White Sox: The rising kings of Chicago

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 11: Eloy Jimenez #74 and Yoan Moncada #10 of the Chicago White Sox look on from the dugout prior to the game against the Kansas City Royals on September 11, 2019 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 11: Eloy Jimenez #74 and Yoan Moncada #10 of the Chicago White Sox look on from the dugout prior to the game against the Kansas City Royals on September 11, 2019 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /
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Jason Heyward is a popular but expensive Cubs outfielder,  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Jason Heyward is a popular but expensive Cubs outfielder,  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Flexibility

Perhaps the biggest factor favoring the White Sox’ chances of overtaking the Cubs is the fact that the Sox have substantial payroll flexibility, while the Cubs have virtually none at all. That means the South Siders will be capable of addressing any perceived or developing weaknesses either in advance of the season or as it moves along.

The Cubs are pretty much resigned to following Plan A, the existing cast of characters, minus any they unload for financial reasons. They have virtually no flexibility whatsoever.

Opening day is still a long way off, but as of the moment the Cubs project to start the season with a 40-man payroll of about $213.6 million. That’s about $5.6 million above the $208 million luxury tax threshold.

The Cubs can thank such deals as the combined $63 million they owe Darvish, Heyward and Lester this coming season. Cubs fans have no real beef; the Lester and Heyward deals contributed to the team’s 2016 World Series win, and no price is too high to pay for a ring.

But there are consequences to winning, and the Cubs are paying for that 2016 championship right now.

The more recent signings of Craig Kimbrel ($16 million in 2020), Tyler Chatwood ($13 million in 2020), and Hendricks ($12 million in 2020) further constricted the maneuverability of team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. As a group, those are the reasons why the Cubs are discussing trading away Bryant, Contreras, Schwarber and/or Baez.

There may come a time when the White Sox can sympathize with the financial woes of rich teams like the Cubs, but that time Is not now. The Sox approach the 2020 opening day with a projected payroll of $106.2 million. That’s more than $100 million under the luxury tax threshold – probably a meaningless figure for the South Siders – but it’s also nicely short of the franchise’s record payroll of $128 million in 2011.

The recently signed Grandal is the only Sox player who will earn more than $15 million in 2020; unless they trade somebody the Cubs are likely to open 2020 with six such hefty financial commitments. Among them, Anderson, Moncada, Jimenez and Engle – the projected core of the offense for several seasons going forward – won’t even reach arbitration 3 status until 2023 at the earliest.