For the second year in a row, the White Sox have used the August waiver period to add a talented outfielder who has worn out his welcome with his current team. Last year, the White Sox took on the remainder of Alex Rios‘ contract, and while he struggled to finish out 2009, he has been one of their best players this season, and the move has certainly paid dividends. Will adding Manny Ramirez pay off as well?
There are a couple of ways to look at whether Ramirez will work out or not. The White Sox are a fringe playoff contender, with about a 13 percent chance of making the playoffs. Ramirez is a significant upgrade from their rotating DH platoon, a position that has been most frequently manned by Mark Kotsay and his .233/.307/.382 line. ZiPS projects a .292 wOBA going forward for Kotsay, which pales in comparison to the .400 mark projected for Ramirez.
Even if you bump up the projection a bit to account for the other guys who would rotate through the DH position, we’re still looking at a 100 point gap in wOBA in September, which is a huge number, and, over 100 plate appearances, it adds up to nearly an eight run difference. Even though it’s only for a month, replacing Kotsay with Ramirez should add almost a full win to the White Sox total.
Given their place in the standings, a one win upgrade could make all the difference in the world. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that Chicago ends the season within just one game of the Twins. Having Ramirez’s bat in the line-up could put them in the playoffs, and given how valuable that is, picking up his $4 million in remaining salary and not surrendering any talent is something of a no-brainer. The team gets significantly better in a playoff race and all they have to give up is cash. That’s the kind of move every fan should want their team to make.
But it does raise a question. If the White Sox had $4 million in their budget for 2010, why did they wait until August 30th to spend it? They gave Kotsay $1.5 million to occupy a fairly important roster spot, despite the fact that he’s been a replacement level player since 2006, and failed to make necessary upgrades to their offense over the winter. If they had the ability to throw another $4 million at this roster, couldn’t that money have been spent better last winter on a guy who would have been around for the whole year, rather than just the final month?
It’s a fair question, but the reality is that circumstances change and budgets are not static. I’d imagine, though I’m just guessing, that if Kenny Williams could have spent another $4 million last winter, he’d have done so, and probably made some different choices about what his team looked like. The uncertainty about a team’s overall performance is far greater in January than it is in August, and not knowing if a team will be a contender or not pushes teams to be somewhat conservative with their payrolls each off-season.
The team has information they didn’t have before, and Jerry Reinsdorf was willing to gamble some cash on a player who can upgrade the team in a playoff race. Perhaps that is cash he was not willing to gamble over the winter, not knowing what this team would look like come the stretch run. While it’s reasonable to ask Williams why he was willing to lean so heavily on Kotsay, I don’t think we can assume that the money that they just spent on Ramirez was available to him over the winter.
So, overall, kudos to the White Sox again. They made a bold, intelligent waiver claim last year with Rios, and they’ve done so again with Ramirez. I still think Minnesota wins the AL Central, but Chicago will at least make it interesting. Plus, Manny being managed by Ozzie Guillen? Let the comedy begin.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.