White Sox

What Rick Hahn and the White Sox are thinking as avalanche of rumors links them to Manny Machado

What Rick Hahn and the White Sox are thinking as avalanche of rumors links them to Manny Machado

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Rick Hahn is not commenting on the avalanche of trade rumors linking the White Sox to Manny Machado, the flurry of reports that have thrown the final day of the Winter Meetings into complete madness.

Supposedly a bunch of teams have contacted the Baltimore Orioles about their superstar third baseman, but according to a report from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, no team’s offer has been as good as the White Sox.

Hahn, speaking in his final media session of the Meetings, refused to comment on the reports — and he should not have been expected to. But what the White Sox general manager did do was repeat his team’s dedication to its rebuilding effort, one that’s come a long way in just a year thanks to a massive influx of minor league talent.

“Obviously you guys know me, know us well enough to know I’m not going to comment on any individual trade rumors or anything specific to conversations that we may or may not be having,” Hahn said. “However you also know us well enough to know everything we have done over the last year-plus has been aimed at putting us in the best position for the long term. Nothing has changed in terms of what we are trying to accomplish.

“We are not looking to make any sort of move that’s aimed at simply jumping up and perhaps contending for a wild card or maybe even the division for one year. The focus remains on the long term.

“Now we may take some calculated risks along the way. We repeatedly said we are going to be opportunistic in this market and explore opportunities to make us better. However the goal again remains putting us in the best position for the long term. Nothing in the last few days or the last year-plus has been done with the intention of deviating from that long-term vision.

“We’re very interested in adding premium young talent to what we’ve already built, but at the same time we’re not going to rob Peter to pay Paul, if that makes sense,” Hahn said later in the session. “We know that we are in a position right now and are headed towards a bright future, and we want to make moves that are going to enhance that, not necessarily take away from it.”

Now that sounds like a pretty forceful denunciation of the high-risk notion of trading multiple of those highly touted prospects for Machado, who has just one year left on his contract before becoming a headlining member of the bonkers 2019 free-agent class. According to reports, there will be no negotiating window in any potential trade, meaning Machado will be just a one-year player for whichever team acquires him as he plans on hitting the market next winter.

The names of big-time pitching prospects Michael Kopech and Lucas Giolito were mentioned in a report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, and it's been reported the Orioles are seeking two young, controllable pitchers. To see the White Sox deal away either of those arms — plus any other members of the “championship team of the future” that would be needed to create a return package — for a player who would not be guaranteed to be under contract past the 2018 season would be to see the White Sox pull an about face in their stated goals: to methodically build a team that contends far into the future.

But the lure of a proven player like Machado is understandably strong. At the young age of 25, he’s already made three All-Star teams, won a pair of Gold Gloves and finished in the top 10 in American League MVP voting three times. He’s a slick defender — who reportedly wants to move to shortstop — and has a great bat, with a combined 105 home runs in the past three seasons.

If the White Sox were somehow able to convince Machado to sign a contract extension rather than search for a monstrous deal on the open market, that would be quite the player to build a team around.

And, while Hahn keeps saying he wants to acquire as much young talent as possible — a descriptor, by the way, that does not exclude Machado — having so many highly rated players in the system allows Hahn’s front office to make some decisions based on that depth, especially when some of it is still a few years from making an impact at the big league level.

“We are every interested in premium young talent that can be here for the long term,” Hahn said. “That hasn’t changed. Whether that’s prospect-level talent you’ve seen us accumulate over the last year, or young players that are already in the big leagues, but again the focus remains on putting ourselves in the best position for the long term. Nothing has changed in that regard.”

Hahn also said that flexibility extends not just to trades but to free-agent spending. If the White Sox truly covet Machado as much as their fan base does, they could wait 2018 out and make a run at him next offseason — no matter how expensive that might be.

“Certainly if a high percentage of the players we have internally are able to contribute to a championship club in Chicago,” he said, “it should be fairly cost effective from a payroll standpoint which would allow us some freedom to be more aggressive on spending either on higher-price players via trade or in free agency.”

A problem, though, with committing resources — both in prospect capital and actual money — to a player like Machado is the fact that there is still to development that needs to happen for some of those minor leaguers that have fans so excited for the future. Without knowing exactly where the holes will be a few years down the road, it’s perhaps difficult to make such an impactful decision with one player.

“That’s exactly what the balancing act is at this time,” Hahn said. “I think as time passes that will become a little bit easier once we know a little bit more about the pace and the likelihood of hitting the ceiling of many of our young players. At this point there’s a still a bit of projection on guys who are in A-ball. As they advance up the ladder, we’ll know more. As for how do we balance that at this time, that's a risk-reward analysis. And again, we’re going to be opportunistic, we’re going to take some calculated risks along the way in order to further this thing, but every move we make along those lines is going to be aimed at the long term.”

And so in the end, Hahn did what any baseball executive should be doing at this time of year: He left all the doors open. At first he painted a picture of a team waiting on its prospects to develop, a team whole-heartedly dedicated to its long-term vision of a homegrown champion. But he made it clear that there were ways the White Sox could surprise without deviating from that plan. As much as trading away these recently acquired minor leaguers seems to be counterintuitive to that vision, Machado’s age and proven capabilities have the potential not to weaken the rebuild but to strengthen it.

You can call it dancing around a question or talking out of both sides of your mouth, but the White Sox have made themselves flexible over the past year. That was a theme of the Jose Abreu trade speculation at the beginning of this week’s activities, and it remains a theme of the most recent barrage of Machado-related craziness.

