A certain segment of White Sox fans were wishing for a Chris Sale homecoming. It looks like those wishes will not be coming true.
Sale, who just won a World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox, is reportedly the latest to jump aboard the extension bandwagon, joining huge names like Mike Trout, Alex Bregman, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and more who are taking themselves off future free-agent markets and re-upping with their current teams for long terms and big dollars.
Given the current state of free agency — yeah, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper cashed in big, but other great players like Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel remain jobless just a week away from Opening Day — and the looming uncertainty surrounding the collective-bargaining agreement, these extensions make plenty of sense. Even if the goal for every player always seemed to be getting rewarded with a huge free-agent payday, that seems to be changing, and that's changing things for the White Sox.
It might have never seemed that a Sale reunion on the South Side was very likely, even if some fans wanted one of the best pitchers in franchise history to return. Sale had multiple, highly publicized beefs with members of the organization during the 2016 season, including anger over the Drake LaRoche situation and the infamous jersey-cutting incident.
But Sale is just the latest player to remove himself from what figures to be an important round of free agency for the White Sox next winter. Arenado, Sale, Goldschmidt, Aaron Hicks and Miles Mikolas all looked to be part of a loaded free-agent class. Trout was supposed to headline the group of available players following the 2020 campaign. Now, none will be available for the White Sox, who will be looking to add impact talent from outside the organization to a team planned to be transitioning from rebuilding to contending. And other players could follow suit. Anthony Rendon has been mentioned as a possible extension candidate. J.D. Martinez could decide not to opt out of his current deal. And considering how surprising some of these extensions have been, particularly Trout's, these could seemingly come at any time and dramatically shake things up months ahead of the offseason.
Again, while Sale specifically might not have been a White Sox target — same, potentially, for the likes of Trout and others — this trend is altering the landscape on a daily basis. Next winter's free-agent class seemed a safety net of sorts after the White Sox missed out on Machado and Harper this offseason, a shining example of the remaining opportunities Rick Hahn's front office has to add big-time talent from outside the organization. Those opportunities have undoubtedly diminished in recent days and weeks.
They haven't been completely eliminated, of course, and that free-agent class could still feature big names like Rendon, Martinez, Gerrit Cole, Xander Bogaerts, Justin Verlander, Madison Bumgarner, Josh Donaldson, Yasmani Grandal, Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna and more. Plus, there's the ever-present trade market, which the White Sox could be in a unique position to take advantage of thanks to their loaded farm system.
And the White Sox, too, are reportedly a part of this trend. They're supposedly close to finishing off a new deal with top-rated prospect Eloy Jimenez, one that could keep him on the South Side for the next eight seasons.
But for a team still likely to be searching for help via the free-agent market over the next two offseasons, some of the biggest potential additions are taking themselves off the market. That limits the opportunities for Hahn's front office, and it might force the White Sox down some previously less-considered paths in an effort to finish off the rebuild.
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