White Sox

After Jose Abreu says 'I would like to stay here forever,' Rick Hahn unsure what path White Sox will take

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USA TODAY

After Jose Abreu says 'I would like to stay here forever,' Rick Hahn unsure what path White Sox will take

If Jose Abreu were in charge of the White Sox rebuild, he’d write his name in the heart of the 2020 batting order, and he’d do it in pen.

“I would like to stay here forever,” Abreu said before the White Sox played their final home game of the season Thursday night. “I would like to play with this team my whole career. But it is a business, and we have to accept and respect what’s in the future. I would like to stay here forever.”

Abreu hasn’t been shy about expressing his desire to be with the White Sox for the remainder of his career, and that’s an outcome that could still very well happen. But as the franchise enters a new phase of its rebuild — one moving on from the glitzy acquisitions of highly touted prospects and moving toward waiting for those players to develop into major league stars — there’s a big question mark surrounding the future of the team’s best hitter.

Abreu is under team control for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, but during his end-of-season press conference Thursday, general manager Rick Hahn seemed to have 2020 circled as the year his rebuilding White Sox begin competing for championships. Will Abreu be on that White Sox team?

The arguments for keeping Abreu past his contract’s expiration date are strong ones. He’s absolutely raked in his four seasons in the big leagues, posting four straight campaigns of 25 home runs and 100 RBIs. Plus, he’s become incredibly valuable to the team off the field, acting as a role model and mentor to the organization’s young Spanish-speaking players. And as his English improves, he’s assuming that role for all the team’s young players.

“(His off-the-field contributions bring) a lot of value, especially in the place in which we're at right now,” manager Rick Renteria said Thursday. “We find ourselves with a lot of young players that are just coming into the major league level. There is a learning curve about what they’re capable of doing between the lines, but then you have someone who’s been here now for four years, who’s maintained a really consistent working routine and has still continued to improve. I mean, this year might be one of his better years of his four years. … Offensively, he's been consistent as you can possibly be. Defensively, he took another step forward, a huge step forward.

“I think during ballgames, on top of that, when there’s a little action going on and they have to talk about something when they go to the meetings at the mound, he’s in there. He is initiating some of those talks. It’s really big to have those guys see someone take something seriously, still be relaxed, he’s also coming into his own himself. He’s becoming more and more relaxed as time goes on.”

But while the positives are many, there are understandable reasons the team might not want to keep a guy who’s been fantastic since putting on the uniform.

First off, Abreu turns 31 in January, and that means his age differs dramatically from that of all the other guys who project to be a part of that 2020 lineup. Abreu’s big league prime might not align with the White Sox championship window.

With that comes the possibility that the franchise could better position itself by moving Abreu in a trade, be it this offseason or next season or the offseason after that or the season after that. Hahn pulled the trigger on deals involving Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, younger guys who could have conceivably been a part of the team’s long-term future. But by moving them, he acquired minor league talent that could keep that championship window open longer.

And so while Hahn didn’t commit to any one direction involving Abreu — and Avisail Garcia, the younger hitter who’s also having a career year and is also under team control for the next two seasons — he laid out the exact situation, a tricky one but one that gives the White Sox options moving forward.

“Both Avi and Abreu are under control for the next two years, through 2019. I think even under the most optimistic projections of our ability to contend, certainly ’18 and ’19 don’t include the bulk of the time when we anticipate having a window open to us,” Hahn said. “So obviously with any player who isn’t controllable through the bulk of that window, we have to make an assessment.

“Is it in our best interest to extend that player, so they’re controllable through that period of time, or do we need to, as we did with other similar extremely talented and very valuable players in the game, explore the trade market and see if we’re more better served moving them in exchange for players who would be under control for that extended window of time we project to have for ourselves?

“They’re both special cases, and there are very strong arguments for them playing roles in 2020 and beyond. Abreu, obviously you can’t say enough about the season he had on the field, but his importance in the role he plays in our clubhouse. Avi is still very young in this game at age 26 and has had his breakout season, and you would have reason to believe that kind of performance is going to become the norm for him going forward. And those are considerations as we make that assessment. Are we better served trying to control these players through the bulk of what we project to be our window, or are we better served as an organization doing what we had to do with Chris, Adam (Eaton), Jose and others?”

You might read it as Hahn refusing to make a public commitment. Or you could read it is a question that doesn’t have one solid answer.

