SAN DIEGO — This is not what White Sox fans wanted to hear during what was supposed to be an aggressive offseason.
“There’s simply no urgency to get anything done here.”
That was general manager Rick Hahn speaking on the first night of the Winter Meetings here in Southern California. It’s true what Hahn says, that the White Sox can accomplish their business just as well next week as they can this week, providing the players they want remain available.
But in an all too apt example of how quickly things can change at the Winter Meetings, the question surrounding the White Sox went from “How big a splash will they make this week?” to “Will they do anything at all this week?”
For a team seemingly so intent on getting business done, on spending to accomplish its goal of acquiring premium talent from outside the organization — like they did last month in signing Yasmani Grandal — the buzz (or lack thereof) in San Diego was that the White Sox weren’t much involved on the bigger names on the free-agent market.
Forget the biggest names. Stephen Strasburg returned to the Washington Nationals on Monday. Gerrit Cole seems destined for a bidding war of epic proportions between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels. Anthony Rendon hasn’t been tied to the White Sox much at all this winter. But word that they were in the mix for Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna and Madison Bumgarner and Dallas Keuchel subsided as the hours went on Monday.
MLB.com’s Jon Morosi started the day by predicting that Keuchel would land on the South Side, by saying there was a pretty good chance the White Sox could end up with either Castellanos or Ozuna. Hahn ended the day by saying this:
“Certainly we would love to get stuff done here. We’ve been known to get stuff done at the Winter Meetings. We’ve also had some quiet Winter Meetings along the way. But there’s simply no urgency to get anything done here.
“We’d love to knock off everything on our list while we are all together here, but that’s no different than how we were approaching our business last week or the week before or the week before Thanksgiving when we signed Yasmani.
“We will remain engaged in conversations. In terms of predicting whether something happens, it’s really sort of impossible to say until we get right on that goal line, which we are not at just yet.”
As mentioned, things can change quickly. Hahn brought up past instances of him meeting with reporters with nothing to report, only for multiple moves to happen in the hours that followed. Considering the sheer volume of needs Hahn has pledged to address — two starting pitchers and a right fielder being the most noteworthy — the White Sox would figure to be exploring enough possibilities that something could come along and change his tone at any second.
But a front office that teased a busier-than-usual offseason sounded unsure about getting anything done this week.
“I’m not trying to hide the ball when I say I can’t predict what’s going to happen over the next few days,” Hahn said. “But I do know no matter what happens over the next few days, we like the position we're in going forward. We like the progress that's been made at the big league level over the last few months of the last season. We like the progress made on a number of fronts with the prospects. And we like the addition of Yasmani Grandal, and obviously having Jose (Abreu) back.
“We know we still have work to do. Ideally we get a good portion of that done here over the next few days, but if we don't, that's fine. We've proven in the past we can acquire a guy next Tuesday just as easily as we can this Tuesday.”
Of course, the White Sox tried to acquire a guy last Tuesday, and Zack Wheeler’s decision to spurn their superior financial offer to pitch for the family comfort of the Philadelphia Phillies was a prominent topic Monday night with the general manager. He’s clearly not feeling much better about this outcome than he did about Manny Machado turning the White Sox down in favor of the San Diego Padres back in February.
This time around was different, though, with the White Sox controlling everything they could control, making the richest offer on the table — and still ending up at the same place.
“A bit of it's Monday-morning quarterbacking, and it doesn't matter if you don't get the guy,” Hahn said. “So I'm not going to go too deep into how fine of an effort or how great of an offer or any of that stuff. You either get the guy or you don't. When you don't, you move on to the next one.”
Trying to figure out who that “next one” is has proven difficult, with seemingly every free-agent starting pitcher not named Cole or Strasburg thrown out as a possibility. The White Sox were reportedly going after Jordan Lyles, who signed a free-agent deal with the Texas Rangers. They’ve been linked to Bumgarner and Keuchel in various fashions. Hahn said the team’s work Monday was more focused on trades than free agency.
It’s evident Wheeler was the primary target. As for the backup plan, you have to wonder how big a gap there was between the White Sox desire for Wheeler and their desire to, as Hahn said, move on to the next one.
