The White Sox have made it well known that they are retooling and perhaps even rebuilding their club. This comes on the heels of the new collective bargaining agreement which may mean that they will be engaging in several other big moves prior to the start of the season after having already dealt closer Sergio Santos for a prospect and letting long-time starter Mark Buehrle depart via free agency.
Carlos Quentin figures to be the most likely candidate as an upcoming free agent after the 2012 season. As a reminder under the new CBA, teams acquiring potential free agents do not gain the benefit of compensation pick should they ultimately let these players walk. In other words, it decreases teams with potential free agents’ leverage and ability to extract a quality price in exchange for said players. As an aside, it makes me wonder whether the exciting deadline will move from July to the day before the season begins. Because of the new CBA, teams may be forced to make decisions to compete or rebuild all the sooner.
However, Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Alex Rios, etc, are all signed beyond, and in some cases well beyond, the 2012 season. In other words, with all that money still under contract, it may be difficult for the White Sox to follow through on their desires now unless they wish to eat most of that salary. I think a retooling effort is more likely. Unfortunately given the aging nature of many of those contracts, this could result in a few more ugly seasons for White Sox fans unless they make some dynamic additions rather than subtractions to their core.
The John Danks extension is a partial signal that the White Sox, per the above contracts, cannot facilitate an actual rebuilding/house cleaning effort yet, and instead are moving forward with what they have to try to contend once again in the AL Central.
Danks will now be with the White Sox, provided he is not dealt, through the 2016 season. The left-hander will turn 27 shortly after opening day. By the end of the contract he will be 31. Without looking at the numbers, the age question make sense as it in theory takes him through his prime years and should also in theory avoid the decline phase.
Despite a 4.33 ERA and his lowest innings pitched total since 2007, Danks actually had one of his better seasons from a peripheral statistics point of view. 2011 included his career high single-season K/9 of 7.1 and his second career lowest BB/9 of 2.4. These skills, when you include a 40%-plus ground-ball rate, improved ability to keep the ball in the park in general, and the highest batting average on balls in play of his career, all point towards a return to the sub-4.00 ERA level.
My one recommendation, however, is not to get excited about the rise in K/9. Danks did not have any changes in velocity or have any significant changes in his pitch selection. Instead, having to pitch fewer innings (oblique strain, nothing to panic about long-term) is more likely to simply have kept him fresher to the point where his strikeout rates did not digress to his normal sub 7.0 range.
While I am, in general, not a big fan of long-term signings for starting pitchers and it very much remains to be seen whether or not Danks will be healthy for all of it or even most of it, the White Sox at least gave out such a deal at the right age where he is past the early-career breakdown stage and is prior to the post-prime decline phase of his career.