SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — What exactly will the White Sox do this offseason? If you have access to some truth serum, you’ve got a decent shot at finding out.
Despite the seemingly public nature of the White Sox pursuit of Manny Machado last winter, Rick Hahn doesn’t really talk about specific targets. So there was no word from the general manager Tuesday on whether there actually exist attempts to lure Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg or your heretofore unnamed favorite free agent to the South Side.
But there was one big takeaway from Hahn’s roughly 45-minute session with reporters at the GM meetings: No move is off the table for the White Sox this winter.
We’ve long analyzed whether Player X fits better than Player Y, whether the White Sox are looking for a long-term piece or should be targeting short-term pieces, whether it makes any sense to pursue a player who plays a position the White Sox already have spoken for, et cetera, et cetera.
Well forget about all those disclaimers. There seems to be no door Hahn’s front office is going to close in the name of improving this team.
Just go down the list of potential additions the White Sox could make this winter, and you’ll see what I mean.
Short-term additions are on the table
Are the White Sox, who have long touted the importance of long-term fits, still shying away from shorter-term additions? No. Long-term additions are better, but …
“We're getting closer to the point where it makes more sense to have one- or two-year fixes in place. Ideally, we want to find a way to add to the core, guys that are going to be here for a long time and continue to grow with what we've already accumulated. In reality, that's a little easier said than done, so some of the improvements may come on a shorter-term basis.
“Yeah, we've gotten to that point where it does make some sense to add a couple of those types.”
Older veterans who haven’t always seemed like the best fit for a young, rebuilding team? Now that the White Sox are nearing their transition from rebuilding to contending, those guys become realistic options. On the table.
A trade for a player with one year of control (like Mookie Betts) is on the table
Would the White Sox trade for a player with just one season of club control remaining on his contract? Yes. Guys with more control are better, but …
“You want guys who are going to fit for the long-term,” Hahn said. “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.
“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.”
Interesting, considering the Boston Red Sox might be dealing away Mookie Betts in their quest to get under the luxury tax. Betts seems set on heading to free agency after next season, meaning whichever team acquires him would only be doing so for one year. But the White Sox could use a player of that caliber in their lineup and a player of that caliber in right field. Sounds like they wouldn’t exactly lack confidence in their ability to make his stay last more than just one year, either. On the table.
A right fielder who plays suboptimal defense (like Nicholas Castellanos) is on the table
Speaking of right field, just how important the White Sox add a right fielder who can play some defense? Very. But …
“It’s a legitimate consideration. We don't want to send somebody out there and it's going to, you know, tax our center fielder too much or tax the pitchers too much by not making plays,” Hahn said. “So it's a legitimate consideration.
“I pause half a step because we have discussed some pretty good offensive contributors who might not quite be up to snuff to what you want defensively that conceivably at some point in the offseason we wind up saying, ‘They're the best option, so let's move on it.’ So I don't want to just say it's the end all be all.”
Interesting, considering that the top outfielder on the free-agent market fits the description of someone who swings a difference-making bat but might not be “up to snuff” defensively. Castellanos’ offense is not a question, and while his defense is probably not as bad as his reputation would lead you to believe, the reputation exists for a reason. Putting him in the same outfield with work-in-progress Eloy Jimenez would be less than ideal. But putting their bats in the same lineup might be too much to pass up. On the table.
A professional DH (like Edwin Encarnacion) is on the table
When adding a designated hitter, do the White Sox want someone who has plenty of DH-ing experience and could DH on an everyday basis? No. But …
“We're not eager to get locked in with someone positionally who can only DH,” Hahn said. “I think having a guy who can fill that role but also go out and play a defensive position would be a net greater benefit. We're talking about generic, hypothetical players.
“If you're talking about a guy Nelson Cruz, yeah, you're OK with that guy just being a DH. If you're talking about lower caliber guy than that, then maybe you want them to add some defensive value, as well, to move them around the diamond and get other guys off their feet from time to time.”
Ideally, the White Sox would like some versatility. It’d be nice to have a Cruz-esque thumper at DH, too. One of those exists on the free-agent market in Edwin Encarnacion. On the table.
A player who plays position the White Sox already have (like Anthony Rendon) is on the table
And what about Rendon? He’s the top position player on the free-agent market. He also plays third base, the same position Yoan Moncada does. Moncada had himself a terrific year playing third for the White Sox. Would they change his position for a second straight season? They don’t want to. But …
“In terms of moving Yoan, that's not a goal. We're not looking to move him,” Hahn said. “We think he's a really, really good third baseman and will be that for a long time.
“When we have players with flexibility and athleticism, you at least consider different permutations. We wouldn't be doing our job if there was a way for us to get better that we just ruled out because we have set at a certain spot.”
Interesting. Rendon seems like the type of player you rearrange your defense for. He’s one of the best hitters in the game and would accomplish the White Sox goal of adding a premium talent to their rebuilding project. Moncada’s versatility could play a big role in that. On the table.
