White Sox

Cole Hamels says White Sox have reached out, talks about what he could bring to South Side

Cole Hamels says White Sox have reached out, talks about what he could bring to South Side

Rick Hahn doesn't like to discuss his team's pursuits of specific free-agent players.

But what happens when one of those players is a little more revealing than the general manager?

Free-agent starting pitcher Cole Hamels told Our Chuck Garfien on the latest edition of the White Sox Talk Podcast that the South Siders have been in contact and are interested in talking with Hamels about a potential signing — though it might have to wait until after some other business gets done.

"They have reached out," Hamels said. "That was great to be able to hear. I know with the few guys that they've signed, I think that was kind of their focus. When they did talk to my agent, it was, 'Hey, we're putting something together. We have a few guys that we want to try to get first,' which I think that's what they've been doing, 'but we really have some good interest and would like to talk further down the line.' And I think that's always really good to see.

"And then you see that they're actually making moves, and that's when you pay attention a little bit more, just because you have to see where you might actually fit into the situation."

Hamels' description meshes with what the White Sox have done and are rumored to be doing. They made signing free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal a top offseason priority and crossed that off their to-do list by giving him the richest contract in team history. They guaranteed Jose Abreu will wear a White Sox uniform for another three seasons with a contract extension. And they are rumored to be in hot pursuit of free-agent starting pitcher Zack Wheeler, one of the biggest names in that portion of the market.

Bringing Hamels aboard would also go right along with what Hahn has been talking about while discussing his front office's offseason plans. The White Sox are in search of a pair of arms to add to the starting rotation. Wheeler or someone like him would slot in next to Lucas Giolito at the top of that starting staff. Hamels could be a perfect option to put elsewhere in the rotation, provide some depth and install as a mentor to the rest of a young staff that features Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez.

Hamels would bring not only a veteran presence but a winning history. He was the World Series MVP when the Philadelphia Phillies won it all in 2008.

"I was the same as them," Hamels said. "And I was lucky enough to get Jamie Moyer to come right over. And all of a sudden I had Pedro Martinez and Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee and (Roy) Oswalt. I had those guys to learn from. I had some of the best in the game to learn from, to teach me how to minimize mistakes, how to, really, when you're in the pressed, most difficult situation, how to get out of it, limit damage. Because sometimes you're just flying by the seat of your pants and you don't recognize what you're doing so you can remember to not repeat it. So that's what a good veteran does.

"And I was able to watch, and I feel like that's what I've been able to now actually apply. And that's how you teach the young guys is how to minimize, damage control.

"That's what you have to teach the young pitchers. I think Grandal will probably help with that, too. But you have to be able to have that in the dugout all the time while the game's going on."

It sounds like there will be competition for Hamels' services, the four-time All Star saying that more than half the teams in baseball have reached out and expressed some level of interest.

But the words of Hahn and super-agent Scott Boras might be ringing true. Hahn has long said he feels players can see what the White Sox are building and want to be a part of it. Boras said last month at the GM meetings that players are looking at the White Sox much differently than they have in years past. Hamels raved about what the White Sox can be in the future and talked about how attractive it is to be a part of a team ready to make a jump into contention.

"They're a team that's making some serious strides," he said. "I've pitched against them the past couple years, and you can see the young talent that they have and now how they're actually learning the game and how they're playing well together. At first, I was beating them a lot, and then the past couple seasons they really came out hard and they beat up on me. It's good to see.

"I love the city of Chicago, had a blast being there for about a year and a half (with the Cubs). It's one of my favorite cities to travel to, and to actually be there in the summertime and for a season, I loved it. The fan base there, from both sides (of town), for both teams, is absolutely amazing.

"Just to know that you can actually make a difference and seeing that you could be on a team that's trying to go for those winning ways, that's all I really ask for. I just want the opportunity."

Hamels might not be the same pitcher who finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting four times during his 10-year tenure in Philadelphia, but he was quite good on the North Side the last season and a half, posting a 3.30 ERA and striking out 217 batters in 39 starts for the Cubs. That kind of production would certainly aid the White Sox in their quest to transition from rebuilders to contenders.

Giolito said at season's end that White Sox players' goal will be to make the postseason in 2020, going as far to say that "if we don’t, then I don’t think we’ve come close to what we should be doing." Already the White Sox have helped in that goal, by adding Grandal and bringing Abreu back. They seem intent on that being just the beginning of their offseason.

Hamels could be part of that. It sounds like he wants to be, at least.

"When I was with the Phillies, I came up at just the right time where all those guys in the lineup had been there a few years and had just gotten beat down. But they never lost their confidence and they finally felt like it was their time, and they believed it and they went out and proved it," he said. "And I was able to go out and do my thing and build off their success, which instilled a lot of confidence in me.

"I think that's where it is in (the White Sox) lineup. They're finally feeling ready, they're now ready to take care of business, and everybody will be able to feed off that. And that's the fun part of how you build a team and see what the guys can really do and how they can prove it to themselves.

