Why didn’t the White Sox do anything significant at the trade deadline?
I think you can argue that they did.
Whether you want to or not is entirely up to you, and it’s likely defined by your general optimism or pessimism toward the ongoing rebuilding project.
The White Sox made one move on deadline day, trading Nate Jones — out for the season after undergoing forearm surgery — and some international bonus money for a couple minor league pitchers who’ve yet to reach A-ball. That wasn’t a significant move, nothing that will have an impact on this season or the next. As much as the White Sox might miss the good guy Jones, his constant injured status likely wrote him out of the team’s long-term plans.
Those long-term plans, however, were at the center of the team’s decisions Wednesday.
The most discussed trade candidates on the South Side leading up to the deadline were closer Alex Colome and setup man Aaron Bummer, discussed so much because of their great seasons and the White Sox recent deadline history of dealing relievers. Both guys might have fetched interesting returns. But general manager Rick Hahn must not have heard anything that would have netted the kind of value that he could lock in simply by keeping Colome and Bummer in the White Sox employ.
It all comes down to this: The White Sox think they might have what it takes to be a contender in 2020, to compete for the playoff spot that this franchise hasn’t seen in more than a decade.
If that’s what ends up happening, something that could be further solidified by the moves Hahn chooses to make this winter, then having an All-Star caliber closer who’s saved a combined 117 games since the start of the 2016 season and a young, controllable eighth-inning man who currently boasts a 1.62 ERA would be a very good thing — a better thing than whatever Hahn would have been able to get for them Wednesday.
Hahn said Wednesday it was a combination of not getting a return package he liked and a display of confidence in the 2020 team’s chances that led to the lack of major moves at this deadline. The general manager isn’t about to set expectations for the 2020 season with two months to go in the 2019 campaign, but through this whole season — through Lucas Giolito’s Cy Young caliber first half, Yoan Moncada’s breakout season, Tim Anderson’s breakout season, Eloy Jimenez’s arrival in the major leagues, James McCann’s out-of-nowhere trip to the All-Star Game and Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal tearing up the minor leagues — it’s looked like next year certainly could be the one that features the White Sox transition from rebuilding to contending.
If the focus is building a contending roster for the 2020 season, it only makes sense to have Colome and Bummer as parts of that roster.
“A lot of our conversations — actually all of our conversations — were centered around long-term fits, some of them involving pieces off the big league club and even many that were more of the prospect-for-prospect variety,” Hahn said. “As you come to these points in time where you have the opportunity to improve the club, it's the natural desire of all the front offices to make moves. We prefer to make trades than not make trades.
“But given where we're at in terms of this rebuild, it made more sense to only move if there was something that made sense for the long term, and that did not present itself.
“It was a matter of: Were we getting what we felt made enough sense to potentially put a hole in next year's roster, and how were we going to go about filling that hole? We just didn't get to the point where we were motivated by what was coming back to potentially weaken the 2020 roster.”
This might go raising some eyebrows across the White Sox fan base as the South Siders continue their stumble out of the All-Star break. They’ve dropped all but four of the 18 games they’ve played in the second half, averaging fewer than three runs a game while doing it and putting up some of the worst offensive numbers in the game during the span.
Skeptics can point to plenty: that Michael Kopech will be coming back from more than a yearlong absence thanks to Tommy John surgery, that the type of impact pitcher they will be looking for this winter might be out of their price range, that Robert and Madrigal could reasonably be expected to experience the same kinds of first-year growing pains that Moncada and Jimenez have gone through.
So it’s hard to declare that the White Sox will be contenders next season. But it looks like they could be. What happened in the first half is what’s responsible for that possibility, of course, but Hahn said the front office isn’t changing its thinking based on what’s occurred since the All-Star break.
“It doesn't change our prognosis going forward,” Hahn said. “It doesn't change what a healthy Tim Anderson or a healthy Eloy or healthy Moncada can bring to a team or what they're going to bring to this team over the next several years or what some of the other young players that have, knock on wood, stayed healthy this season what they'll be able to do, or what some of the near-ready minor league prospects are going to be able to do in 2020 and beyond. Nor does it change the importance or heightened importance that we have quality depth to withstand these things if they come up moving forward.”
And so the White Sox did do something significant Wednesday: They reaffirmed that they’re going to make a run at making a run in 2020. That means keeping Colome and Bummer to anchor the bullpen. That means hanging onto Jose Abreu and allowing Ivan Nova to finish his one-year mentorship of Reynaldo Lopez. That means keeping a clubhouse together that is building a familiarity with one another.
And that means Hahn mentioning what’s coming this offseason. Disappointed by a lack of midseason moves? Just wait till the winter. That could be the setup to make sure this deadline never repeats itself.
“We want to be in the position where at the deadline we're the ones looking to add,” Hahn said. “Not necessarily, ‘Are you going to add? Are you subtracting? Are you going to stand pat?’ We want it to be a clear decision that it makes sense that we're in the point of our competitive cycle and the chance to win a championship where it's obvious we're going to be looking ahead.
“Heading into this offseason, based on the progress of some of these young players, based on the progress of other young players that will be joining this roster over the coming months, I think it's very logical for us, you're going to see a heightened level of aggressiveness come this offseason. We'll wait until we get there to decide exactly where.”
The White Sox are getting ready for 2020. That started a long time ago, obviously, but it was reaffirmed Wednesday. And if all goes well, standing pat at the 2019 deadline will be a distant memory when the White Sox are shopping at this time next year.