White Sox

Here come the hot stove rumors, including one that has White Sox interested in Marcell Ozuna

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USA TODAY

Here come the hot stove rumors, including one that has White Sox interested in Marcell Ozuna

The World Series hasn't even started yet, but the hot stove is already getting switched on.

Yes, it's that time of year, and the rumors are beginning to fly. So, too, begins the White Sox involvement in such rumors, no surprise considering how aggressive the team plans to be and how many holes it has to fill, most realistically via free agency.

According to a tweet from a Dominican reporter, the White Sox are one of eight teams interested in St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Marcell Ozuna, one of the top corner outfielders slated to hit the free-agent market this winter. And brace yourselves, because the report also includes a rumored price tag for Ozuna's services, and it ain't cheap.

White Sox fans will recognize Hector Gomez from his reporting during last offseason's Manny Machado saga. Here he's just passing on some reporting from Adan Lesther, who attached some eye-popping length and cost details in this rumor about potential Ozuna suitors, a price tag that surely wouldn't fly with plenty of teams. It's also a little bizarre to see certain clubs pop up on this list, as it would be somewhat strange for the rebuilding Kansas City Royals or last-place Miami Marlins — who used to employ Ozuna before dealing him to the Cardinals — to hand over the big-time dollars supposedly needed to land Ozuna.

From the White Sox standpoint, yes they need a corner outfielder, and yes Ozuna is that. He's one of a trio headlining that market this offseason, along with Cubs right fielder Nicholas Castellanos and Cleveland Indians right fielder Yasiel Puig. The White Sox specifically need a right fielder, as general manager Rick Hahn laid out in his end-of-season press conference last month. Ozuna hasn't spent an inning in right in each of his two seasons in St. Louis, last appearing there with the Marlins in 2017, when he played just 1.1 innings at the position. In his five seasons as a big leaguer, he's appeared as a right fielder in 65 of the 913 games he's played.

But there's no doubting the offensive upside Ozuna could bring. He's a career .272/.329/.455 hitter just two years removed from a sensational 2017 season with the Marlins, when he slashed .312/.376/.548 with 37 home runs and 124 RBIs. This season, he slashed .241/.328/.472, which are obviously significant dips from those 2017 numbers, but it's worth noting his .800 OPS was the second highest of his career. He probably made himself some money during the postseason, though, when he swung a hot bat as the Cardinals reached the NLCS. In nine October games, Ozuna hit .324/.359/.595 with a couple homers, four doubles, five RBIs and six runs scored.

However, right field could also be the opportunity Hahn is looking for to add some balance to his lineup and bring in a left-handed hitter. Ozuna doesn't fit that bill, nor do Castellanos and Puig, for that matter.

Like with any player, there are pros and cons to looking at Ozuna as a potential free-agent option for the White Sox. Certainly there seem to be better fits out there, but Ozuna has definitely produced at the plate and would be an obvious upgrade in right field, offensively, for the South Siders. At the very least, seeing the White Sox included in this list of teams could be an indication they're casting a wide net during what's expected to be a very aggressive offseason.

Make no mistake: The rumor mill is already churning.

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Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Nothing seems to be off the table for the White Sox this winter.

But certain moves might be the centerpiece, while others might be hiding behind the salt shaker.

One of the biggest questions in baseball right now is what the Boston Red Sox are going to do with Mookie Betts. With the Red Sox aiming to get under the luxury tax — made more difficult when J.D. Martinez opted to stay in Boston for $23.75 million — speculation surrounding a trade of Betts and the $27.7 million he’s projected to receive through arbitration has increased.

Betts, too, it’s important to note, has just one year of club control remaining, and he seems set on heading to free agency at this time a year from now.

The White Sox hole in right field and quest to make a huge addition to their rebuilding project lines them up as a potentially interested party. While general manager Rick Hahn is waiting until his 2020 roster takes shape to set expectations for next season, the emergence of a young core presents the possibility that next season could be the one in which contention arrives on the South Side.

Adding Betts to the mix would certainly increase those chances.

Tuesday, Hahn seemed to leave the door open to acquiring a player like Betts, that is a player with just one year of club control remaining.

“Yeah, depending on the cost. It all comes down to price,” he said. “Like everybody, you want guys who are going to fit for the long term. We want to add a guy who's got a three-, four-, five-, six-year window of control where he's going to continue to improve and he's going to grow with this young core. Those guys aren't so easy to acquire. Usually you have to give a pretty premium piece like we did to get ours, or hit on them at the top of the draft like we've hopefully done.

“Short of that, we're going to look for guys who can certainly make you better in the short term but ideally have a little back-end control. If those don't exist, if we don't come across the right fit, then we'd be open to a one-year improvement knowing that with where we've put ourselves economically, we might have the ability to retain that player when they hit free agency.”

That sounds promising if you’re a member of the Betts-to-the-White Sox camp.

But there was a decidedly different tone Wednesday. Now, Hahn was never speaking about Betts specifically, nor was he ever asked about Betts specifically. But asked about dealing from a position of prospect strength for an impact talent who has just one year of club control left, the answer was significantly different than Tuesday’s.

“We made a commitment,” Hahn said, “that once we got ourselves in a position to be on the opposite end of these trades, the trades where you were giving up talent for short-term gain, that it was going to be important to us to still try to remain committed to the long term.

“When there's a guy like Chris Sale available, who (in 2016, when the White Sox traded him) had multiple years of control and you're ready to win, making that push makes all the sense in the world. If you're talking about a guy on a one-year basis, we're not to that point yet, and if we do get to that point, that's going to be a tough trigger to pull because we're trying to build something sustainable for an extended period of time.

