White Sox

White Sox courting of Luis Robert leads to 'Christmas in May'

White Sox courting of Luis Robert leads to 'Christmas in May'

When he learned last November that elite talent Luis Robert could be available by June 15, Marco Paddy didn’t hold back: It was time for the White Sox make their move.

Much like with Yoan Moncada before, the team’s international scouting director had an extensive history scouting Robert, who on Saturday signed with the White Sox after he received a $26 million signing bonus. After watching him for five years, Paddy believed in Robert enough to recommend the White Sox pay several severe penalties to sign a player the franchise thinks could be an everyday center fielder with power.

By signing Robert, 19, the White Sox must not only pay a luxury tax of almost equal value to the bonus, but they’re also unable to sign any international prospect for more than $300,000 in each of the next two classes. But given the limited competition and the unique talent he saw, Paddy let the White Sox know Robert -- the No. 26-ranked prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com -- was a player they couldn’t afford to bypass. Thus begun the team’s courtship, one the Cuban cited as having a major impact on his desire to sign with the White Sox. Now, the White Sox not only have Moncada after trading for him in December, but they also have another potential cornerstone to build around.

“From the beginning we were very serious about it,” Paddy said. “Knowing we weren’t going to have 29 other clubs competing against us was a good thing for us because we knew our competition pool was a lot smaller. We went in it with everything we had and if we missed out on some guys that’s fine, that’s the risk you take.

“It’s a dream come true to be honest with you, having those guys with that kind of ability together. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. But I saw Moncada about the same age I saw Robert and it’s like Christmas in May.”

The pursuit of Robert -- a player general manager Rick Hahn describes as a “dynamic, potential talent” -- began in December at the winter meetings at National Harbor, Md. Having learned that Robert would potentially be a late addition to the 2016-17 international class, Paddy asked for a meeting with Hahn, executive vice president Kenny Williams and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Paddy and Hahn had previously held several similar state-of-the-international-picture meetings to determine when to make a splash on the market.

This one was different.

“Marco approached us and said, ‘This is the guy,’ ” Hahn said.

It was still a “what if” proposition because Robert not only had to establish residency, but he also had to receive clearance from Major League Baseball to be part of the 2016-17 class, a critical factor. Under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams could spend whatever they wanted on a player as long as they paid a luxury tax. But under the new CBA, teams are limited to a maximum of $5.25 million for bonuses.

While the White Sox felt Paddy’s familiarity with Robert would give them a chance if he wasn’t eligible until July 2 (the next class), they knew they’d compete against fewer teams for his services under the old rules. Hahn said back in March the White Sox intended to be a player either way. On Saturday, he said it was Paddy’s initial determination that spurred him into action.

“Marco personally was willing to suffer the penalties that it has on his world for the betterment of the organization,” Hahn said. “Marco’s evaluation and presence and willingness to sacrifice potential future signings for this reinforced the notion that this was the right move to make.”

Then everyone else got involved and the White Sox went overboard to recruit Robert.

If Saturday’s pregame presentation is any indication, the White Sox pulled out all the stops.

As Robert was introduced for his press conference, he sat in front of banners featuring current and former White Sox from Cuba, including Alexei Ramirez, Minnie Minoso, Jose Abreu and Moncada.

Once he was on the field to throw out the first pitch, the team played a short video on the scoreboard with numerous White Sox fans welcoming Robert to Chicago that had been filmed Friday night. As Robert trotted to the mound to throw his pitch to Abreu, team employees stood atop the home dugout with a sign that read “bienvenidos” and drawings of Cuban flags.

But the post-signing efforts were nothing compared to the team’s full-court press of Robert last month.

[MORE: Luis Robert will start journey through White Sox organization in Dominican Summer League]

Hahn and Williams brought several showstoppers with them when they traveled to the Dominican Republic for a private workout with Robert last month. Included were a power point production and an iPad with a video presentation that the White Sox communications department put together in six days, Hahn said. Manager Rick Renteria narrated the short video in Spanish and it included personal messages for Robert from Abreu, Moncada and Michael Ynoa, who shares the same trainer (Edgar Mercedes) and worked out with Robert in the offseason.

“It was a beautiful video,” Robert said through an interpreter. “The part (that stood out) the most was when Ricky Renteria was talking straight to me, saying they need me here to win several championships.”

But more than the video, Robert said the desire displayed by the White Sox made his decision easy. Hahn said the White Sox felt confident heading into the final 24 hours that they were in the lead for Robert. Not only had they bid aggressively, Hahn thought the White Sox made a strong pitch. That feeling only increased last Saturday morning when Robert changed his Instagram avatar to a picture of him wearing a White Sox cap.

“The video helps a lot, but the thing that made me make a decision was who was the team that showed more interest,” Robert said. “That was something that made me feel good.”

Paddy had seen enough in five years to feel confident in pushing the White Sox to be a player for Robert.

He first scouted Robert at the under-15 Pan American Championships in 2012 in Chihuahua, Mexico. Paddy’s interest in the 6-foot-3, 175-pound center fielder only grew as Robert matured physically. Paddy suspected that once Hahn and Williams would be on board once they saw the passion with which Robert played.

