Madison Bumgarner

Potential White Sox target comes off board as Madison Bumgarner signs with Diamondbacks

Potential White Sox target comes off board as Madison Bumgarner signs with Diamondbacks

Having already lost out on Zack Wheeler, the White Sox can now scratch another free agent pitcher off the list of potential targets.

Sunday, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported the Diamondbacks are nearing a five-year deal with former Giants star Madison Bumgarner worth $85 million.

The White Sox weren’t heavily rumored to be pursuing Bumgarner and signing him was somewhat unrealistic. Although the South Siders are looking to add a starting pitcher or two this winter, Bumgarner enjoys hitting and therefore seemed more likely to sign with a National League team. The 30-year-old’s career OPS is .532 but he’s hit 19 homers in 11 seasons.

Adding Bumgarner would have provided the South Siders a veteran starter — one with an excellent postseason track record — to mix with their young rotation featuring Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease. With MadBum off the board, the list of major free agent pitchers continues to shrink. 

Lefties Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu are still available, but other teams that missed out on Bumgarner will shift their focus to the duo. Consequently, the White Sox will face stiff competition if they wish to sign either pitcher. Both were expected to be more affordable than Bumgarner but interested teams may be willing to offer more money to ensure they don’t come out of free agency empty-handed.

Where the White Sox turn next is to be determined. What's certain is they're running out of free agent options to upgrade their rotation.

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Where will White Sox turn for pitching? Are they destined to lean on internal options?

Where will White Sox turn for pitching? Are they destined to lean on internal options?

SAN DIEGO — Pitching. The White Sox need it. And their No. 1 target is now a Philadelphia Phillie.

“What's next?” doesn’t quite do the mystery justice.

Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu have all been thrown around as possibilities, mostly because they’re in the same free-agency tier that Zack Wheeler was in. You remember Wheeler, the guy who turned down a superior financial offer from the White Sox to please his family and pitch for the Phillies. Seeking help elsewhere in that same tier makes sense, but it’s possible the White Sox might not be quite as enamored with their backup plans as they were with their primary target.

That’s obviously the case, by definition, but perhaps the gap is bigger than Hahn suggests when he says the White Sox will “move on to the next one.” Not all free agents are created equal.

“That's part of the reason we moved so quickly on Yasmani (Grandal) 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.”

The different way could involve none of those free-agent names. While reports have tied the White Sox to Bumgarner and Keuchel to various degrees, they were reported to be after Jordan Lyles, who recently signed with the Texas Rangers. Hahn said his front office was focused more on trades than free-agent signings in its conversations Monday in San Diego.

Trades, though, could be difficult, as the White Sox seem hellbent on hanging on to their top-rated prospects, a completely understandable stance considering the promise they show as impact players. Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Michael Kopech figure to take over as top-of-the-depth-chart guys in 2020. Andrew Vaughn, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert might not be far behind.

What’s certain is those players won’t be going anywhere in exchange for a one-year fix. That’s more relevant to conversations involving Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor or Kris Bryant than ones involving a pitcher. But it’s important to remember that any trade talk probably starts midway down the list of White Sox prospects, a difficult way to land a truly impact player.

“There’s been, obviously, the pains and suffering that comes along with the early stages of a rebuild. We endured all that so we would be able to be in a position of building something that was going to be able to win on an annual basis, that was going to have some success for an extended period of time,” Hahn said. “Right now, we are in a bit of an interesting spot.

“Fundamentally, as a fan that has dealt with the hardships over the last three years, you want that benefit, that promised-land side of things to come more quickly. At the same time, we have to keep in mind why we started this and that was to build something sustainable. You don’t want to do anything short-sighted that’s just going to, trade wise, give us a quick bump next year but compromise the extended window we foresee coming when this all comes together.

“You need to be cognizant of that temptation to try to accelerate things. We want to get this to where it needs to be as quickly as possible. We don’t want to do that at the expense of shortening the window or making the window more difficult when it does open, whether that’s in the next few months or it takes a little longer.”

