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White Sox: Spend but don’t break

The case for opening the wallet is strengthened by the hiring of La Russa, but economic uncertainty muddies White Sox’ offseason picture

Right-hander Trevor Bauer is the top free agent pitcher on the market this winter. (Getty Images)
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They leaped into the wonderful world of the postseason last season, will return almost all of the key players from the group that brought them there, fired their manager who guided them in and hired a Hall of Famer to bring them a step further.

With a manageable payroll to work worth, everyone expects the White Sox to raise it to push them into the next realm, that of World Series contenders. In the upcoming fifth year of the rebuild, after saving big with payrolls that ranked 26th, 29th and 26th in the first three years and taking a significant spending step a year ago, this is how it’s done. Sign the pricey free agents to get over the top.

Adding catcher Yasmani Grandal for four years and $73 million and left-hander Dallas Keuchel for three years and $55.5 million and giving Jose Abreu three more years at $50 million last season signaled the beginning of spend mode. The Sox weaved those contracts around visionary long-term deals for shortstop Tim Anderson (under club control through 2024), third baseman Yoan Moncada (through 2025), left fielder Eloy Jimenez (through 2026), left-hander Aaron Bummer (2026) and center fielder Luis Robert (2027).

So what’s next? Free-agent starters Trevor Bauer and Marcus Stroman are there to fill one need. Outfielders George Springer and Michael Brantley are there for another. Second-tier starters such as Jose Quintana are available to further bolster the pitching staff.

There’s just one thing hovering over any such well-intended plans. No one knows how the $3 billion losses incurred by baseball in the 60-game coronavirus-slammed season affected Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s spending intentions. And 2021 revenue projections remain fuzzy with the coronavirus still having its way heading into the winter.

The case for carrying on and opening the wallet is strengthened by Reinsdorf’s hiring of 76-year-old Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, who didn’t come out of a nine-year managing intermission to oversee anything less than a World Series contender. It’s also quite possible the market won’t smile on the players after a season in which no tickets were sold. One- and two-year contracts might be the new normal.

All we have to go on from the Sox here is what general manager Rick Hahn said the day he fired manager Rick Renteria.

“We’re not immune, unfortunately, to the reality of what’s going on around us,” Hahn said. “And these aren’t White Sox issues, these are macro baseball issues, macroeconomic issues. As an industry, I know MLB is going to wind up losing in the vicinity of $3 billion this year. And we aren’t certain what next season is going to look like yet.”

According to Spotrac, the Sox’ 2021 total payroll sits at $103 million, which ranks 15th among 30 teams.

“We’re just going to have to see how the market plays out and at some point get a better understanding of what next season is going to look like in terms of length, fan attendance, revenues,’’ Hahn said. ‘‘And all that will factor into how we will make moves. That’s not a White Sox thing; that’s a baseball thing.

“On the bright side, we put ourselves in a pretty good position economically, in terms of payroll management. There was some flexibility built into our original models.

“It’s just a matter of how much do those models have to change because of the uncertainty in the world around us.”

White Sox top base salaries 2021

Yasmani Grandal $18.25M

Dallas Keuchel $18M

Jose Abreu $16M

Tim Anderson $7.25M

Yoan Moncada $6M

Nomar Mazara $5.75M*

Carlos Rodon $4.5M*

Lucas Giolito $3.9M*

Eloy Jimenez $3.5M

Leury Garcia $3.5M

Aaron Bummer $2M

*Projected (if tendered contracts)

Top available free agents (Sox top needs, alphabetically)

Starting pitchers: Trevor Bauer, Kevin Gausman, Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, Corey Kluber, Jon Lester, Mike Minor, Charlie Morton, Jake Odorizzi, Rick Porcello, James Paxton, Jose Quintana, Garrett Richards, Drew Smyly, Marcus Stroman, Masahiro Tanaka, Adam Wainwright, Taijuan Walker.

Outfielders: Jackie Bradley Jr., Michael Brantley, Marcell Ozuna, Joc Pederson, George Springer.

Others: Designated hitter Nelson Cruz, closers Brad Hand and Liam Hendriks, DH-1B Carlos Santana.

Sox free agents

Closer Alex Colome, catcher James McCann, Jarrod Dyson.