Robert described himself on Saturday as player who likes to fight and “give all that I have for my team.” Paddy said it wasn’t a difficult call to push Hahn when he considered the player’s tools and makeup, as well as the last opportunity to spend big on an international talent.

“You put all those things together, it becomes easy,” Paddy said. “As I watched him over the years grow, get stronger and get better, it became evident to me that if we had an opportunity to sign this guy, it would be a good thing for the organization.

“The level of ability, the tools that I saw that he had, and the past and now present, it’s something you don’t see every day.”

Sox Drawer Q&A: Are the White Sox really gonna get Bryce Harper?

Sox Drawer Q&A: Are the White Sox really gonna get Bryce Harper?

“Batting third, playing right field for the Chicago White Sox, No. 34, Bryce Harper!”

Yeah, I went there. I’m sure White Sox public-address announcer Gene Honda wouldn’t mind going there for the next 10 years, either.

But really, Harper coming to the South Side? White Sox fans have been in a frenzy ever since MLB Network’s Jon Morosi broke the news that the White Sox are interested in signing Harper and Manny Machado.

By the way, a big thank you to Jon from all of White Sox media for this hot stove bombshell to help get us through November.

So, let’s open up this week’s Sox Drawer. Not surprising, lots of questions about Harper and Machado.

Q: How realistic are these rumors? — @jdwyer02

CG: I can’t say for sure. The White Sox have always been tight-lipped on such matters and rightfully so. But it makes sense for the White Sox to pursue both players. Harper and Machado fit many, if not all the requirements for what the White Sox need on the field, and they have the resources to spend big if they choose.

Now, will the White Sox pony up $300 million to $500 million to sign either of them?

Here’s what Rick Hahn said last January at SoxFest when asked if money will be available to sign big-time free agents: “I can certainly assure you the resources will be available. Will we be able to convert on every target? No, not always in a robust and competitive market. Ultimately, competing for free agents and targeting big-ticket items and hopefully converting on them will be the next logical step when the time is right.”

Q: I think we are just wasting time even entertaining this subject. Fact is we won’t sign either — @RickyRi48202029

CG: I’ve definitely seen skepticism like this coming from White Sox fans questioning whether the front office will offer the type of record-breaking contract needed to sign Harper or Machado. But as I’ve said before, these are different times. The White Sox have very little money on the books for the foreseeable future, and besides Tim Anderson, all of their young players are signed to cost-controlled rookie contracts. There’s plenty of money available to go big for one of these top-tier free agents.

Also, look at the White Sox track record in the last several years. When they’ve chosen to be aggressive, they’ve been all in. In 2013, they outbid the Red Sox, Astros and Giants for Jose Abreu, signing him to a $68 million contract. In the 2014 offseason, they signed Adam LaRoche, David Robertson, Melky Cabrera and Zack Duke and acquired Jeff Samardzija and his $9.8 million contract for 2015. All told, that cost a combined $137 million, and the longest contract was Robertson’s for four years. In 2017, the White Sox won the Luis Robert sweepstakes in a deal that cost them $52 million. Signing Harper or Machado will cost much more than these deals, but the White Sox have never had this kind of financial flexibility. Will either of them sign with the White Sox? I can’t answer that. Neither can the White Sox. But if Morosi’s report is true, the White Sox are seemingly attempting to do everything in their power to make it happen.

Q: Chuck, just make the call for us and lock them both up. Jerry's checkbook is in the first drawer to the right of his desk. 2 blank checks will do. — @TheJoeyMcNeely​​​​​​​

CG: (No response.)

Q: Hey Chuck, do you think the front office should be making the big splash in free agency now, or waiting until next year? Players such as Puig, Goldschmidt, Castellanos, Arenado as well as a slew of starting arms (Sale, Gerrit Cole, Michael Wacha) are available in 2020. — @drunkchisoxfan​​​​​​​

CG: Not sure if you were sober when you asked the question, @drunkchisox fan, but it’s a fair point. Here’s what I think: Players like Harper and Machado rarely become available. If you have a chance to sign one of them now, you do it. Plus, you can’t assume that all of those players you listed will be available in 2020. Who’s to say that Arenado and Goldschmidt won’t sign extensions with their respective teams before hitting free agency? Or that they’ll be healthy? Or that the two sides will be able to agree to a deal? There are too many unknowns. What we do know is that the White Sox contending window is coming. There are a handful of big-time free agents who they can possibly sign in the next few years. I say take your swings at as many as possible with the hopes of landing one of them.

Q: Is it smarter for the Sox to spend on one of the big ticket free agents (Harper, Machado) or to get multiple guys from the second tier of free agents with the same money? — @LandoJQuintana​​​​​​​

CG: Good question. If the White Sox are unable to sign one of the marquee guys in the next couple years, this might be the way they end up going. Is it smarter? If Harper and Machado end up getting hurt or not playing up to their contracts, then the answer is yes. But as I mentioned before, the White Sox spread the money around in 2014. They were crowned the winners of the offseason. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. The White Sox went 76-86 in 2015, which set them on a course for the rebuild.

