Rick Hahn doesn’t often get into too many specifics, especially when it comes to discussing moves that he might or might not make. But the White Sox general manager laid out a pretty cut-and-dry offseason to-do list for his front office as the regular season entered its final days.
The bottom line: Expect a busy winter on the South Side.
As the White Sox move into what the general manager called the “next stage” of his rebuilding project, the types of offseason moves the team will make are expected to be as different as it hopes the results on the field will be.
In other words, don’t anticipate another offseason like last one, at least from the standpoint of the kinds of players the White Sox ended up acquiring: Yonder Alonso, Jon Jay, Ivan Nova, that sort of thing. Instead, expect the White Sox to remain as aggressive as they were in attempting to land Manny Machado and expect bigger additions.
Where? Well, Hahn laid that out during his end-of-season press conference Friday, signaling the team’s intent to add two starting players to the lineup and potentially multiple arms to the starting rotation.
“We've had a fair amount of meetings in terms of where we think we need to go,” Hahn said. “I think it's no secret that as strong as some of the offensive performances have been this year, we obviously haven't gotten much production out of certain positions — right field, designated hitter — over the course of the year.
“We're very pleased, going into the offseason, projecting out (Lucas) Giolito, (Dylan) Cease and (Reynaldo) Lopez as part of that rotation, but that leaves a couple spots. Obviously, Michael Kopech's coming back from injury, Carlos Rodon at some point next year, at some point next year Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert. But it still leaves the opportunity to solidify that rotation either through free agency or trade, and that will likely be a priority in the coming months.”
A right fielder, a designated hitter, a starting pitcher or two. That’s the to-do list for Hahn and his front office. As for which players will end up filling those holes, that obviously remains to be seen.
Why do the White Sox need to make these specific moves?
Certainly those needs are justified ones. Hahn went as far as saying “many of our young outfielders aren’t quite ready to fill that void in right field,” pointing to the hit the organization’s depth took with myriad injuries and under-performers in 2019. And with Alonso and Daniel Palka both floundering dramatically, the White Sox were basically left with no viable DH options all season. Zack Collins might wind up an option there, but he’s hardly a sure-thing middle-of-the-order presence right now.
The numbers explain things perfectly. White Sox right fielders slashed .220/.277/.290 this season, with White Sox designated hitters posting a similarly disappointing .203/.282/.346 line.
In the rotation, starting pitching has long been discussed as an offseason priority for Hahn and his front office. The team’s major league ready depth was worn bare in a hurry this season, with a parade of mostly ineffective fifth starters. While Giolito developed into the ace of the staff, Cease arrived at the major league level with high hopes and Kopech is expected to return from his Tommy John surgery, there’s work to be done to eliminate some of the rotation’s question marks heading into next season.
Will the White Sox plug these holes via free agency or trades?
In all areas, it’s perhaps likely free agency will be the main route to plug those holes. It doesn’t mean it will be the only one, but pulling off a trade for an impact player seems, at the least, more difficult than it might have been a year ago. The aforementioned injuries and under-performances throughout the minor leagues make it difficult to envision what kind of package could be built out of players who aren’t slated for key roles in the White Sox long-term future.
Hahn addressed that Friday, though, saying that teams were interested in injured players during the season and that with those players closer to health, the interest could be there again this winter.
“If you're talking more specifically about do injuries to certain players affect their trade value, I can say that at the trade deadline when we were targeting some major league add-ons, we were asked about some players who were out for the year. Not that we were necessarily looking to move them, but they still had some level of value,” he said. “Obviously their value will continue to climb as they get closer to return and once they do return and perform, we'll be back to where we were.
“So we'll have to see how the market plays out. It was probably, initially, one area we felt it most with the injuries was having trade capital stored up. But as we get closer to these players returning, I think we're going to return back to that level of having a decent stable to draw upon for Chicago or trades to improve Chicago.”
And so it’s likely back to the free-agent waters for these White Sox, who ventured out there last season in search of Machado, only for the All-Star infielder to sign with the San Diego Padres. This winter’s free-agent market isn’t as stacked as it once was thanks to a flurry of extensions signed last winter and spring that kept names like Chris Sale, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Justin Verlander and others in the employ of their current clubs. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of options.