"As players, we start to see that and sense that from teams, and those are the teams you want to go jump on board with."

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Winter Meetings wrap: Why the White Sox left San Diego without a top-of-the-market free agent

Winter Meetings wrap: Why the White Sox left San Diego without a top-of-the-market free agent

SAN DIEGO — “We belong at the table in these negotiations, we belong as part of negotiations for premium talent. And regardless what happens over the next several weeks with either of these two players, we plan to be at the table and continue to attempt to convert on these guys.”

That was Rick Hahn in January, talking about his front office’s pursuits of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, the two biggest names on last winter’s free-agent market and two guys who landed $300 million contracts. Neither, obviously, is playing for the White Sox. But Hahn set forth expectations last winter that the White Sox were going to try to land that kind of top-of-the-market talent.

Fast forward to the current free-agent cycle, and the biggest names on the market have all signed. None of them signed with the White Sox. The Winter Meetings saw a tidal wave of spending, with Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon all coming off the board, all inking huge deals that figure to transform their new teams (or old team, in the case of Strasburg).

The White Sox, meanwhile, headed home with nothing more to show for their efforts than Nomar Mazara. No word came from any of the usual baseball news-breakers connecting the South Siders to Cole, Strasburg or Rendon.

Why not?

Hahn spent this week, and has spent his media availabilities this offseason and in the months prior, talking about fit. The White Sox are looking for players who fit their long-term plans. The 2020 season might be the year the long-awaited transition from rebuilding to contending comes. It might not be. So the White Sox are searching for players who align with a contention window far into the future.

And that’s an admirable goal. The White Sox should stick to those plans. They’ve suffered too much to make a handbrake turn to try to rush things, certainly at the expense of their bright future. That’s completely understandable.

But didn’t Cole, Strasburg and Rendon fit into that box? Aren’t they the type of premium talents Hahn has talked about wanting to add to a burgeoning young core? Wouldn’t the long-term deals they got insert them right into that contention window?

“Probably a guy the fans see out there and see fits with what we're doing and, ‘Hey, they should pursue him,’ maybe we did,” Hahn said Thursday. “Maybe we have extra information where it shows that would’ve been a fruitless pursuit in the end, just based on the player’s preference for where they want to be, league or locationally. Perhaps it’s something that we did get after and just weren’t able to convert on.

“We obviously operate best when there’s less noise around what we’re doing. Certainly we recently showed that on (Yasmani) Grandal. It would be temporarily nice or fulfilling for me to stand here and say like, ‘Yeah, we didn’t go after Player X because we knew for a fact this thing about why he wasn’t coming here,’ or, ‘We did go after Player X and we came up short.’ That might satisfy some sort of desire to show that we were active if people didn’t think we were.

“But I would hope after all this time that people understand our approach tends to err on the side of being aggressive. And if there’s a high-quality player that seems like a fit for us, we probably went down that path to some extent, and if it didn’t wind up converting, there’s usually a pretty good reason why.”

That quote hit the Twitterverse not long after it left Hahn’s mouth, and the reactions were, generally, less than favorable. Plenty saw it as an excuse. But while vague, there’s a lot of truth in those words.

The White Sox cannot control everything when it comes to free-agent pursuits. They can control how much money they offer, but as we saw with Zack Wheeler, that doesn’t always win the day. Wheeler spurned the White Sox richer offer to please his family and pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Cole, meanwhile, was long expected to choose between a preference for the West Coast or his childhood fandom for the New York Yankees. It helped, of course, that the Yankees offered him a stupifying contract. Strasburg was long expected to return to the Washington Nationals, and that’s just what he did, with folks wondering if there was any consideration given to pitching somewhere else.

Those are mighty difficult things to overcome, and they could have made the White Sox — and plenty of other teams — jumping into the fray a potential non-starter.

“More often than not, early in the process, you hear why it’s a potential non-fit for either side,” Hahn said Monday, speaking in the wake of Wheeler’s decision. “Again, that doesn’t mean anything was mishandled or anything was wrong with this. In the end, when offers are on the table and it's decision time, guys can make that decision based upon any factor that they view as important. You’ve got to respect that. And they’ve earned that right.”

That’s not really supposed to make anyone feel any better. As Hahn often says, you either sign the guy or you don’t.

What’s probably got some fans stewing as much as the eventual free-agent destinations is the White Sox complete lack of attachment to Cole, Strasburg or Rendon in the typical stream of rumors that flows during baseball’s busiest week. As Hahn mentioned, all being quiet doesn’t mean the White Sox weren’t pursuing those players. But after years of discussing financial flexibility, the team seems to have the economic means to play in the deepest end of the free-agent pool, so it’s not unreasonable to expect to hear about it doing so.

"The money will be spent,” Hahn said in February, after Machado picked the San Diego Padres. “It might not be spent this offseason, but it will be spent at some point. This isn’t money sitting around waiting to just accumulate interest. It’s money trying to be deployed to put us in best position to win some championships.”