Top-of-the-rotation pitchers (like Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg) are on the table
What kind of starting pitchers are the White Sox looking for this winter? Top-of-the-rotation guys or middle-of-the-rotation guys?
“We have room for improvement in both spots,” Hahn said. “We'll continue the trade and free-agent market for all different types of starters, and any ones that we feel are going to make us better both short- and potentially long-term, we'll be in on.”
That’s extraordinarily all-encompassing, but instead of viewing it as the White Sox not saying much, view it as there being many different possibilities. Cole and Strasburg fit the mold of top-of-the-rotation arms, as do fellow free agents Madison Bumgarner and Dallas Keuchel. Zack Wheeler and Jake Odorizzi might be more of the middle-of-the-rotation types. All of them and more are on the table.
That’s a breakneck assessment of the situations, but the takeaway remains: No move appears to be off the table for the White Sox in this stage of the offseason, and that ought to have folks looking for big splashes at every turn pretty excited.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The time for talk is over.
So of course, Rick Hahn spent 45 minutes talking about the White Sox approach to this important offseason Tuesday afternoon at the GM meetings.
His message, among others, had to do with all the talk that goes on this time of year and that no one really cares about it. Certainly that’s the way things seem to be playing out in the White Sox fan base. After last offseason, when there was a new update every couple of minutes on where Manny Machado was leaning in his free-agent search for a new home, White Sox fans are understandably a little tired of that process.
So forget the process. Bring on the results.
“It's my experience that people aren't too interested in hearing about the labor, they want to see the baby,” Hahn said. “So if we wind up converting on any of these potential free-agent targets or via trade, then we will happily go into great detail about how it came to be. But until we have an actual closed deal to talk about, not too much to say along those lines.”
Of course, the White Sox opting not to discuss their individual free-agent pursuits and fans getting tired of hearing about them via one report after another isn’t going to stop the avalanche of rumors that will slide through the next few months. It’s speculation season, after all, and that’s how the hot stove rolls.
And on cue, there were the White Sox, linked to Anthony Rendon and Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg and Zack Wheeler in early free-agent rumors. Yasmani Grandal and Nicholas Castellanos and Madison Bumgarner all seem like fits, so why not discuss?
But there’s a valid argument to be made that none of that matters. What matters is that the White Sox get one of them, any of them. Call it the scar that healed over the wound from last spring, when Machado picked a decade-long deal with the San Diego Padres. The White Sox, meanwhile, got a pretty crummy consolation prize: more fuel added to a difficult-to-shake reputation that they’re unwilling or unable to land the game’s biggest names.
While the Machado result still colors the fan base’s thoughts on everything, it hasn’t changed the thinking inside the White Sox front office. They plan to remain aggressive and remain adamant that the South Side is an enticing destination.
And don’t worry, Hahn knows it’s on him to prove it.
“We've shown a willingness to be aggressive at the top of the market,” he said. “No, it didn't work (with Machado), and yes, that hurt. But that certainly isn't going to change our approach in trying to attract premium talent to the ball club. That's not going to change.
“Part of what we were trying to do and what we were trying to make clear was that the eye level has changed around here, meaning that we are a logical destination for premium talent. 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.”
As long as they’ve been rebuilding, the White Sox have had plans to add some of that premium talent from outside the organization, to complement an exciting young core with the kind of “finishing piece” that would get them over the top.
Fans are clamoring to finally get to celebrate such an addition, and it’s making for a high bar to clear. An offseason “win” is hard to pin down, but there’s no shortage of suggestions that the White Sox winter will be a bust without multiple top free agents joining the fold.
Hahn doesn’t really care about winning the offseason.
“We've won the offseason before. We've taken home the offseason championship belt a few times. So it really doesn't do a whole lot of good if those guys don’t perform in July,” he said. “We want people to be excited, just as they were in previous offseasons where we added some names, where people were really fired up at SoxFest, the expectations were high. That's great. Hopefully that happens again this winter.
“In reality, none of that matters come September if we're not in the thick of things.”
That’s the truth. But the White Sox won’t be able to do either — win the offseason or win the World Series — without converting on some kind of target somewhere along the line. Once they do, it can really start to be winning time on the South Side.
Wisely, Hahn has shied away from setting any expectations for 2020 until he knows what his roster looks like. Renteria and his players inside the White Sox clubhouse have been a little less cautious. But neither party is wrong. The White Sox have the possibility to be a contender next season. They also have the possibility to be in a more wait-and-see state come spring training.
We won’t know which is more likely until the front office starts popping out babies.
"Certainly the goal is (to win in 2020). But let's wait to see what we're able to put together this offseason until we start coming up with projected win totals,” Hahn said. “But we're certainly not ruling out the possibility that this all comes together in a big way next season."