White Sox

Manny Machado is not coming to the White Sox, so where do they go from here?

Manny Machado is not coming to the White Sox, so where do they go from here?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Manny Machado is not coming to the White Sox.

The months of dissecting every social-media post and every non-update update has ended in Machado agreeing a reported 10-year, $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres.

Kenny Williams was shocked. Rick Hahn was "pissed off." And White Sox fans are taking the opportunity to be very, very angry on social media. Barring a surprise splurge on Bryce Harper — who's still on the market but likely to command more than what Machado is reportedly receiving from the Padres — the White Sox active winter will end in nothing but a couple "almosts" on the two biggest free agents, a missed opportunity to add a premium centerpiece to the final stage of the rebuilding process.

OK. So what's next?

It's likely there will be no traditional "Plan B." It won't be as simple as just moving on to the next best free agent in hopes of scoring a consolation prize before Opening Day. These two players offered an opportunity for the White Sox to add someone who would impact the team for years to come, someone who meshed perfectly with the long-term plans on the South Side. While there are still a lot of jobless players out there, there's none who fit the description of Machado and Harper.

But that doesn't mean there never will be again. More opportunities to add that type of player are coming. Next winter's free-agent class is loaded, currently set to feature the likes of Nolan Arenado, Gerrit Cole, Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts, Anthony Rendon, J.D. Martinez, Paul Goldschmidt, Justin Verlander, Josh Donaldson, Madison Bumgarner, Didi Gregorius and Marcell Ozuna. Yes, there's been chatter about some of the biggest names on that list potentially inking extensions that would allow them to avoid the same kind of drawn-out free agency that Machado and Harper have gone through this offseason. But there will still be a lot of All Stars available, including some of the best players in baseball.

Hahn talked earlier this offseason about the decisions of Machado and Harper holding no bearing on the team's continued aggressiveness in future offseasons. But without either, you'd have to think that the White Sox would be especially hungry for another opportunity to add a premium talent into the fold. And it could be an easier sell, too, with the team a year closer to contention.

The trade market, too, could provide avenues to adding this type of player in the future. The White Sox farm system is loaded, and there's no way all of their highly rated prospects will fit on a major league roster, especially at certain positions. That's not to say they'll all pan out and there will be a backlog of All-Star caliber players at Triple-A Charlotte. But Hahn could deal from an area of depth to acquire the kind of player he was pursuing this offseason. With so many teams across baseball interested in stockpiling minor league talent, the day could come where the White Sox are able to offer attractive prospect packages that would have no negative impact on the major league roster in exchange for one of the game's top talents.

"Certainly anything that happened here over the last few months or certainly over the last few hours is not going to deter us from continuing to be aggressive at the top of the market," Hahn said. "We're not going to convert on them all. I wish we converted on this one, but it's not going to stop us from continuing to try."

But the biggest point here is that the broad answer to "where do the White Sox go after missing out on Manny Machado?" is: the same place they were going before.

As nice as it would have been, as impactful as it would have been for Machado to spend the better part of the next decade in black pinstripes, his decision to head to San Diego does nothing to change the course of the White Sox rebuild. The future-focused plans that were the centerpiece of the team's pitch to Machado remain intact and remain strong. The future remains bright.

Want a premium talent added to the White Sox roster? There's one coming in April in the form of Eloy Jimenez, the No. 3 prospect in the game who's expected to be a fixture in the middle of the White Sox lineup for a long time. Not long after he arrives, Dylan Cease will make his way to Chicago. Then Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal. Michael Kopech will be back in the starting rotation in 2020. Dane Dunning will join him.

Would Machado have cranked up the brightness on that future? Yes, of course. But his absence from those plans doesn't leave the White Sox without hope for the future. Quite the contrary.

"I know right now the trajectory remains good with or without any individual addition," Hahn said. "We’re going to be better Opening Day than we were at the end of last season. We will be better at the end of this season than we will be on Opening Day. The trajectory continues to point upward and we’re going to continue to be aggressive in the future to add players like this."

