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."
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