The White Sox are dedicated to long-term success. As for how they get there, though, well the options are open.

“I think the moves over the past year-plus reinforced our words and have put us in a position to have a very bright future,” Hahn said. “When it comes time to add to what we’ve accumulated or continue this process it’s going to be with the vision of putting ourselves in the position to contend for multiple championships. In the end that’s what’s going to be more important: the ability to win championships.”

Volstad, Santiago show capability as rotation alternatives, but White Sox still have starting-pitching mystery this weekend

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USA TODAY

Volstad, Santiago show capability as rotation alternatives, but White Sox still have starting-pitching mystery this weekend

Chris Volstad and Hector Santiago combined for one of the best outings by a White Sox starting pitcher this season.

These weren’t the names anyone expected to fit that description when the season began. But with struggles all around from James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, here the White Sox sit as they approach the one-month mark of the 2018 campaign.

Reynaldo Lopez has been excellent, no doubt about it, and Fulmer has turned in a couple nice outings, including in Monday’s win over the visiting Seattle Mariners. But against that same M’s lineup Tuesday afternoon, Volstad — who lasted 4.1 innings in a 1-0 loss — became the first White Sox starter this season not to issue a walk.

It was an important outing for Volstad, as well as for Santiago, who followed him up with 3.1 shutout innings of his own. The duo showed they’re both capable of serving as reliable fill-ins in a White Sox rotation that got a hole punched in it Monday, when Gonzalez went to the disabled list.

Shields, Giolito, Lopez, Fulmer. Those guys aren’t going anywhere. But should Gonzalez remain on the DL for an extended period of time, it doesn’t seem as if the White Sox need to be searching for options.

“Volstad and Hector both did a nice job. I thought they gave us plenty of outs, they gave us plenty of opportunity,” manager Rick Renteria said after Tuesday’s game.

But that doesn’t mean the South Siders are out of the starting-pitching woods for the remainder of this week. Shields will go in Wednesday’s finale with the Mariners. Giolito and Lopez are set to pitch in the first two games of a five-game road series against the Kansas City Royals on Thursday and Friday, respectively.

But Saturday presents a mystery, one that doesn’t seem to have an easy answer.

Thanks to that opening-weekend snow-out, there’s a doubleheader Saturday, and while Fulmer is in line to start one of those games, who will start the other? The White Sox will get a 26th man for that day, and that spot is typically given to a spot starter brought up from Triple-A. But given the White Sox current situation on the 40-man roster, there aren’t many options, meaning a player might need to be outrighted in order to make room for a spot starter.

Let’s get this out of the way first: It seems unlikely that Michael Kopech will make his major league debut in a spot start during an April doubleheader in Kansas City. Yes, Kopech has been good in his three starts with Charlotte, sporting a 2.40 ERA with 21 strikeouts. But he’s got just six total starts at the Triple-A level, and the White Sox have made it abundantly clear throughout the last several months that the necessities of the big league team during this rebuilding season and Kopech’s readiness for the majors are independent of one another.

It makes no sense to potentially cut short Kopech’s development at the Triple-A level because the big league rotation needs a spot starter.

The options, however, are limited.

Of the seven players who have started games for the Knights this season, two are on the big league roster right now (Volstad and Chris Beck), one is Kopech and one has a 9.75 ERA (T.J. House). One is on the 40-man roster, Ricardo Pinto, who made his first start at Charlotte on Tuesday. Pinto, though, would be on short rest Saturday.

The other two are Dylan Covey, who turned in a 7.71 ERA with the White Sox last season, and Donn Roach, who has made two career major league starts, most recently giving up four runs in 3.1 innings in a spot start for the Cubs in 2015. Covey and Roach have 2.95 and 1.88 ERAs at Charlotte, respectively. But the White Sox would need to make room on the 40-man roster to bring either up, even just for a day.

While it would be on “short rest,” perhaps the most logical option is just to start Volstad or Santiago on Saturday and start the other on Sunday. Tuesday, Volstad threw 66 pitches and Santiago threw 59 pitches, neither total approaching the qualification of a heavy workload, especially considering both veterans have plenty of starting experience under their belts.

Renteria talked about how well it worked using both guys in tandem Tuesday, but he might have to split them up to staff his rotation this weekend. It would also eliminate the need to remove someone from the 40-man roster. The White Sox could just bring up another bullpen arm as the 26th man, someone like Juan Minaya, who was on the Opening Day roster.

Renteria has already shown willingness to use his pitchers outside of the traditional “every fifth day” strategy. Shields and Fulmer both pitched in back-to-back games just last week. And Fulmer’s turn was moved up when Gonzalez went on the DL, pressing him into his third appearance in six days Monday.

The mystery likely won’t be solved, at least publicly, anytime soon. We’ll likely have to wait a few days to know for sure. Until then, it’s a guessing game.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Trayce Thompson - 'This is home'

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Trayce Thompson - 'This is home'

Drafted by the White Sox in 2009, Trayce Thompson never wanted to play for another team but the White Sox. 

All that changed in 2015 when he was dealt to the Dodgers in the Todd Frazier trade. Now back with the White Sox, Thompson talks with Chuck Garfien about the trials and tribulations of the last few years, the whirlwind of being on 4 teams in the last 4 weeks, how the White Sox threw him a lifeline bringing him back, how he wants to make the best of this new opportunity and more. 

Take a listen here or in the embedded player below.