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Isn't it interesting how, with the stroke of a pen, super prospect Eloy Jimenez no longer has to work on his defense in the minors for a few more weeks before being good enough to join the big league club? Even though he had been optioned to Charlotte, Jimenez is now suddenly ready to iron out the kinks on the South Side.
Let's be clear. Jimenez has toiled in the minor leagues for parts of five seasons, and that's more than enough. He has stepped into the batter's box on 1,703 occasions. At the highest levels last season he hit .337, with 22 homers and 75 RBIs, yet he struck out just 69 times. He's 22 and stands 6-foot-4, tipping the scales at 205. And until last week he was going to spend three weeks next month working on his defense at Triple-A. For a team that had the likes of Daniel Palka, Nicky Delmonico and Avisail Garcia patrolling outfield spots last season.
The Sox front office apparently needed to institute a charade prior to the long-term deal the team worked out with Jimenez last week. Stashing Eloy at Charlotte for three weeks would have meant an extra year of control over the potential superstar, just like it did with the Cubs and Kris Bryant four years ago. You can imagine how that ploy is going to fly when the next CBA comes up for negotiation after next season.
We're comfortable with the notion that Jimenez's defensive skills were not markedly improved as he slumbered last Wednesday night. No, tying up the big guy for at least six years for $43 million - plus another $33 million for two more years at the club's option - papered over any supposed defensive deficiencies.
By some standards, this is a big deal because Jimenez's contract is the largest ever for a minor leaguer with no major league experience. In fact, only two other minor league players, Jon Singleton of the Astros and Scott Kingery of the Phillies, were offered millions prior to appearing in a big league game. Singleton bombed out after two seasons (2014-15) and faded away with $10 million in his pocket. A year ago, Kingery got $24 million, with the potential for $42 million, then hit .226, playing primarily at shortstop.
History paints the risks and rewards of taking chances on players with limited experience. Consider the so-called "bonus babies," players signed for $4,000 or more from 1947 to 1965. These prospects were required to remain on the 25-man major league rosters for a minimum of two seasons because wealthy organizations, primarily the Yankees, were sucking up all the talent. Not only did they have the best players on the major league team, but their affiliates were stocked with top prospects waiting their turn in The Bronx. So MLB said, "Go ahead. Sign these kids for big bucks, but you got 'em in the majors for at least two years."
In total, there were 61 such cases. Jim Derrington, a left-handed pitcher, got $75,000 from the White Sox in 1956 and started the final game that season before spending the entire 1957 season with the team. Derrington pitched in 20 games in '57 but never again entered a big league game as a sore arm ended his career after four seasons in the minors. He was just 22.
Derrington's example was not unusual, but at the other end of the spectrum were future Hall of Famers like Al Kaline and Sandy Koufax, who debuted at 18 and 19, respectively, and never spent a minute in the minor leagues. Catfish Hunter was the final bonus baby in 1965, on the cusp of the amateur draft which stymied the rich guys from copiously outbidding the other clubs.
Forget about the dollars in Jimenez's case. The Sox have plenty of them. And now that they know how much they have committed to Eloy in the future, they have a better idea of what they can spend. Remember also that they gave Jose Abreu six years at $68 million in 2014 based on his monster numbers in the Cuban National Series. The guy hit .453 one year and clubbed a bunch of homers. Even though he had never played in MLB's minor leagues, that was good enough for the Sox, and, looking back, it's turned out splendidly.
Furthermore, the Sox gave Luis Robert, another Cuban who seems destined to be the team's centerfielder of the future, a $26 million signing bonus two years ago when he was just 19. A like amount was paid in tax for exceeding the international bonus pool, so the club has $52 million tied up in the youngster.
When he was only 19 with just a couple of years' experience playing in Cuba, Yoan Moncada was rewarded with a $31.5 million signing bonus by the Red Sox. Let's hope that Moncada begins to play like a multimillion dollar prospect for our Sox this season.
What we now know is that soon the White Sox will field a team of millionaires, which will make us rest more easily provided they show us they can play. With contracts now reaching the $400 million mark, we need not be staggered by the numbers flowing to the young folks under White Sox management. After all, do The Chairman and his investors need the cash more than the athletes?
What's also interesting is that more of baseball's top players are signing extensions rather than testing the free agent waters. Since the opening of spring training, 17 players - see Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado, Chris Sale, Paul Goldschmidt and Alex Bregman, to name five - have opted to extend their time with their present teams rather than putting themselves on the open market.
Meanwhile, closer Craig Kimbrel (42 saves with the Red Sox last year), former Cy Young starter Dallas Keuchel, and innings-eater Big Game James Shields remain unemployed, while other free agents have had to settle for smaller contracts than anticipated. They've also had to wait longer to close their deals. Is this collusion on the part of the owners?
Robert Mueller is another guy out of a job. Perhaps he can be enlisted to investigate.
Anyway, the White Sox are raring to start the regular season in Kansas City on Thursday. Manager Rick Renteria hasn't announced his Opening Day lineup, but we have to assume that Eloy Jimenez will be stationed in left field and will bat somewhere in the middle of the order. If that's not the case, then we definitely need to summon Mr. Mueller.
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