anderson, Liam Hendriks options says about offseason plans

Vinnie Duber Avatar
November 4, 2023
Tim Anderson

You wanted change, White Sox fans?

How’s this for change?

You might not have thought Chris Getz was bringing real change to the South Side when Jerry Resindorf promoted him to general manager without interviewing any outside candidates. But in his first handful of moves, Getz has built a front-office brain trust of people from other organizations, cut four assistants from Pedro Grifol’s coaching staff — including a pair of long-tenured guys in Daryl Boston and Curt Hasler — and declined the contract options on two faces of the franchise: The team announced it declined Liam Hendriks’ option Friday and declined Tim Anderson’s on Saturday.

That’s change, all right.

Of course, it very much remains to be seen if those changes will lead to the only change fans care about: a change in the White Sox’ fortunes.

After a 101-loss season, it remains unknown what course Getz is charting this winter, these decisions on Hendriks and Anderson only the opening moves. But the direction is indeed a new one, with significant — and to an extent, painful — decisions being made on two star players.

Why did the White Sox decline Liam Hendriks’ option?

The team’s decision on Hendriks can be explained away fairly easily, as much of a bummer as it is to see them part ways with the guy who players just voted the AL Comeback Player of the Year for his triumph over cancer and lightning-quick return to the mound, someone who was an overwhelmingly positive presence in the clubhouse and in the community.

But he’s expected to miss most or all of the 2024 campaign while recovering from Tommy John surgery. And while he’s due the same $15 million whether the team picked up the option or not, owners are rarely OK with paying players not to play, Reinsdorf apparently desiring to spread that $15 million over 10 years — and take a, to borrow a hockey phrase, “cap hit” of $1.5 million every year from 2024 to 2033 — rather than count the whole thing against the 2024 payroll alone.

Because Hendriks wasn’t going to be returning to the mound until later in the season anyway, the White Sox are in much the same position they were in when it comes to who’s going to close out games.

Gregory Santos was given the opportunity to take over that role last summer, but he struggled after officially stepping into it and finished the season on the injured list. Most of the team’s late-inning group was dealt away in deadline deals, leaving Aaron Bummer as the best in-house candidate, and he just posted a career-worst 6.79 ERA in 2023.

Why did the White Sox decline Tim Anderson’s option?

The situation with Anderson was far less cut and dry.

Though he is coming off a career-worst season and battled injuries for a third straight year, he is someone who was clearly affected by those health issues, and it wasn’t outrageous to suggest he could return to the level of production that saw him win a batting title and make two AL All-Star teams. If that were to have happened, the $14 million he was due would have struck as a relative bargain.

The White Sox, though, apparently did not feel like placing that bet.

Indeed, Anderson was woeful offensively in 2023. His streak of four straight seasons batting over .300 was snapped in spectacular fashion, his average plummeting to .245, nearly where it was before he turned his career around ahead of the 2019 season. His on-base and power numbers were equally miserable, a .286 on-base percentage nowhere close to where it should be for a leadoff man and a .296 slugging percentage and one home run a far cry from the days when he was predicted to be a 20-homer player.

Add in continued defensive struggles — his 14 errors in the field were the most since he made 26 in 2019 — and the on-paper production just wasn’t there.

But this was the guy who once symbolized a fun-loving, swagger-filled attitude that defined a one-time White Sox team on the rise. His bat flip heard ‘round the world in 2019 brought him to the forefront of baseball’s “have fun” movement, and he delivered one of the more memorable moments in the sport’s recent history when he blasted a walk-off home run into an Iowa cornfield to beat the Yankees in the Field of Dreams game. Though the White Sox didn’t play nearly as many playoff games as they had hoped in recent years, it wasn’t because of Anderson slacking in October; he had 16 hits in 33 postseason at-bats in 2020 and 2021.

It’s worth noting that the White Sox have one of the game’s highest rated prospects in Colson Montgomery, a shortstop who’s earned comparisons to Corey Seager, who just led the Rangers to a World Series championship. Montgomery isn’t expected to be ready for big league action come Opening Day 2024 after playing just 37 games at the Double-A level in 2023, but an arrival date sometime next season doesn’t seem to be out of the question.

What do these decisions say about White Sox’ intent to compete in 2024?

This is the big question, one that Getz hasn’t answered definitively to this point.

It would seem that Anderson would have given the White Sox a better chance at being competitive next season, given that the possibility for a bounce back was there, that Montgomery isn’t likely to be ready for prime time and that removing Anderson from the roster adds yet another need to an already massive to-do list for Getz and his front office.

That Anderson is gone could be as strong an indication as any that the White Sox have their sights set more on 2025, perhaps setting the stage for something of a rebuilding year in 2024.

Of course, there’s also the financial element of this, and declining the $15 million option on Hendriks in favor of a $1.5 million payment this season and declining the $14 million option on Anderson in favor of a $1 million buyout means Getz freed up $26.5 million that theoretically could be allocated elsewhere in free agency.

With that money to potentially work with, it will be easier to fill all the holes that need filling than it would have been with both those salaries on the books. But it’s still unknown what Reinsdorf has in mind in terms of a budget for Getz’s front office, as he defended a payroll of around $180 million for 2023, definitively took the White Sox out of the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes before it began and expressed a distaste for the types of long-term contracts that are handed out to the game’s best players these days.

Still, Getz now needs to add a second baseman, a shortstop, a right fielder, a catcher of some sort, three starting pitchers, a closer and some more bullpen arms if he wants this team to compete with the Twins for the AL Central title in 2024. That’s a lot, even with $26.5 million more than he might have had otherwise.

Getz will speak in just a few days, during next week’s general managers meetings in Arizona, and hopefully that will provide some more clarity on what the team’s offseason plans entail.

But the GM has already talked about having a short-, medium- and long-term plan for the organization. These moves might point to the long term being more important than the short when it comes to the White Sox being able to field a contending club.

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