Despite having never taken an at-bat or fielding a fly ball in a Major League game, Chicago White Sox OF prospect Eloy Jimenez received a six-year deal on Wednesday worth $43 million. With two club options, the deal could turn into an eight-year deal worth $77 million.
It wasn’t a deal the White Sox had to do by any means. Waiting a couple of weeks would have given the White Sox seven full seasons of control over the Dominican slugger. The first four of those seasons (possibly three depending on whether Jimenez wanted to take the White Sox to court) would have paid Jimenez just the league minimum before arbitrators took over to determine what he should make in each of the successive three seasons.
However, the White Sox made the preemptive contract offer with hopes of avoiding the complicated future that awaits with a new collective bargaining agreement coming in 2021 and any tensions that might come with a three-year back-and-forth where the organization is trying to pay Jimenez as little as possible. Which is why the move is being widely praised on social media and by national and local critics.
Jimenez enters the 2019 season as the No. 3 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s top 100. And while there’s always the possibility that a prospect doesn’t live up to their potential, that’s usually an issue reserved for players who receive most of their hype while transitioning to professional baseball from the prep ranks, college or as an international star. Or it’s an issue that arises when a player has a breakout season in the minors that vaults him up the rankings but isn’t able to sustain.
Eloy Jimenez isn’t any of those things. The Cubs signed him for $2.8 million out of the Dominican Republic back in 2013 and ever since things first clicked for him in South Bend in 2016, it’s been no looking back. The 22-year-old has raked at every stop along the way since, even hitting home runs that will go down in legend in the Carolina League All-Star Game Home Run Derby.
In 2016, he posted a .901 OPS and was the Midwest League MVP. In 2017, he posted an .842 OPS for the Cubs’ high-A affiliate in Myrtle Beach before being traded to the White Sox as part of the return package for Jose Quintana and then proceeded to raise his season-long OPS to .947 by mashing in Winston-Salem and double-A Birmingham.
Last season, he continued to improve by posting a .961 OPS between Birmingham and Charlotte. By all accounts, he was ready to hit at the Big League level and a putrid White Sox outfield probably would have given Jimenez and his agent cause to take action for manipulating his service time. They even hinted at as much at the time.
However, that’s no longer a concern and it’s a big part of the reason why the signing is a smart one. Rather than let that wound fester for years, the White Sox addressed in it a way that should work out for both sides.
It’s hard to say what the market would look like in three or four years for a middle-of-the-lineup corner outfielder, but three years of arbitration for the type of player we expect Jimenez to be would cost $43 million conservatively and could theoretically exceed the $60 million total charge it would cost them to keep him for seven seasons. Mookie Betts’ three-year arbitration costs are on track to cost over $60 million and there is no telling what inflation and the new CBA might do to those figures.
And that’s to say nothing of the extra year of service this deal has afforded the White Sox with Jimenez. There’s also the fact that the organization no longer has to lie to its fans about why the player who is probably already their best hitter is forced to spend two weeks in Charlotte to start a season where they’re supposed to be learning how to win.
Yes, there is risk involved with giving a player money he would have had to earn with productivity over time up front. He could get hurt or simply not pan out. However, when you consider that the White Sox are coming off an offseason where it could be argued they made the most compelling offer to superstar Manny Machado and still lost out, it might not be a bad idea to earn a reputation as a player-friendly front office within reason.
Because as good as the White Sox farm system is, they’re still going to want supplement their roster with a high-profile free agent or two at some point if they want to contend for championships. And the White Sox are developing a history of giving their players a chance to earn more money earlier on in their careers which should also help them sign draft picks and international stars more easily.
At a time where most owners are exploiting the current CBA and most players are becoming more and more disillusioned with it, the White Sox are going against the grain. Given whatever might be coming in 2021, it feels like the right position to hold.