With that in mind, plenty assumed the White Sox would be able to afford even the gargantuan contracts that went to this winter’s three free-agent superstars. But simply having money to spend doesn’t mean they believed Cole was worth the $324 million he got from the Yankees. It doesn’t mean they believed Strasburg was worth the $245 million he got from the Nationals. It doesn’t mean they believed Rendon was worth the $245 million he got from the Los Angeles Angels.

That’s where that discussion of fit comes in again. It’s easy for us to see a player and believe him a fit for what the White Sox are building. But we’re not the ones defining the fit. The White Sox are. And while they might have pursued all three, might have wanted to pursue all three, might have been willing to back a truckload of money up to all three, it’s also possible that, for whatever reasons, they didn’t see them as the same kind of fit they see other players at different price points.

The lingering notion that the White Sox shy away from handing out long-term deals to pitchers is likely more of a general caution than the edict it’s often portrayed to be. It’s also not reserved to the White Sox.

“In general, the investment in a position player is less risky than an investment in a pitcher,” Hahn said. “Those things vary. We are talking just about generic players, you generally err on the side of a position player being less risky.”

“Is anybody worth $300 million?” USA Today’s Bob Nightengale said Tuesday on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “Say the White Sox signed Gerrit Cole, it doesn’t make them an automatic winner. He’s a good pitcher, but hey, good pitchers get hurt, too.”

OK, so what about Rendon? The White Sox were willing to offer a reported $250 million in guaranteed money to Machado last winter. Rendon got less than that to play for the Angels. Of course, Machado’s free agency came before Yoan Moncada blossomed into the team’s best all-around player at third base. Machado was 26 during his sweepstakes. Rendon is 29. These are not necessarily defenses, they are simply truths.

“As a general thought, when you are making a long-term commitment, doing that to a player who is in their mid 20s, in general, is a more appealing alternative then doing that with a player who is in his 30s at the start of the contract,” Hahn said. “Everyone is familiar with aging curves and risk and how that balances out as you get older. So yeah, the idea of devoting big money to someone who is younger versus older is certainly more appealing.”

And then there’s the clarifying Hahn did on those “money will be spent” comments from 10 months ago. Basically: That money doesn’t all have to be spent in one place to make the White Sox better.

“I think it would be awfully foolish to say we're going to go out and spend whatever the amount of the offer (to Machado) was immediately,” he said Wednesday. “The point of that comment was there's other ways for us to allocate this money, and it's going to be allocated toward player acquisitions.

“You could argue some of it went to Grandal, you could argue some of it went to the Eloy (Jimenez) extension or re-signing (Jose) Abreu or whatever we have coming down the pipe next.

“That offer was over an eight- to 10-year period, so to say it's all going out the door in Year 1 just because it's sitting there, maybe, but it's got to be for the right players.”

None of this will satisfy the critics. And that’s a product of the frustrating on-field success of the big league team during the rebuild and the expectations that came into this offseason. The White Sox pursued the talent at the top of the free-agent market last offseason, so they must be willing to do the same thing again this winter, right? They might have. But it didn’t work out, and now there are two offseasons where fans wanted Machado and Harper and Cole and Strasburg and Rendon and watched all those players go elsewhere.

It’s important to remember the White Sox did sign Grandal, that they do still have that young core that broke out in a big way in 2019. The future is still blindingly bright, and Hahn & Co. see that. It’s why they remain so committed to their long-term plans — because they could very well work.

Those plans might mean that the consolation prizes for teams that didn’t land one of the top three prizes on the free-agent market aren’t quite as appealing fits. It’s not as easy as just moving down to the next name on the list. The White Sox are being picky, and they can afford to be picky. Not adding a huge free agent — and, again, remember they did sign Grandal — doesn’t mean Moncada and Jimenez and Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito are suddenly all bad. The future is snowballing for the White Sox, in a good way, and the melting process is nowhere near starting.

Yes, the South Siders left San Diego without Cole, Strasburg or Rendon. Perhaps it wasn’t for lack of trying. Perhaps they weren’t able to get past the bouncer, no matter how big the checkbook was. Perhaps they didn’t see these guys as good fits. Perhaps they saw these guys as expensive in a way that would jeopardize their carefully laid plans.

The biggest takeaway from this week: Those plans are the driving force for these White Sox. Do not, for any reason, expect them to deviate.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Guest appearance Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson

NBC Sports Chicago

White Sox Talk Podcast: Guest appearance Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson

Ford Frick winner and Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson joins Chuck Garfien on the podcast.

(3:15) - People that have congratulated Hawk on his induction, including some people you would never guess

(12:24) - Origin of some of your favorite "Hawk-isms"

(15:29) - Great story about the late great Harry Carey

(18:46) - His life growing up in Savannah, Georgia

Listen here or via the embedded player below:


White Sox Talk Podcast