CARLSBAD, Calif. — Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. To the White Sox. Both of them.
That was the buzz of the day Monday, as baseball’s general managers started to gather in Carlsbad, California, for their annual meetings: that there was a desire to bring both of the game’s biggest free-agent superstars to the South Side. That’s one way to kick the rebuild into overdrive.
While Rick Hahn has spent the last couple years telling reporters that the White Sox are making a habit of breaking preconceived notions — they launched into a full-scale rebuild, they made a blockbuster deal with the Crosstown-rival Cubs and even before this whole process started they spent huge on the international signing of Jose Abreu — this would be one heck of a hard turn, one heck of an alteration to carefully laid rebuilding plans.
#WhiteSox interested in *both* Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, source confirms, although it’s too early to know how realistic it is for them to sign either. #WhiteSox have second lowest current 2019 payroll commitment of any @MLB team. Story: https://t.co/vSXgIqh3VL @MLBNetwork— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 5, 2018
The reasoning Jon Morosi (the national writer who set White Sox Twitter ablaze to start the week) gave in his MLB.com writeup about which teams might be interested in the services of Machado and Harper was this:
“After the (Philadelphia) Phillies, the White Sox are perhaps the best candidate to pursue both Machado and Harper — although there's no guarantee they will land either. At present, the White Sox have the second-lowest payroll commitment of any MLB team for 2019. With Jose Abreu entering his final season before free agency, the White Sox need a new face of the franchise.”
Seriously? The White Sox have a low payroll and “need a new face of the franchise”? That’s enough to make them a top candidate to hand out what are expected to be one or two of the biggest contracts in baseball history? That doesn’t seem like anywhere close to enough, not to mention that it’s leaving out some pretty huge points.
First, these players have to want to come to the White Sox. Machado has been discussed as wanting to head to the Bronx and play for the New York Yankees. Harper is the game’s biggest name and it figures he will go play for one of its highest-profile franchises. The White Sox, unlike the Yankees, the Cubs, the Dodgers and even the rebuilt Phillies, can pitch the capability of winning a championship right now. In most of those cases, these players can slide into rosters so stacked they look like dynasties in the making. The White Sox, with their wealth of highly touted prospects, could have that someday, but that someday isn’t today. Those four teams, and others, can point to being one of the best teams in the game. The White Sox can only point to plans to be one of those elite groups.
And that’s before mentioning the money. The White Sox do have a low payroll and could very well be committed to spending huge sums on the player or players that will push their rebuild over the top. But does that mean they can or will offer the kinds of contracts that will pry Machado and Harper’s eyes away from some of baseball’s biggest spenders? Can they outbid the Yankees? Outbid the Cubs? The Dodgers? The Phillies?
Those are two big ingredients to landing just one of the game’s best players, never mind both, and they were left out of Morosi’s recipe for breaking the bank on the South Side.
On top of all this is the fact that splurging on a pair of free agents this winter, the winter in direct aftermath of a 100-loss campaign, would be one heck of a hard turn in this rebuilding process. Hahn’s rebuilding plans have seemed so carefully laid, and the topic of every conversation is patience. That became a difficult quality to display during the 2018 season, and there are plenty of White Sox fans on social media who appear ready to jump off the rebuilding train in the wake of Yoan Moncada’s 217-strikeout season and Michael Kopech’s Tommy John surgery. But with Kopech, Dylan Cease, Luis Robert, Dane Dunning, Nick Madrigal and more, the future remains incredibly bright — if folks will just wait long enough to get to it.
Obviously signing one or two of baseball’s best would improve this roster, and with the kinds of contracts Machado and Harper are expected to get, it would have to improve it in the long term, the period of time in which Hahn has consistently been focused on for the last two years. Simply spending money doesn’t necessarily blow up those rebuilding plans because all those prospects would still get their chance to develop into the White Sox of the future. But signing Machado and/or Harper would blow up the contention timeline once again because when you sign a guy like that — let alone the head-spinning suggestion of signing two of them — you’re saying you’re ready to win now. Otherwise why would either guy sign at all? Machado has already had the opportunity to be the best player on a bad team, and Harper’s never really gotten a taste of championship-level baseball, as his Washington Nationals never even reached the NLCS. Shouldn't both want to start chasing rings now? Especially after Machado got so close this October with the Dodgers.
Add Machado and Harper to this current White Sox roster and does it make a championship contender? Does it even make a playoff team? This team needs starting pitching after the rotation walked more guys than any other in 2018. It needs bullpen help after ranking 23rd out of 30 major league teams in bullpen ERA. Machado and Harper can’t help with either of those things, and how much flexibility could Hahn’s front office possibly have to improve the pitching staff if it hands out $500 million to those two guys?
A serious look at the White Sox and their chances to land two of the game’s greats might not be as fun, not as video game-y as the wild speculation. But it ends up yielding the most realistic possibilities.