OK. So trading for impact fixes in the rotation appears unrealistic. The buzz surrounding the White Sox and free-agent signings diminished significantly as time went on during the first day of the Winter Meetings, and the possibility exists that the backup plans to Wheeler won't be quite as easy to pull the trigger on.

So what do the White Sox do?

It’s almost impossible to envision a parade of ineffective arms the likes of which we saw in 2019, when Ervin Santana and Manny Banuelos and Dylan Covey and Odrisamer Despaigne and Ross Detwiler manned a rotation that was exposed for its lack of big league ready depth. But should the White Sox come up empty on top-of-the-rotation free-agent fixes like they did with Wheeler, it’s not quite as difficult to envision stopgaps of some sort that set up what could still be a deeper pitching staff come 2020. Hahn raved about the potential for homegrown depth in the near future.

“There's still multiple options out there,” Hahn said when asked how the pitching market looks post-Wheeler. “We're going to continue to explore them both via trade and free agency.

“It's funny we talk about 2020, obviously, because that's the most important year we we can currently put our fingers on. We do think that, as we sit here, a year from now we have a chance to have a fair amount of depth on the pitching side. It doesn't mean we don't want to augment it, not only to get better in 2020, but to hedge that bet on the depth a little bit going forward and to create even more options for us going forward.

“But I do look forward to a year from right now and we're sitting up in that suite looking at our board. And I think the viable options in the big leagues are going to be even deeper than they are now.”

That’s true, mostly because Kopech and Dylan Cease should have full major league seasons under their belts and Dunning, Lambert and Carlos Rodon should all be back from Tommy John surgery.

So what does all that have to do with signing Bumgarner right now? If the White Sox are so gaga over the potential of their internal pitching depth a year from now, are they pleased enough to forego a potential impact addition this winter — one they’re not nearly as thrilled about making as compared to how they felt about Wheeler?

A pitching staff built primarily on internal options would not at all be a bad thing, but such an outcome relies on all those young arms hitting the way Lucas Giolito did in 2019. That's extremely difficult. The three models for turning a rebuild into a world championship, the Cubs, Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals, have had almost no luck doing that. The biggest names in those championship runs, from a pitching standpoint, were Jon Lester, Justin Verlander and Jonny Cueto. The Royals are now rebuilding. The Cubs have struggled to find any homegrown pitching since Theo Epstein's regime took over. It's really hard to do.

These are questions with few answers, really. Hahn doesn’t talk about specific free agents, meaning everything is a philosophical discussion rather than a “this is what we’re doing” one. Are the White Sox opposed to adding a top-of-the-rotation pitcher? Absolutely not, they’d love to. Are they going after Keuchel to do it? That’s not quite as open for discussion.

And that’s a fine policy for perfectly understandable reasons, it just leaves so much a mystery. Mystery is all we have regarding the potential additions that could follow Grandal this offseason. The White Sox need pitching, and they’ll get it. But are they jazzed about the remaining options to the point it will top any of the internal options on the depth chart? Stay tuned.

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Will the White Sox make a big splash at the Winter Meetings?

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USA Today

Will the White Sox make a big splash at the Winter Meetings?

SAN DIEGO — At the GM meetings last month in Arizona, White Sox vice president Kenny Williams teased that the team was going to do more business than usual.

We found out later that the White Sox met with Yasmani Grandal while out in the desert. And when the free-agent catcher got the richest deal in club history the following week, it was a sign the White Sox were serious about their intent to be aggressive and make some big splashes this winter ahead of a possible transition from rebuilding to contending in 2020.

The Grandal signing earned nothing short of rave reviews, but there’s still an awful lot on the to-do list for general manager Rick Hahn and his front office as the Winter Meetings get going here in Southern California. The White Sox have designs on adding a pair of starting pitchers to their rotation and landing an everyday right fielder. An everyday-type DH could also be in the cards, though Grandal’s arrival has at least provided a more realistic internal option in the form of a multi-player rotation. Bullpen help is never turned away.