The question is whether Hahn will be able to end up with a different outcome than the one he did last spring, when the White Sox missed out on Machado.
“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. “I’ve heard from my peers in other organizations, I know I’ve heard from players in the clubhouse, what their peers have said. The coaches talk.
“There’s a lot of positive buzz about where this team is headed. 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.”
Who will the White Sox pursue?
On the starting-pitching front, Gerrit Cole will be the biggest and most expensive name out there. One of the Houston Astros’ two Cy Young candidates could end up fetching the richest pitching contract in baseball history. Whether the White Sox want to swim in those waters or not, we’ll find out. But even if they don’t, players like Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Jake Odorizzi, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler and perhaps even Stephen Strasburg will be available. The White Sox could opt to top their rotation with a veteran ace type or fill in behind Giolito, who turned in one of the best pitching seasons in the American League in 2019.
There are a few very attractive corner-outfield options. Nicholas Castellanos has upped his value and should get a huge payday after playing so well with the Cubs since the trade deadline. He crushed the ball at Guaranteed Rate Field when he was a member of the division-rival Detroit Tigers. Yasiel Puig and Marcell Ozuna are also heading to the open market.
It’s perhaps here where we should address the idea of the White Sox needing a certain type of right fielder, a category that neither Castellanos, Puig nor Ozuna fit into: Will the White Sox be looking to add a right fielder who bats left handed? Those will be much more difficult to find — Kole Calhoun and Corey Dickerson would be the top two options on the free-agent market — if Hahn believes he needs to add a left-handed bat to balance out a heavily right-handed lineup.
James McCann, Jose Abreu, Nick Madrigal, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert are all right-handed hitters. Yoan Moncada is a switch hitter, and Collins is a lefty. What does Hahn think about the need for another left-hander in that group?
“Ideally, that would be nice,” he said. “Ideally, you'd like to balance that out, and that would require adding some left-handed power. We don't want to get too hung up strictly on handedness in the end and sign an inferior, say, left-handed hitter when a better right-handed hitter is available and fits. But it's a consideration, and in an ideal world we would balance it out.”
Maybe something to keep an eye on as the offseason progresses.
Finally, designated hitters can really come from anywhere, so it’s hard to pick out a list of guys. One player, though, who’s expected to be available is J.D. Martinez, the Boston Red Sox slugger who is expected to opt out of his deal with the BoSox in a bit of a financial pickle. If Martinez hits the open market, he’ll be hotly pursued, but he’s a perfect fit for a team looking to solidify the DH spot.
What about someone who doesn’t fit into one of those holes?
Last offseason, the White Sox pursued Machado because he would have been an impact addition as a middle-of-the-order bat for the next decade. They already had a shortstop, of course, but the opportunity to land Machado meant they were perhaps willing to do a little shuffling with their current roster.
That opportunity might pop up again this winter in the form of Anthony Rendon, the player expected to be the biggest bat on the market. He’s a third baseman, and a good one, as well as a guy who’s been a quiet MVP candidate in recent seasons. He’d be a heck of an addition to any lineup.
Well, Hahn obviously didn’t address whether the White Sox were thinking of chasing Rendon. But if they are, they’ll encounter the same issue as last winter, as they’ve already got a third baseman. Moncada has been excellent offensively and defensively in 2019, blossoming into the team’s best all-around hitter while playing strong defense at the hot corner. But would the chance to sign Rendon mean a second position switch in as many years for Moncada?
Hahn was not talking in specifics here, but he was asked whether the team would consider pursuing a player who played a position that’s already spoken for on the White Sox roster.
“The talent pool is a little different free agent-wise this offseason, but I'm not going to say we won't be creative in a couple elements, whether it's via trade or free agency,” he said. “Our roster does have a little bit of flexibility in it, and we hope in the coming years to have more flexibility built in in terms of different positions that guys can go out and play.
“That said, if we wind up breaking with Moncada at third, TA at short and Eloy in left, McCann behind the plate. If Jose is back, him at first or DH, we're going to feel real good about that initial start. It's going to be a matter of augmenting them at those specific positions I didn't name.”