By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) The recent barrage of signings and a major trade have put the Chicago White Sox back at center stage for playoff contention in 2015. After losing 188 games combined over the last two seasons, competitive-but-fiscally-responsible White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf gave the go-ahead to his baseball executives to spare no expense in putting a winner on the field next season.
Where is this money coming from? Certainly not from the fan base -- as of yet. White Sox attendance has fallen off every season since 2006. They drew less than 1.7 million fans in 2014, resulting in the fewest fans who have gone through the U.S. Cellular Field turnstiles since 1999. Despite the fan base concerns, thanks to an excellent local TV package and the national TV revenue doubling in 2014 (now $52 million a year for each club), Reinsdorf felt he could be creative.
The commitment of close to $118 million toward the 40-man major league roster is an increase of about $25 million from the 2014 payroll. Part of the equation for the last major piece of the free agent puzzle (outfielder Melky Cabrera's $42 million deal) was sanctioned by ticket sales boosted by the trade for right-hander Jeff Samardzija. More specifically, all the player additions have created a buzz with the fan base, which had been turned off by a less-than-exciting product since 2012.
The club's marketing office reported close to 1,000 new season-ticket packages sold since the Winter Meetings in early December. That fact and the aggressive nature of general manager Rick Hahn and executive vice president Kenny Williams encouraged Reinsdorf to agree to forge ahead with the late Saturday night signing of Cabrera to a three-year, $42-million deal.
The White Sox aren't quite finished building their team for next season. Another solid right-handed starter would be ideal if Chicago can deal outfielder Dayan Viciedo and the $4 million salary he's likely to garner in arbitration. Adding a veteran bench player in both the outfield and infield is also on the wish list before closing the books on 2014.
"We are trying to build for now and the future," Reinsdorf explained to me before the Samardzija deal was made. "Do I want to win now ? Of course I do, for all of us and our great fan base. I am 78 years old. Winning now is always the first thing on my mind."
The White Sox's largest payroll ever was $128 million before the 2011 season. A four-year commitment to Adam Dunn for $56 million was an abject failure and can be pointed out as an anvil around the franchise's neck for the following four seasons.
A new day with an exciting mix of veterans and young stars should give the 2015 White Sox the running start they need to rise out of the ashes of two lost seasons.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
for more features.