“That's part of the reason we moved so quickly on Yasmani is we felt he brought a very unique set of tools to the situation, and we wanted to make sure we locked that in. And we found a guy that aligned, not just economically with what he wanted, it was a good fit and something we were able to get done quickly,” Hahn said, pointing to an example of the White Sox acquiring their No. 1 choice. “In other segments of the market, there is some greater fall off, as well. In some, it's not so much of a fall off.
“The guys are the primary targets for a reason, but certainly, there's more than one way to skin a cat and we'll find a different way to get it done.”
As for when? Good question. The Winter Meetings are certainly not the be all, end all, and Hahn has talked in the past about winning the offseason only for that “W” not to translate to the standings come summer. It was in this very city five years ago when the White Sox made those post-dinner moves to acquire David Robertson and Jeff Samardzija. Things did not play out quite as victoriously once they started playing the games.
But Hahn also talks about the White Sox deserving to play with the big boys, about the White Sox being an attractive destination, about the White Sox moving into the next phase of their rebuilding project. If all that is true — and the team’s desire to spend big is as big as it seems after their (successful) run at Grandal and (unsuccessful) run at Wheeler — then something is going to have to happen eventually.
SAN DIEGO — We've talked a lot about Madison Bumgarner. We've wondered why the White Sox aren't more heavily linked to Gerrit Cole. We watched as they made the high bid for Zack Wheeler, only for him to take less money to pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Maybe the best answer for the White Sox starting-pitching problem is someone else entirely. Maybe it's the next Mark Buehrle.
That's a comp that ought to get White Sox fans excited. After all Buehrle is one of the biggest icons in franchise history, a tremendous pitcher, defender and World Series winner. Well, Dallas Keuchel fits those descriptions, too, and it led to one bold prediction from one of the most plugged-in people in the game as the Winter Meetings got started Monday.
"My prediction is — not sourced reporting, this is a prediction — that Dallas Keuchel is a White Sock (by the end of the Winter Meetings)," MLB.com's Jon Morosi said on the White Sox Talk Podcast. "He reminds me — his ability to field the position, lefty — there’s a little Buehrle there with Keuchel. I think that he fits, and I would hope that’s part of the White Sox sales pitch to him.
"I look at Buehrle and Keuchel as being similar pitchers, both athletic. There’s something about Keuchel pitching in that uniform that looks right to me."
OK, so maybe it's less of a comp and more of a hunch, but indeed there are similarities between the two. They're both four-time Gold Glove winners. They both won a World Series, Buehrle with the White Sox in 2005 and Keuchel with the Houston Astros in 2017. They're both left-handed, something that the White Sox could use right now to balance out their right-handed heavy rotation.
Perhaps most importantly for the White Sox, Keuchel is presently available. He's one of three oft-discussed mid-tier free-agent pitchers, along with Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who could be on the White Sox radar in the wake of Wheeler's decision to pitch in Philly. Rick Hahn's front office showed with its reported high bid for Wheeler that it's willing to spend big to add to the rotation. Perhaps the gargantuan sum speculated to go to Cole is a tad outside the realm of possibility — for many more teams than just the White Sox — but Keuchel could be the guy the team's been trying to find to pair with Lucas Giolito at the top of the rotation.
Keuchel has the experience of going through a rebuild and coming out the other end a world champion, helpful in telling these young White Sox how to get it done. He's done something Buehrle never did: capture a Cy Young Award, which he won in 2015. More recently, he helped lead the Atlanta Braves to an NL East championship, posting a 3.75 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 112.2 innings over 19 starts in 2019.
Most importantly, perhaps, Keuchel would provide stability and reliability in a rotation that, while talented, has plenty of question marks. Will Giolito's transformation be permanent? Will Michael Kopech be the same flamethrower he was prior to Tommy John surgery? Will Dylan Cease shake off a rocky first taste of the big leagues? Will Reynaldo Lopez find some consistency? Will Carlos Rodon be able to contribute much in 2020?
Keuchel comes with far fewer question marks, and hearing his name next to Buehrle's should give White Sox fans a clearer picture of what he could bring to the South Side.