LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Expecting the rebuilding White Sox to be quiet at this week's Winter Meetings?
You might want to rethink that.
The biggest week of the baseball offseason has historically been a time where any transaction can happen, whether expected or surprising. Last year, the White Sox pulled off a couple of huge December trades that helped jumpstart the rebuild and reshape the future of the franchise. Chris Sale went to Boston in return for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and others. Adam Eaton went to Washington in exchange for a package that featured Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, two guys already in the White Sox starting rotation.
So what will this year bring? There are some big possibilities. Of course, these are all just potential happenings for this week in Florida. Surely there will be other conversation topics, as well, with Rick Hahn likely to be asked about the continued progression of a bunch of the White Sox core pieces. But if there is a splash to be made, these ones make the most sense.
1. White Sox trade Jose Abreu
Really, the biggest question of the White Sox offseason is what happens with Abreu. There might have been an indication of an answer last week, when The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported that the team is unlikely to trade Abreu this winter, but then came another report over the weekend that teams like the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals are interested in acquiring Abreu. So perhaps there's still a possibility Abreu gets moved at the Winter Meetings.
The arguments for dealing Abreu away seem to be just as good as the ones for keeping him. It kind of means that there's no wrong answer for Hahn.
Abreu has been a model of consistency in his four seasons as a big leaguer and has produced at a great level. Last season, he became just the third player ever to hit 25 homers and drive in 100 runs in each of his first four major league seasons, joining Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols. Good company. He finished 2017 with a .304/.354/.552 slash line, 33 homers, 102 RBIs and a career-high 189 hits and 43 doubles. He struck out a career-low 119 times. So in other words, he's really good.
It's because of that and his contract situation that Abreu seems to be an attractive trade candidate and could land the type of package that Hahn acquired in those trades involving Sale and Eaton last winter. Abreu will turn 31 next month, but he's got just two years of team control left, meaning there's no long-term contract that teams would be acquiring along with a player currently in his prime but one who will be in his mid 30s when the 2020 season begins. It makes a ton of sense for a contender, sticking a bat like Abreu's in the middle of the batting order and not having to worry about an investment going south beyond 2019. Of course, it could also cost an awful lot in prospects, which could scare teams away from a deal.
But there are plenty of reasons for the White Sox to keep Abreu around, too. The aforementioned offensive production is valuable to a team that hopes to be contending soon. And off the field, Abreu earns rave reviews as a team leader and a mentor to some of the organization's young stars of the future, including fellow Cubans Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert. But if the White Sox opt to keep Abreu, they'll have to make a decision on whether to extend his contract or not. Common thinking is that the White Sox will be ready to compete come 2020, when many of their top prospects will be ready for the major leagues. With Abreu set to become a free agent after the 2019 season, keeping him for the long haul will mean another decision for the White Sox.
And so for this week, perhaps a decision on Abreu will come. Rosenthal’s report suggested that teams like the Red Sox were perhaps turned off by the White Sox asking price. There are also several intriguing free-agent options for teams looking for a big bat at first base. But Abreu might also interest teams that missed out on the offseason’s top two targets, Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton, potentially rekindling the possibility of an Abreu deal.
Also, should the White Sox keep Abreu this winter, it does not precludes them from dealing him at the 2018 trade deadline, next offseason or at the trade deadline in 2019 — and all the above arguments for and against dealing him will still apply at those times, too.
Hahn has shown he’s not afraid to deal away his team’s best player for the right return package. Abreu’s situation gives his general manager another advantage, too: options. So it will be interesting to see what Hahn has to say down in Florida.
2. White Sox trade Avisail Garcia
Much like Abreu, Garcia, the team's other best offensive player in 2017, has been speculated about as a potential trade candidate. Garcia is significantly younger than Abreu — he'll turn 27 next summer — and it's taken him a while to reach big league success: He made his major league debut way back in 2012.
But Garcia finally had a big season last year, slashing .330/.380/.506 with 18 homers and 80 RBIs. He made his first career All-Star appearance. He was second in the American League in batting average and sixth in on-base percentage. It's that breakthrough that has placed his name into trade speculation for the rebuilding White Sox, the idea being that the team could sell high and acquire minor league talent that would extend their contention window even further into the future.
Like Abreu, Garcia is under team control for two more seasons. Like Abreu, he had a great 2017 season. Unlike Abreu, he's still a young player. Unlike Abreu, he doesn't have a track record of consistency. All that thrown together could mean that a return package for Garcia wouldn't be as impactful as one for Abreu, and that could impact the likelihood of a deal.
But like the decision the White Sox need to make with Abreu, there's a decision that needs to be made with Garcia: Is he a part of the team's long-term future or not? If he is, then holding onto him — and extending his contract into that period of projected contention — makes a lot of sense. If not, the White Sox would certainly like to get something for a guy they don't envision having past 2019. And that's where a trade would come in. Does that mean this week? It remains to be seen.
3. White Sox make some more surprise signings
Hahn surprised at the beginning of the month by signing Welington Castillo to a two-year deal with a club option for a third. It's not that Castillo is an earth-shattering free-agent acquisition, but it's an interesting one considering where the White Sox are in their rebuild.
Castillo is a veteran backstop coming off a career year offensively and defensively. And while there's little doubt Castillo is an upgrade over the quietly productive catching tandem of Omar Narvaez and Kevan Smith, the move still came as a bit of a shock considering it looks like more of a win-now type addition.
Castillo has plenty of value to the White Sox over the next few seasons as a veteran who can help bring along a young-and-getting-younger starting staff, a productive hitter at the catching position, a bridge to the supposed catcher of the future, Zack Collins, and a potential trade chip to add another piece down the road. But Castillo, who just completed his age-30 season, could certainly be of value when the White Sox contention window opens, too, even as the potential starting catcher.
So, signing Castillo brings up the question of when that window opens. Moncada, Giolito and Lopez are already on the big league roster, and guys like Kopech, Eloy Jimenez, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning might not be too far behind. If the White Sox see the rapid progression of its stockpile of minor league talent and thinks that maybe this rebuild will reach its apex sooner than expected, could more signings like Castillo's be in the future? The near future? This week?