The title of this piece is about all that can be regarded of certain at this juncture, but apparently the White Sox reached an agreement with John Danks on a contract extension that will probably resemble 5 years for $65 million. I went ahead and linked to the original tweets of the apparent freelance graphic designer who broke the story before the likes of Jon Heyman, because it’d be a shame if the theme of unexpected figures playing surprisingly large roles in this White Sox off-season got swept by the wayside in all the confusion.
And there’s confusion, in all areas. It’s the purest by-product of this announcement. Enough to put in list form.
1. What are the actual terms? 5/65 has been thrown out there and held up to scrutiny so far, but the pay distribution hasn’t been announced. Backloading is almost always assumed on deals this long, but it’s not known how many years are guaranteed and how many are options, which figure to come into play given some of the things the good Chairman Reinsdorf has said about long-term contracts for pitchers.
It might not be a reach to say things aren’t quite hashed out because this isn’t intended method of leaking the news. Yup, might not be much of a reach at all.
2. Is this…a good deal? If we took everything at face value, it seems like a fair match for Danks’ production. Chris Cwik of FanGraphs figured Danks would need to average 2.5 WAR per season to make the deal stand up, a benchmark he’s had no problem clearing since his rookie year. 5 years would constitute Danks’ age 27-31 seasons, putting him in a nice little middle ground between not being paid into a stretch where a breakdown seems likely, and having a long enough track record of avoiding serious injury. 2011 saw Danks’ first DL visit of his career for an oblique strain, and he still covered 170 IP.
It’s a fair deal, it could even be a good deal, but it sure isn’t a bargain. It’s an approaching market-level for a pitcher who has been consistently above-average that surely most in the Sox organization still see as having higher potential. So of course,
3. What the hell does it mean? Danks is a young, valuable starter who can (and now is a lot more likely to) be a key contributor the next time the White Sox are competitive, but he also just got decidedly not-cheap for a team was allegedly too overloaded with failed investments and in need of a moment of retreat. Not only that, but Danks represented one of the few chips by which the Sox seemed capable of taking one asset, and breaking it down into two or three, or simply taking one regular-priced asset and turning it into a cheaper one.
The mantra of “we won’t trade players just to trade them” and other similar iterations has been repeated many times by the White Sox brain trust, so it could be as simple as Kenny did his due diligence surveying the trade market for Danks, tolerated all the “Oh, I donno if he’s worth Dellin Betances straight-up” remarks from Brian Cashman that he could, and decided he would get the most value by just keeping John Danks through his prime.
Such a judgment, just like the terms of the deal itself, are just fine in a vacuum, but in the context of the whole off-season, it’s another bend in the path that makes the final destination unclear, and casts doubt about a particular one being in mind.
1. Extending Sergio Santos – A good move no matter the context
2. Picking up Jason Frasor’s option – Hard to explain, or an attempt to stack trade chips, which would only make it ill-advised
3. Trading Sergio Santos for a Double-A prospect – Evidence of an extensive rebuild
4. Letting Mark Buehrle walk – Continuing the cost-cutting
5. Extending John Danks – ???? (I don’t particularly buy the idea that this is a move to boost Danks’ trade value, as he’s still squarely behind pitchers with remaining arb years in the starter trade target queue)
As JJ points out, the White Sox haven’t made a move that could quantify as rebuilding; blatantly punting positions in 2012 for the sake of the future. Buehrle’s departure only made room for the already planned transition of Chris Sale, and the Santos trade could just be a recognition of relievers as fungible, while placing trust in Addison Reed. Even a future Quentin trade only serves to de-clutter an outfield for a Rios-De Aza-Viciedo trio that figured to battle for PT otherwise (with poor soft-spoken Alex Rios possibly getting drowned out by all those pesky superior players).
It could easily be another KW ‘rebuilding without retreating’ special, or maybe he thinks that making the franchise’s direction obvious to the world by making moves that correspond to it is a trade disadvantage.
But it could easily be a lot of things. It’s certainly getting later in the off-season, but it’s still far from last call. The White Sox still have a few moves left, especially seeing as they’ve yet to announce, or explain this one.