“What I tried to do is lay out the question at hand and the issue at hand, and we have to as a front office make that decision,” Hahn said. “And frankly, on both players, those decisions don’t have to be made this offseason. They’re both controllable through 2019. We have the luxury if we want to play it out another year, play it out another half a year to see if the performance continues, see if the trade market changes. As was the case when we sat here with Quintana a year ago. Yes, he was potentially a trade candidate, but the market didn’t respond the way we had anticipated, so we had to wait. It’s not me just dancing around or being cute. There isn’t a firm answer right now. We don’t know what the options are. One of them conceivably is extending, and we have to wait and see what that cost entails.”

The rebuilding White Sox are blessed with time if nothing else, which means Hahn doesn’t have to make these decisions right away. But at the same time, building a contender for 2020 takes on a much different shape depending on whether Abreu and Garcia are parts of that team.

While it’s unknown how many of the organization’s highly ranked prospects will end up panning out as major league stars, one of the rebuild’s largest remaining questions is what Hahn will do with his team’s best known quantity.

There’s just no telling when an answer will come or what answer that will be.

We do know, though, what Abreu wants: For your No. 79 White Sox jersey to remain relevant forever.

Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Nothing seems to be off the table for the White Sox this winter.

But certain moves might be the centerpiece, while others might be hiding behind the salt shaker.

One of the biggest questions in baseball right now is what the Boston Red Sox are going to do with Mookie Betts. With the Red Sox aiming to get under the luxury tax — made more difficult when J.D. Martinez opted to stay in Boston for $23.75 million — speculation surrounding a trade of Betts and the $27.7 million he’s projected to receive through arbitration has increased.

Betts, too, it’s important to note, has just one year of club control remaining, and he seems set on heading to free agency at this time a year from now.

The White Sox hole in right field and quest to make a huge addition to their rebuilding project lines them up as a potentially interested party. While general manager Rick Hahn is waiting until his 2020 roster takes shape to set expectations for next season, the emergence of a young core presents the possibility that next season could be the one in which contention arrives on the South Side.

Adding Betts to the mix would certainly increase those chances.

Tuesday, Hahn seemed to leave the door open to acquiring a player like Betts, that is a player with just one year of club control remaining.

“Yeah, depending on the cost. It all comes down to price,” he said. “Like everybody, you want guys who are going to fit for the long term. We want to add a guy who's got a three-, four-, five-, six-year window of control where he's going to continue to improve and he's going to grow with this young core. Those guys aren't so easy to acquire. Usually you have to give a pretty premium piece like we did to get ours, or hit on them at the top of the draft like we've hopefully done.

“Short of that, we're going to look for guys who can certainly make you better in the short term but ideally have a little back-end control. If those don't exist, if we don't come across the right fit, then we'd be open to a one-year improvement knowing that with where we've put ourselves economically, we might have the ability to retain that player when they hit free agency.”

That sounds promising if you’re a member of the Betts-to-the-White Sox camp.

But there was a decidedly different tone Wednesday. Now, Hahn was never speaking about Betts specifically, nor was he ever asked about Betts specifically. But asked about dealing from a position of prospect strength for an impact talent who has just one year of club control left, the answer was significantly different than Tuesday’s.

“We made a commitment,” Hahn said, “that once we got ourselves in a position to be on the opposite end of these trades, the trades where you were giving up talent for short-term gain, that it was going to be important to us to still try to remain committed to the long term.

“When there's a guy like Chris Sale available, who (in 2016, when the White Sox traded him) had multiple years of control and you're ready to win, making that push makes all the sense in the world. If you're talking about a guy on a one-year basis, we're not to that point yet, and if we do get to that point, that's going to be a tough trigger to pull because we're trying to build something sustainable for an extended period of time.

“Quick hits don't necessarily do that. And certainly after three years of rebuilding, we've gotten ourselves in a very good position, but not in one where we're going to do something for immediate bang in 2020, necessarily, if we feel it compromises us for the long term.

“We've paid too big of a price to compromise where we're going to be at long term.”

Now, with that question posed by a Boston-based reporter, Hahn might have been addressing a more specific scenario. More likely is that he was reacting to the idea that the White Sox top-rated prospects would make them able to swing a deal for the elite of the elite. Thing is, the highest rated of those prospects aren’t really on the block, with Michael Kopech, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn all solidly part of the team’s long-term plans.

So, is a Betts trade off the table? No. Is a Betts trade likely? Probably not. Would the White Sox trade for Betts? Probably if they only had to give up mid-tier prospects. What would it take to pry Betts away from the Red Sox? Probably more than mid-tier prospects.

Despite the seemingly contradictory nature of Hahn’s comments on Tuesday and Wednesday, he didn’t really flip-flop. A trade for one year of Betts isn’t out of the question, it's likely only going to come if the White Sox don’t have to give up too much. Maybe the Red Sox financial situation is dire enough that the prospect cost will be unusually low. Maybe the White Sox are presented with a rare opportunity to negotiate an extension.