The reason to sign a guy like Harper is that it has a ripple affect on your entire franchise. Not just in wins, but in attendance, TV ratings, luring future free agents, etc. My feeling with the White Sox is they didn’t go through the rebuild and all the losing that comes with it to end up being a good team or a really good team. They want to be great and for a long time.

Q: Sign Harper. Trade remaining OF depth (not named Jimenez) for Trout. 2019-beyond OF of Eloy, Trout, Harper. Sox win the next 10 World Series. My question: what am I missing here? — @HockBomb​​​​​​​

CG: Absolutely nothing — other than maybe some reality! But I do like your thinking! Here’s the deal. If Mike Trout had four to five years remaining on his contract, I would make a trade like that in a heartbeat. However, he only has two years left. That’s not enough time to give up all that prospect talent for a very small window to win with Trout. Maybe the White Sox try to sign him in 2021?

Q: When can we expect to see Luis Robert up and is he more likely projected as a CF or corner outfielder? How is he progressing with off speed pitches? — @mpovilaitis​​​​​​​

CG: Robert has been making up for lost injury time, tearing things up in the Arizona Fall League. I’m actually heading out there on Tuesday, so I’ll have much more on Robert in the coming days. He’s projected to be a center fielder. I can see him reaching Double-A (and maybe Triple-A) in 2019 and the majors in 2020. He has the talent to move up quickly. It all depends on how he develops. What he’s been doing so far in the AFL is a good sign going forward.

Q: How many top 30 Sox prospects (and which ones) do you expect to see in the majors this year? — @DavidRHorning

CG: It’s tough to predict and project on prospects. How about a list of players who have a chance to make it the majors this year (and if they don’t, that’s fine): Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, Zack Collins, Luis Basabe, Zack Burdi, Jordan Stephens, Kodi Medeiros, Seby Zavala and Spencer Adams.

Q: Should I buy season tickets? — @Nashpotatoes6

CG: I can’t tell you yes or no. But I will say this: If the White Sox were a stock, I’d be buying it.

Q: If the Bears have a great season and the Sox invite a couple of them for a Bears day. Who would you want to see throw out the first pitch? — @ventiicedredeye

CG: Trubisky and Mack. Offense and defense. Let’s make it happen.

And finally:

Q: How many times does Yolmer dump Gatorade on himself in 2019? — @DaRealScaletta

CG: I’m hoping for double digits.

So apparently the Astros tried to trade for Avisail Garcia this summer

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USA TODAY

So apparently the Astros tried to trade for Avisail Garcia this summer

An interesting note from over the weekend: Apparently the Houston Astros tried to trade for Avisail Garcia this summer.

The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported on a deal that obviously didn't happen, one that would have sent Bryce Harper to the then-defending champs. That would've been very exciting for baseball fans in general — it might have been enough to get the Astros past the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS and to get them a second consecutive World Series title — but there's another added bit of specific interest to fans on the South Side.

Apparently after the Harper deal fell apart, the Astros called up the White Sox and tried to acquire Garcia. According to Rosenthal, the Astros offered up Francis Martes, a right-handed pitcher who two years ago was the No. 1 prospect in the Astros' system and one of the top 30 prospects in baseball. He hasn't appeared in the prospect rankings since that top rating in 2016 — likely a result of his north-of-5.00 ERA between the majors and Triple-A in 2017 — and he's had recent injury issues, too. His 2018 season at Triple-A Fresno ended before the start of May, and he had Tommy John surgery in August. But Rosenthal pointed out that the White Sox knew all about that while discussing him as a potential return for Garcia.

Per Rosenthal, the Astros weren't too excited about Garcia's injured knee, which he admitted at the end of the season had literally been bothering him since Opening Day. 

Garcia's standing in the White Sox long-term plans are a bit of a mystery. After his breakout 2017 campaign that saw him represent the team at the All-Star Game and rank among the best offensive players in the American League, statistically, Garcia was bothered by injuries from the jump in 2018. He said he felt that knee injury from Opening Day on, and his hamstring sent him to the disabled list on more than one occasion. He ended up playing in only 93 games and slashing a woeful .236/.281/.438, though he did reach a new career high with 19 home runs.

Garcia has only one year of team control left, and there's been plenty of speculative discussion about whether the White Sox would even tender him a contract this offseason, though none of that talk has come from the White Sox themselves. Other options could include waiting to see if he can reach that 2017 status once again and try to deal him during the 2019 season. But it's interesting to hear there was interest this past summer, even with the injuries. That could have been due to a hot stretch between June 22 and July 8, when Garcia returned from the disabled list to slash .333/.347/.783 with eight homers in a 17-game span.

For fans who want to play the "what if" game with Martes, his major league experience totals 32 appearances for the Astros in 2017, only four of which were starts. He posted a 5.80 ERA in 54.1 innings with 69 strikeouts and 31 walks. Dealing with injuries, he made just five minor league appearances in 2018. But his 2.04 ERA in 2015 and 3.30 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 2016 are likely what made the prospect-ranking folks so high on him in the first place.