High Sox payroll has team ready to win

By Etheria Modacure

The White Sox missed the playoffs in 2010 for the second consecutive season. The team’s game attendance averaged 27,091 fans, ranking 17th overall in the Major Leagues. For 2011, more Sox fans will need to support the team at home to help pay for its recent additions.

Adam Dunn agreed to a four-year, $56 million deal with the Sox on Dec. 3. Shortly after, the Sox were able to retain one of its most popular players in catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who agreed to a two-year, $8 million deal to remain on the South Side. On Dec. 8, first baseman Paul Konerko agreed to a three-year, $37.5 millon deal to stay with the Sox.

With the Sox footing the bill for contracts ranging from $12.5 million for center fielder Alex Rios to $16 million for right-hand pitcher Jake Peavy, adding Dunn, re-signing Konerko and Pierzynski will exceed a payroll that was at $105.5 million before opening day in 2010.

Dunn will make $12 million in 2011, $14 million in 2012 and $15 million in 2013 and 2014. He acknowledged coming to a highly competitive team attracted him the most.

“I’m joining a team that’s already been successful,” Dunn said when he was introduced during a press conference on Dec. 3 at U.S. Cellular Field. “This is a great opportunity to not only win, but [to] win a World Series.”

For the Sox, making it back to the World Series has been a costly adventure for both General Manager Ken Williams and Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. After winning the World Series in 2005 with an opening day roster of $75.2 million, the Sox steadily increased their payroll but only made the playoffs once, in 2008.

In 2008, their payroll was at a team high of $121 million. This was after the team finished in fourth place with a 72-90 record in 2007. Right-hand pitcher Mark Buehrle signed a contract extension in the middle of 2007 for four years at $56 million, which gave him an annual salary of $14 million.

While the Sox didn’t give up any players to land Dunn because of free agency, his name was linked with the team in July before the trading deadline. At the time, the Sox acquired Edwin Jackson from the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Jackson made $4.2 million last season and will see a nearly 99 percent pay increase in 2011 for a salary of $8.75 million.

Although Williams was able to land Dunn and re-sign Pierzynski and Konerko, he understands how costly these moves were but jokingly put the pressure on Reinsdorf.

“There will be very few people who have spent as much as I have before Christmas,” Williams said. “Fortunately Jerry [Reinsdorf] is the one that’s got to pay for it.”

High payrolls don’t typically equal success for any team. The Texas Rangers reached the World Series this past season with an opening day payroll of $55.2 million.

Williams said Reinsdorf exhausted himself this offseason looking for additional ways to find revenue and gave credit to the team’s marketing department and accounting.

“It’s been a team effort this offseason to try to find as much revenue as we can,” Williams said. “We’re out on a limb a little bit, but we have faith in our fans and the  ballclub.”

Last season, four teams in the top 10 of payrolls before opening day made the postseason. The New York Yankees had a payroll of $206.3 million; Philadelphia Phillies $141.9 million; World Series champion San Francisco Giants $98.6 million and the Minnesota Twins had a payroll of $97.5 million.

Williams has been regarded as an aggressive general manager by peers and the media. Pierzynski said that’s what makes the team great.

“The one thing about Kenny, he isn’t afraid to make moves and go get [players],” Pierzynski said during a conference call. “When he believes in a [player], he goes and gets him and keeps him around.”

In 2009, the Sox traded four pitchers, including pitchers Clayton Richard and Aaron Poreda to the San Diego Padres for pitcher Jake Peavy. Peavy had already signed a three-year extension with the Padres for $52 million and now the Sox will pay for it. In August of that year, Rios was claimed off of waivers  from the Toronto Blue Jays and has a contract through 2014 worth $12.5 million for 2011 and 2012. His annual salary will escalate to $13 million for 2013 and 2014.

Neither move has helped the Sox reach the postseason and some thought the team wouldn’t be able to afford any more big contracts this offseason. The Sox recently picked up the option on shortstop Alexei Ramirez’s contract, which will pay him $2.875 million in 2011.

With all of these signings and the increased pressure on Sox fans to fill U.S. Cellular Field, Pierzynski knows 2011 could be special, given the moves that were made. It remains up to the team to produce on the field.

“The moves [Williams] makes and the moves he has planned, if they all work out, it will be awesome,” Pierzynski said. “We’ll go into spring training with a great chance to win. That’s one of the main reasons I wanted to come back and be a part of a winning organization.”