“Lady Luck please let the dice stay hot.”
That’s the line from “Viva Las Vegas” that White Sox fans can most relate to as Chicago’s South Side baseball team heads to Sin City for the Winter Meetings, looking to hit the free-agency jackpot of the year.
Talk this week in Nevada will revolve around Bryce Harper, the Las Vegas native who is the biggest fish in this offseason’s free-agency pond, a guy expected to receive the biggest contract in the history of the sport. The White Sox are apparently in the mix, as reports keep pegging them as aggressive in their pursuit of one of the game’s premier players and a guy who would be a perfect fit with their rebuilding plans.
National writers and analysts keep weighing in, and the White Sox keep popping up. Jon Heyman thinks they have one of the five best shots to add either Harper or fellow uber free agent Manny Machado. Tim Kurkijan thinks the White Sox are one of the top three destinations for Harper. The competition will undoubtedly be fierce from the likes of the Philadelphia Phillies, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers, high-spending clubs with win-now rosters to sell to Harper and/or Machado. But hey, at least one team figures to be out of the running, with Washington Nationals owner Mark Lerner saying last week that he doesn’t see Harper returning to where he spent the first seven seasons of his major league career.
The White Sox sure seem willing to spend big — simply being interested in a guy expected to get the kind of contract Harper is, they would have to be — but what kind of challenge is it to come to the table off a 100-loss season and with nothing but plans of future success? The Yankees just won 100 games. The Dodgers are the back-to-back NL champs. The Phillies made huge strides in their own rebuilding effort last year, aside from promising to spend “stupid” this winter.
Rick Hahn, your rebuttal?
“You have to understand these guys are professionals and they understand deep nuances about each individual franchise,” the White Sox general manager said on a conference call last week. “And from a macro standpoint, the idea of potentially being part of a winner in Chicago has very broad appeal. From a nuanced standpoint, the chance to be part of the White Sox organization based upon what our future looks like, futures that these players are familiar with and understand having either seen personally some of these young players play or video or talked to other players about them, it’s something that they buy into.
“There’s an allure not just to winning in this city. But there’s an allure of being part of building something that’s potentially sustainable and potentially great. Where we were in Year 2 of a rebuild I don’t think really plays a huge role in the decision-making process of what a player is buying into in terms of the long term future.”
For the White Sox, a player like Harper — or Machado, for that matter — is the kind of “finishing piece” that Hahn has talked about for some time. It’s the outside addition that vaults a young team full of homegrown talent over the top and into contention mode for years to come. It will come as no surprise to White Sox fans that their team doesn’t yet seem to be at that point. The team lost 100 games in 2018, with the few players on the big league roster who are long-term pieces struggling through to-be-expected growing pains. And while there was much in the way of good news from the minor leagues, there were a bunch of significant injuries to highly touted prospects, enough of them to potentially alter the timeline of this whole process.
In other words, this doesn’t look like the time to be “finishing” anything. But this is Harper we’re talking about. It’s Machado. It’s an opportunity to add one of the best players in baseball on a long-term deal that would allow a team to grow around them. Signing Harper or Machado might not make the White Sox a playoff team in 2019. But, if the development of the team’s prospects goes as planned, it would make them a contender for a long time after that.
And so spending big on that kind of player makes a whole lot of sense to the White Sox this winter. The key part of that sentence, however, is “that kind of player.”
“I don't want to put out there what the impression should be of the rumors about our activity. I will say that we've made no secret about our commitment to putting ourselves in position to win multiple championships over the long term,” Hahn said. “Going back to two years ago ... up through our activity this offseason, you've seen us with a consistent approach, a consistent mission and a consistent vision about how best to get us in that position.
“Premium talent, everyone has asked over the years about when the time was right, would we spend on premium talent, and we've made it clear that was part of the plan, part of the vision. You could argue that this offseason would be premature, being two years deep into a rebuild, but as I've said before, we can't control when certain talents become available and we entered this offseason with the idea of being opportunistic. That doesn't mean we can guarantee by any stretch that we're going to convert on these targets. We've said over the years that expect to be part of that conversation, therefore us being part of the conversation should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following the way we've gone about this process the last two-plus years now."
There are other things on the White Sox to-do list this week and this offseason besides attempting to sign the biggest name on the market. They still need to plug a pair of holes in their starting rotation. They added a closer in Alex Colome, but Hahn said there are still additions to be made in the bullpen. After the non-tendering of Avisail Garcia, they need to figure out who’s going to play right field in 2019. And it sounds like they’ll attempt to add a catcher after trading Omar Narvaez, rather than rushing Zack Collins or Seby Zavala to the major leagues. And what about more hypothetical moves, like a potential decision on Jose Abreu, who at least one team has reported interest in.
That’s a lot for a team that is still going to spend a lot of time waiting for prospects to develop in the minor leagues. And it could make the White Sox real busy this week in Vegas.
But fans will likely be searching for just one name: Harper’s. Odds are that it will be the most common one spoken, written and read this week in his hometown. As for whether he ends up on the White Sox? Will it be the week South Siders will always remember that they had a swingin’ time, or the week they saw Harper pick someone else and crash all those hopes down the drain?
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