CARLSBAD, Calif. — The White Sox are going to be “opportunistic” this offseason, according to their general manager. Well, a big opportunity might be knocking on the door.
According to Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan, the Seattle Mariners might enter into a full-scale rebuild this winter, potentially offering up their best players in trades. That includes a pair of 2018 All Stars in outfielder Mitch Haniger and closer Edwin Diaz, who was perhaps the best in the game at his position last season, and an All-Star caliber starting pitcher in James Paxton.
Sources: The Mariners are considering a full-fledged teardown this winter. If trade market is strong, they’ve told teams they’re willing to move just about anyone. And if that happens, they have indicated they’re willing to wait a few years to build a competitive team again.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 6, 2018
Now, blowing things up in Seattle is subject to return. Jean Segura’s no-trade would need to be worked around. Return for Mitch Hanover, James Paxton and Edwin Diaz would need to be massive. But Mariners are in that awful no-man’s land where they’re good but not good enough.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 6, 2018
The White Sox know what that purgatory feeling is like, and it’s why they pulled the trigger on their rebuild two years ago. It allowed the Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals and Cubs to be “opportunistic” in acquiring the biggest pieces on the South Side: Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana, respectively.
White Sox fans know very well what it took for those three teams to land those difference-makers, and so it should come at no surprise to read that the Mariners’ asking price for any of those three guys would be “massive.”
But when looking at what the Milwaukee Brewers did last season in acquiring Christian Yelich, who is expected to be named the NL MVP later this week, a similar opportunity could be facing the White Sox in Haniger. The soon-to-be 28-year-old outfielder is under team control for four more seasons, yet to even reach arbitration. He slashed .285/.366/.493 with 26 home runs and 93 RBIs last season for the M’s. He played in all but five games, banged out 38 doubles and played all three outfield positions, including making 26 starts in center field.
That’s got to sound extraordinarily tantalizing to White Sox fans. Haniger would be a big offensive upgrade at any of the three outfield positions and could be penned, not penciled, into the lineup for the next four seasons. Once Eloy Jimenez arrives on the South Side, expected to be early next season, he’ll have an outfield spot on lockdown for the foreseeable future.
And, heck, while we’re at it, the cases for adding Paxton and Diaz are pretty strong, too. The 24-year-old Diaz led the majors with 57 saves last season and is also under team control for four more years. Paxton is freshly 30 (happy birthday, James) and under team control for two more seasons. He was sensational in 2017, with a 2.98 ERA in 28 starts, and fell back to Earth a bit last season, finishing with 3.76 ERA while also reaching career highs with 28 starts, 160.1 innings and 208 strikeouts.
The White Sox have a shot at a homegrown rotation, but of the five arms that could make up the 2020 rotation, Carlos Rodon is the most proven of the bunch, with Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez coming off at-times rocky first full seasons in the bigs, Michael Kopech out for 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery and Dylan Cease still in the minor leagues. Meanwhile, the White Sox have a fleet of young relief arms out in the bullpen, but as to who will be the team’s closer of the future, that’s a complete mystery. The favorite for that job, 2016 first-round pick Zack Burdi, is also on the mend from Tommy John surgery.
Now, the cases against adding any of these guys are obvious, too. The return packages would have to be loaded with top-ranked prospects, and that could mean guys as high in the White Sox organizational rankings as Dylan Cease and Luis Robert, it could mean guys with as bright of futures as Dane Dunning and Nick Madrigal. Those would be huge price tags and a significant — though not complete — disruption to Rick Hahn’s carefully laid rebuilding plans.
But the White Sox boast an incredible amount of depth throughout their farm system, with the potential for blockbuster trades being just one of many reasons that depth exists. Trading from positions of strength like starting pitching and outfield, as examples, wouldn’t necessarily mean the cupboard would be bare, though it would mean it might not be as promising as it was before.
The difference here, however, compared to other names that have been bandied about as dream targets for the White Sox is the team control. Haniger and Diaz wouldn’t become free agents until after the 2022 season. And while injuries throughout the organization might have delayed the opening of the White Sox contention window, it’s very much expected to be open before then. And, obviously, adding a player or players of this caliber would once again alter that timeline, in that case for the better.
In an offseason full of expensive free agents who might not be as attracted to the White Sox long-term vision as they might be to the concrete evidence of present-day contenders, perhaps a trade is a way to kick the rebuild into overdrive.
It’s all just speculation, just the game of “how about this?” that goes on every Hot Stove season. But the White Sox, with all the flexibility their rebuilding process has created, might have a chance at being “opportunistic.”