Thursday’s six-year contract extension for Luis Robert that includes eight years’ worth of club control is just the latest long-term pact inked by the White Sox, part of the team’s carefully crafted long-term planning with the goal of keeping its contention window open for as long as possible.
That window technically hasn’t opened yet, as the White Sox have yet to finish in the top three in the AL Central standings since 2012. But Rick Hahn’s rebuilding project seems on the verge of shifting into contention mode in 2020, not just because of the breakout campaigns from so many of the team’s core members in 2019, but because of the aggressive approach the front office has taken this winter, bringing in impact veterans like Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel and, reportedly, Edwin Encarnacion.
So how long will this window stay open? As should be plenty obvious to anyone who’s followed what’s happened on the other side of town, those seemingly wide-open windows can shut in an instant. And for all of Robert’s confident talk about winning “multiple championships” on the South Side, it’s difficult enough to win one.
But looking at how Hahn has positioned his club, with a strict adherence to the long-term vision that’s put it in this position, we can start to get an idea of what that window looks like. So many of the team’s young players — and some of the just-signed/extended veterans — are under contract for a while, allowing the White Sox to compete with this roster for an extended period of time.
Under club control through 2020: Alex Colome, James McCann, Leury Garcia
Let’s get the short-termers out of the way first. These three players are all due for free agency following the upcoming campaign. Who knows what 2020 holds for these White Sox, though playoff expectations are suddenly real and deserved. Regardless, Hahn could be in the market for a new closer come next winter. If McCann continues his All-Star level production, he’d likely be able to find a new home a starter after the 2020 season. But if he proves more of a backup type, perhaps the White Sox would want to keep him around in that sort of role.
Under club control through 2021: Edwin Encarnacion, Nomar Mazara, Carlos Rodon, Gio Gonzalez, Kelvin Herrera
Encarnacion’s deal reportedly includes an option for the 2021 season, so we’ll include him here, though it’s possible the White Sox make a decision that could put him on the free-agent market a year earlier. Andrew Vaughn’s development figures to have something to do with all that. Rodon will have a limited window following his recovery from Tommy John surgery to prove he belongs in the White Sox long-term plans. The recently acquired Mazara is just 24 years old, with Hahn talking a lot about the unlocked potential the team believes exists inside its new right fielder. If they can uncover something Mazara didn’t show in his four seasons with the Texas Rangers, perhaps he becomes a bigger factor in all this.
Under club control through 2022: Jose Abreu, Evan Marshall
Abreu, the face of the franchise, turns 33 at the end of this month. That means he’ll be 36 by the time Opening Day 2023 rolls around. The next three years will determine whether or not Abreu’s tenure will be extended. Considering the White Sox have reportedly signed a DH who turns 37 next week, we know they’re not opposed to someone of that age on a short-term deal — and at what could be Abreu's more regular position by the time 2023 rolls around. We know Abreu’s love for the South Side and the South Side’s love for Abreu, so if he remains productive over the next three seasons, his White Sox tenure doesn’t have to end with his current contract.
Under club control through 2023: Dallas Keuchel, Yasmani Grandal, Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Jace Fry
So here’s where things get really interesting. The four-year deal for Grandal and the three-year-and-an-option deal for Keuchel end at the same time as the rookie contracts for Moncada, Giolito and Lopez. There will obviously be some important decisions to make. Keuchel will be 36 for the 2024 season. Grandal will be 35. Moncada and Giolito, of course, will be much younger and should they keep up the kind of production they put up in 2019, they’ll be in high demand. The White Sox have shown with Robert and Eloy Jimenez that they aren’t shy about locking up their young players, so maybe an extension or two could come before we get all the way to free agency following the 2023 season. The biggest takeaway here is that Keuchel, Grandal, Giolito, Moncada, Lopez and the players yet to be named will all be together for at least the next four years. That speaks very well to the White Sox chances over that period of time.
Under club control through 2024: Tim Anderson, Michael Kopech, Aaron Bummer
That’s right, Anderson’s team-friendly contract extension signed way back when doesn’t expire until after the midway point of the decade that just started a couple of days ago. Kopech still has to go out and show he’s the elite pitcher that was promised prior to his Tommy John surgery. His next appearance on a big league mound will be just his fifth. But should he live up to the hype, he’d figure to be someone the White Sox would want to lock up, as well. Bummer could be a Colome successor, should he be able to repeat how he impressed in 2019, meaning having him in the fold for the next five seasons could prove quite fruitful — and potentially alleviate some spending on the back end of the bullpen over the next several offseasons.
Under club control through 2025: Dylan Cease
It’s still a bit of a mystery how the rotation of the distant future will look, but Cease will be a controllable option for that group, at the very least, for the next six seasons. His first taste of the majors in 2019 didn’t go great, from a results standpoint, but he still has as high a ceiling as any of these young arms and is someone the White Sox believe can be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher.
Under club control through 2026: Eloy Jimenez
A middle-of-the-order hitter for the next seven years? Yeah, sounds like the White Sox made a good deal when they inked Jimenez to an extension last spring. All he did in his rookie season was launch 31 home runs, including those of the jaw-dropping variety that bounced off the Fan Deck in center field. And everyone asked said that he was simply scratching the surface. If Jimenez makes a similar jump to the one Moncada made from his first full season in the bigs to his second, then look out. That’s what will be mashing on the South Side for the next seven seasons.
Under club control through 2027: Luis Robert
And at the top of that lineup for the next eight years? Robert is a true five-tool threat who put up insane numbers in the minors in 2019. All the talk coming from minicamps, the Arizona Fall League and the minors the last few years have suggested Robert might end up the best of all these youngsters. Hahn said Thursday: “We are obviously extremely excited to put our money where our mouth is in terms of our level of excitement about this player. … We truly do think he has a chance to be very special.”
Under club control through seasons yet to be determined: Nick Madrigal, Andrew Vaughn, Dane Dunning, Jimmy Lambert, Jonathan Stiever
Yes, the White Sox core still extends into the minors. Guys who have yet to even make the major league debuts — and might not even do so in 2020 — are part of this window staying open, too. Unlike many (but not all) of the players mentioned to this point, these ones have not had any kind of success at the major league level because they haven’t been there yet, so we can’t classify them as players to bank on. But it goes to show that there’s more than just the current major league roster playing into the length of this contention window. That’s the organizational depth Hahn is always talking about. Some of these guys, specifically Madrigal, are expected to take over as everyday players sooner rather than later, meaning they’ll be part of that core quickly.
The point: That’s a lengthy window. Yes, there’s a lot of decisions to be made over the course of it. But that’s how these things work. There will be more free-agent signings and trades and more players added to the minor league system. Heck, we’re looking at the vast majority of an entire decade here.
The White Sox window technically hasn’t even opened yet. But they’ve put themselves in the position that when it does open — which could, and at this point should, be very soon, like March 26 soon — it could stay open for a mighty long time.