Much of that could be addressed this week, with ample opportunities to cross those items off the list, even if in less headline-grabbing style. You’ll remember back to last year’s Winter Meetings, when the White Sox filled a hole in their rotation by trading for Ivan Nova.

But with no disrespect to Mr. Nova, most fans are waiting for a much bigger splash.

It’s what the White Sox tried to get done before they flew out to the West Coast. Just last week they reportedly made the highest bid in the Zack Wheeler sweepstakes, only for the 29-year-old free agent to take less money to play for the Philadelphia Phillies. Cries of “here we go again” from the fan base — still stinging from the way things played out with Manny Machado a winter ago — were quickly quelled by the financial details, and it sure seems there aren’t any more excuses for anyone to stick to the old talking point that the White Sox are unwilling or unable to spend. Wheeler’s deal, had he accepted it, would have broken Grandal’s weeks-old record for the most expensive contract in club history.

So will someone else actually take the White Sox money this week?

Certainly the possibilities are out there. Still searching for starting pitching, the White Sox could turn to Madison Bumgarner, who they’ve been connected to since Wheeler’s decision. The 30-year-old three-time World Series champ could play a Jon Lester type role in a different Chicago rebuild. Though plenty have expressed concerns over what effect his 1,948.1 combined regular-season and postseason innings will have moving forward. There are reasons to be skeptical, just as there are reasons to be optimistic.

If the White Sox don’t want to play at the tippy top of the starting-pitching market — they haven’t been heavily linked to either Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg — then Bumgarner is the biggest free-agent pitching splash out there. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel are in a similar strata of this free-agent market, but perhaps neither would generate quite as much buzz as arguably the greatest pitcher in World Series history.

The White Sox could also get splashy in their quest to fill the vacancy in right field. Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna are the two biggest names on the free-agent outfield market, and either would slot into the middle of the White Sox order. Neither would make for an ideal defensive selection, considering Castellanos’ ugly defensive stats in right field (which might exaggerate that reputation) and the fact that Ozuna is a left fielder who didn’t play a lick of right during his two years with the St. Louis Cardinals. Both, however, could make a big offensive impact. Ozuna had a ludicrously good season playing for the Miami Marlins in 2017, while the White Sox are plenty familiar with what Castellanos can do after he bludgeoned them in recent seasons with the division-rival Detroit Tigers.

The White Sox could potentially go off the board and chase someone outside of their stated positional needs, Hahn leaving everything on the table when he discussed his offseason approach at length last month. But neither paying a huge sum for Anthony Rendon nor coughing up prospects for Mookie Betts seems too likely at the moment. The fun thing about the Winter Meetings, though, is what seems likely or unlikely can change in an instant.

Speaking of trades, while Hahn signaled the White Sox have little interest in dealing their prized prospects for short-term gain, that market could provide opportunities for heretofore unmentioned splashes. Who knows if the White Sox have any interest in the biggest names being speculated about — Betts, Francisco Lindor, Kris Bryant, etc. — but they’ve reportedly been chatting with the Los Angeles Dodgers about Joc Pederson. After supposedly trying and failing to get him in a trade last winter, his arrival on the South Side would probably be splashy enough, considering he had a career year at the dish in 2019 that included 36 home runs.

After last year’s Machado and Bryce Harper bonanzas, expectations have been raised. After the collective breakout of so many of the White Sox core players in 2019, expectations have been raised. The White Sox seem to have the ingredients to make their long-awaited transition from rebuilding to contending in 2020. Money allocated for free agents is one of those ingredients. While there’s more than one way to build a championship roster, including leaning heavily on the wealth of young talent already in the White Sox possession, those raised expectations have fans craving a splash.

So will the White Sox cannonball into the Pacific Ocean this week? Stay tuned.

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