“Quick hits don't necessarily do that. And certainly after three years of rebuilding, we've gotten ourselves in a very good position, but not in one where we're going to do something for immediate bang in 2020, necessarily, if we feel it compromises us for the long term.

“We've paid too big of a price to compromise where we're going to be at long term.”

Now, with that question posed by a Boston-based reporter, Hahn might have been addressing a more specific scenario. More likely is that he was reacting to the idea that the White Sox top-rated prospects would make them able to swing a deal for the elite of the elite. Thing is, the highest rated of those prospects aren’t really on the block, with Michael Kopech, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn all solidly part of the team’s long-term plans.

So, is a Betts trade off the table? No. Is a Betts trade likely? Probably not. Would the White Sox trade for Betts? Probably if they only had to give up mid-tier prospects. What would it take to pry Betts away from the Red Sox? Probably more than mid-tier prospects.

Despite the seemingly contradictory nature of Hahn’s comments on Tuesday and Wednesday, he didn’t really flip-flop. A trade for one year of Betts isn’t out of the question, it's likely only going to come if the White Sox don’t have to give up too much. Maybe the Red Sox financial situation is dire enough that the prospect cost will be unusually low. Maybe the White Sox are presented with a rare opportunity to negotiate an extension.

But “depending on the cost” remains the key phrase not just in this situation but the entire White Sox offseason. That doesn’t mean they won’t spend or trade anyone. It simply means that they will only do so if there’s a long-term benefit. They’re trying to build a perennial contender, and the lengthy tenures of Robert and Madrigal and Vaughn are more valuable than one year of Betts.

In search of that long-term benefit, then, the free-agent market or a trade for a player with greater club control certainly seems a more likely route than a trade for Betts.

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A free-agent destination? Scott Boras: 'Players look at the White Sox in a very different way than they did two years ago'

A free-agent destination? Scott Boras: 'Players look at the White Sox in a very different way than they did two years ago'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox certainly believe themselves to be a destination for the game’s top free agents.

What do those free agents think, though?

Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Nicholas Castellanos will likely stay silent on that and all other matters until they’re introduced as members of their new teams.

Their agent, Scott Boras, is not exactly the staying-silent type.

Boras spoke to the typical throng of reporters Wednesday at the GM meetings, doing his job as an advocate for a game in which more teams are handing out bigger contracts and the players see a bigger share of the pie. But, as is tradition, he was peppered with questions about individual teams and their attractiveness to his clients.

And that included the White Sox, who have quite a bit on their shopping list this winter. So, Scott, are they the destination Rick Hahn claims they are?

“They have a lot of great young talent,” he said. “It’s a great city. Certainly players look at the White Sox in a very different way than they did two years ago, no question.”

It’d be hard not to. At this time two years ago, the White Sox were coming off a 95-loss season, with a 100-loss season to follow. But in 2019, despite the loss total still arriving at a nothing-to-be-proud-of 89, we learned the White Sox have an exciting young core thanks to several players breaking out with big performances. Two years ago, Tim Anderson wasn’t a batting champ, Yoan Moncada wasn’t the best all-around player on the team, Lucas Giolito wasn’t an All Star and Eloy Jimenez wasn’t a 31-homer rookie.

Everyone should look at the White Sox in a very different way than they did two years ago, free agents included.

Boras' words do little to actually indicate whether the White Sox will have a strong chance at reeling in one of the biggest fish in this winter's free-agent pond. But between the White Sox stated aggressiveness in pursuing premium talent and the idea that talent might be looking at the White Sox as a destination, that's good news for Hahn's front office and the goal of landing a top player.

There was more from Boras, though his other White Sox-related comments came off more as lobbying the South Siders to hand out deals to free agents. Still, it doesn’t make him wrong.

“Well certainly the White Sox need veteran players, because they have such great young players, and you're trying to create that mix all the time,” he said. “So I readily foresee there's a lot of fits that could go in there and really advance what they've built to date.

“I think veteran players, particularly who have won before, can come into a locker room, bring a credibility where players can go to them and say, organically, ‘How does this happen? Are we that close? How far away are we? What do we do? What do I do?’

“And when you've been around world champions, when they speak, the athletes have a high level of credibility for what they have to say because they've done it, they've been through it.”

But Boras’ biggest talking point about the White Sox is actually the same as Hahn’s. The general manager has voiced for months now that his team’s top selling point isn’t the financial flexibility that will allow them to hand out a massive contract — though certainly that will help — but the opportunity to play winning baseball with this group of talented players.

“We are a logical destination for premium talent,” Hahn said Tuesday. “Players want to come play for us, play for the White Sox, play on the South Side, play for (manager Rick Renteria) and be part of what we're building. And if last year we announced that perhaps a little too loudly, it was in part a response to the general narrative that we weren't legitimate players for such talent.

“I think the message has already been delivered that we are a true destination for such talent, and now it's incumbent upon us to convert on some along the way.”

Hahn added more on the topic Wednesday.

“It's a combination, not just while we're here but over the course of the season, hearing from some guys in our clubhouse who have heard from other players around the league about what we've been building and what the future looks like, and then having that reinforced in these early conversations with some free agents.

“The agents will certainly tell you nice things along the way, but when you hear it directly from some of the players, ‘I see what you guys have been doing, I see where the future is headed there and it's exciting,’ it's some positive reinforcement.

“Now, in the end, dollars and contract terms tend to carry a little more weight. But at the very least, it's good to hear that people are excited by the prospect of being part of what we're building.”

Hahn’s right, in the end, the money will likely do the majority of the talking, and it’s up to his front office to do away with what he calls a “false narrative” that the White Sox are unwilling or unable to spend on the highest-priced free agents.

But there’s also the old cliche that winning cures all ills. This team showing it’s ready to compete for a title with its performance on the field could play a big role in top talent picking the South Side as a landing spot.

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