Before leaving Chicago for the winter, White Sox players seemed to have a unanimous opinion about the foundation they built in 2019 and what they believe lies ahead starting in 2020.
Winning is coming.
Reliever Aaron Bummer put it simply.
“It’s that time.”
The young core of Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson and Eloy Jimenez is here. Luis Robert is on the way.
Now begins the mystery of what other talent could be headed to the White Sox in deals made this winter.
Players don’t sign free agents, but if you’re a starting pitcher, right fielder or designated hitter about to enter the market looking for a place to win, know this: There’s a clubhouse on the South Side that’s ready for you.
“You look at how teams have gone through this rebuild process like the Cubs and the Astros. Right now is that time where we’re about to turn it over. It’s no longer about development and getting experience. It’s about winning,” Giolito said. “For a free-agent guy who wants to go somewhere exciting, somewhere we’re about to start building a good winning culture, I think this is a great spot for that.”
White Sox fans still feeling the affects of last year’s swing-and-miss at Manny Machado might have some doubts that the front office will convert on the big targets in this year’s class. Ultimately, it’ll be up to Rick Hahn and Co. to eliminate that skepticism. Fortunately, the White Sox are in a stronger position to convert on top-tier free agents this year compared to last because they don’t have to convince players and agents on what Jimenez, Moncada, etc. might do. In 2019, they went out and did it.
"I really think we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t need to sell the team or talk about the future because it’s evident to everyone around the league what’s coming,” Hahn said in his season-ending press conference. “When you are talking to some free agents, last year, we were probably a year too soon. You had to map out what it was going to look like and educate them a little bit about who was coming and how we saw this thing coming together.
“Over the course of this year, we saw a lot of it come together before our eyes and it’s fairly easy to project out who is going to be joining us from our system and what’s that going to potentially look like. The excitement is there, not just in our clubhouse but around the game right now."
Giolito and James McCann experienced this first hand when they spoke to other players at the All-Star Game in Cleveland.
“There were a lot of guys who were singing our praises,” McCann said.
Hopefully, those compliments were coming from, oh, J.D. Martinez, Gerrit Cole and Yasmani Grandal.
“Talking with various friends and people around the league, especially at the All-Star Game, there’s only been positive talks about how talented we are and how good we can be,” Giolito added. “But now it’s on us to make it happen. We didn’t make it happen this year, but now it’s go-time next year.”
Jake Odorizzi, Dallas Keuchel, Marcell Ozuna, did you hear that?
“It’s no longer waiting. It’s a shift to a winning desire that’s attractive to guys. I mean, it’s attractive to me. I want to win,” Bummer said. “Everyone in this clubhouse wants to win. We’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”
As a free agent at the lower end of the market last winter, McCann had to see the forest through the trees before signing with the White Sox last winter. Giolito was coming off his disastrous 2018 season, Moncada led all of baseball in strikeouts, Jose Abreu was coming off his worst season in the majors, Michael Kopech was lost for the year with Tommy John surgery.
McCann himself was saddled with an ugly year offensively, finishing with career lows in batting average, home runs and RBIs.
The optics are much different for the White Sox in free agency this time around.
“From a standpoint of where this organization is at, I think it’s an opportunity to come in and help get an organization with such a rich tradition back in the postseason,” McCann explained. “I think that’s a very attractive thing. It’s also knowing the amount of talent and youth. It’s not just one year, now or never. It’s a chance to be good for several years.”
Even before the White Sox make a move this offseason, their 72-89 record in 2019 might not scream playoffs a year from now. But the way Bummer looks at it, there’s more to the story than just the wins and losses.
“I think there’s no doubt that everyone in this clubhouse is going to get better. I think that’s the goal of everyone is to get better, at the end of the day. And if all of a sudden everyone keeps getting better, who’s to limit us on the amount of wins we can get?” Bummer said. “Everyone says that 20 (more) wins in one year is a lot. If you look and see what’s in the clubhouse and the way that some of the games have gone for us, we definitely could have won 10 more games this year. All of a sudden, we’re at 80 wins.”
The core players did their part. Now, the job falls on the front office to surround them with the necessary pieces to help the White Sox as they enter what Hahn described as “the next phase” starting in 2020.
Madison Bumgarner, Nicholas Castellanos, Edwin Encarnacion: Want to join the party?
Those already here anxiously await the possible news to come.
“You look forward to the winter meetings when all those rumors really start to surface,” McCann said. “I’ll be pressing the refresh button quite a bit.”
He’s not alone.
Get ready to click.
It should be a busy winter.