But “depending on the cost” remains the key phrase not just in this situation but the entire White Sox offseason. That doesn’t mean they won’t spend or trade anyone. It simply means that they will only do so if there’s a long-term benefit. They’re trying to build a perennial contender, and the lengthy tenures of Robert and Madrigal and Vaughn are more valuable than one year of Betts.

In search of that long-term benefit, then, the free-agent market or a trade for a player with greater club control certainly seems a more likely route than a trade for Betts.

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A free-agent destination? Scott Boras: 'Players look at the White Sox in a very different way than they did two years ago'

A free-agent destination? Scott Boras: 'Players look at the White Sox in a very different way than they did two years ago'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox certainly believe themselves to be a destination for the game’s top free agents.

What do those free agents think, though?

Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Nicholas Castellanos will likely stay silent on that and all other matters until they’re introduced as members of their new teams.

Their agent, Scott Boras, is not exactly the staying-silent type.

Boras spoke to the typical throng of reporters Wednesday at the GM meetings, doing his job as an advocate for a game in which more teams are handing out bigger contracts and the players see a bigger share of the pie. But, as is tradition, he was peppered with questions about individual teams and their attractiveness to his clients.

And that included the White Sox, who have quite a bit on their shopping list this winter. So, Scott, are they the destination Rick Hahn claims they are?

“They have a lot of great young talent,” he said. “It’s a great city. Certainly players look at the White Sox in a very different way than they did two years ago, no question.”

It’d be hard not to. At this time two years ago, the White Sox were coming off a 95-loss season, with a 100-loss season to follow. But in 2019, despite the loss total still arriving at a nothing-to-be-proud-of 89, we learned the White Sox have an exciting young core thanks to several players breaking out with big performances. Two years ago, Tim Anderson wasn’t a batting champ, Yoan Moncada wasn’t the best all-around player on the team, Lucas Giolito wasn’t an All Star and Eloy Jimenez wasn’t a 31-homer rookie.

Everyone should look at the White Sox in a very different way than they did two years ago, free agents included.

Boras' words do little to actually indicate whether the White Sox will have a strong chance at reeling in one of the biggest fish in this winter's free-agent pond. But between the White Sox stated aggressiveness in pursuing premium talent and the idea that talent might be looking at the White Sox as a destination, that's good news for Hahn's front office and the goal of landing a top player.

There was more from Boras, though his other White Sox-related comments came off more as lobbying the South Siders to hand out deals to free agents. Still, it doesn’t make him wrong.

“Well certainly the White Sox need veteran players, because they have such great young players, and you're trying to create that mix all the time,” he said. “So I readily foresee there's a lot of fits that could go in there and really advance what they've built to date.

“I think veteran players, particularly who have won before, can come into a locker room, bring a credibility where players can go to them and say, organically, ‘How does this happen? Are we that close? How far away are we? What do we do? What do I do?’

“And when you've been around world champions, when they speak, the athletes have a high level of credibility for what they have to say because they've done it, they've been through it.”

But Boras’ biggest talking point about the White Sox is actually the same as Hahn’s. The general manager has voiced for months now that his team’s top selling point isn’t the financial flexibility that will allow them to hand out a massive contract — though certainly that will help — but the opportunity to play winning baseball with this group of talented players.

“We are a logical destination for premium talent,” Hahn said Tuesday. “Players want to come play for us, play for the White Sox, play on the South Side, play for (manager Rick Renteria) and be part of what we're building. And if last year we announced that perhaps a little too loudly, it was in part a response to the general narrative that we weren't legitimate players for such talent.

“I think the message has already been delivered that we are a true destination for such talent, and now it's incumbent upon us to convert on some along the way.”

Hahn added more on the topic Wednesday.

“It's a combination, not just while we're here but over the course of the season, hearing from some guys in our clubhouse who have heard from other players around the league about what we've been building and what the future looks like, and then having that reinforced in these early conversations with some free agents.

“The agents will certainly tell you nice things along the way, but when you hear it directly from some of the players, ‘I see what you guys have been doing, I see where the future is headed there and it's exciting,’ it's some positive reinforcement.

“Now, in the end, dollars and contract terms tend to carry a little more weight. But at the very least, it's good to hear that people are excited by the prospect of being part of what we're building.”

Hahn’s right, in the end, the money will likely do the majority of the talking, and it’s up to his front office to do away with what he calls a “false narrative” that the White Sox are unwilling or unable to spend on the highest-priced free agents.

But there’s also the old cliche that winning cures all ills. This team showing it’s ready to compete for a title with its performance on the field could play a big role in top talent picking the South Side as a landing spot.

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