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Lucas Giolito: Playing games in empty stadiums 'not the most enjoyable experience'

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USA TODAY

Lucas Giolito: Playing games in empty stadiums 'not the most enjoyable experience'

One of the many possibilities being discussed as baseball tries to figure out what the 2020 season could end up looking like? Playing games without fans present.

Obviously, no one would consider that the ideal scenario. But as uncertainty reigns during the global COVID-19 pandemic, any baseball might be preferable to no baseball at all, and if playing games in empty stadiums makes that a possibility, it’s under consideration as a potential outcome.

Chalk up Lucas Giolito as someone who wouldn’t find that scenario all that appealing. But also count him as someone who’d stomach it if it meant getting back on the field.

"That's definitely not the most enjoyable experience for a player,” Giolito said during a Tuesday conference call. “For me, personally, I really love to feed off the crowd's energy, whether that's at home and everyone's rooting for me or if we're on the road and I want to shut all the other fans up.

“I like that part of the game. I think it's a big part of the game. The more fans that are packed into a stadium, the more exciting a game can be, the more it adds to it.

“But at the same time, we're all used to playing those back-field games, chain link fence league games. We've done it coming up through the minor leagues. We even do it in spring training, at times.

“If things matter, if games matter, I think we'd be able to go and get it done with or without fans in the stadium. But I'd definitely prefer to have fans. We'll see what we'll be able to make happen.”

Like everything surrounding the game and American life in general, this is hardly a certainty. Baseball is following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, which entail banning gatherings of at least 50 people until mid May. Any major league game, with two 26-man rosters going up against one another, is a gathering of 50 or more people, fans or no fans.

The recent agreement between the league and the union established certain criteria for returning to action, among them that no governmental edicts exist that make it impossible for teams to play at their home stadiums. Though there is a caveat that special arrangements could be made if there’s no better solution. Different local governments across the country could have different restrictions at different times, complicating things as baseball tries to figure out if it’s safe to play.

The New York Post’s Joel Sherman wrote Tuesday that the season is perhaps likely to start with no fans present as the league and the players aim to play as many games as possible in a short amount of time. But there are obvious reasons why all stakeholders would want that to be a last resort: The more fans in the stands, the more revenue the league can generate. But having any kinds of games to put on TV would provide revenue, as well, even if fans can’t attend.

Throughout his conversation Tuesday, Giolito repeatedly mentioned his realization that baseball needs to take a backseat at the moment. But even baseball fans who share that understanding of the national and global situation are curious about when — and where and how — they will be able to watch their favorite team.

Playing in empty stadiums would be weird for the players and weird for the fans who would be forced to watch on TV. But weird would be better than non-existent.

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Lucas Giolito: White Sox won't let 2020 delay negatively 'affect what we're building'

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USA TODAY

Lucas Giolito: White Sox won't let 2020 delay negatively 'affect what we're building'

The White Sox ascent to winning baseball was supposed to be underway by now.

After a 2019 campaign filled with breakout performances from young core players and an offseason filled with exciting acquisitions, Rick Hahn’s rebuilding project was scheduled to vault into contention mode during the 2020 season.

Now, amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic gripping every facet of American life, White Sox fans are left to wonder if the 2020 season will ever come.

“It’s a weird vibe for guys like me,” Lucas Giolito said during a Tuesday conference call. “Pretty much every guy around the league will probably tell you the same thing. It sucks. We wish we were out there playing.

“At the same time, we are in the middle of a crisis and we can’t force the issue. We have to let everything run its course, and hopefully we can get this going as soon as possible.

“I know that a ton of sports fans around the country are really not very happy about what’s going on. But at the same time, there are some more important things going on. There’s unfortunately people dying from this, and it seems like it continues to spread more and more.

“So the whole baseball thing does have to take a backseat.”

The White Sox were ready to make that jump, too, with positive vibes and playoff expectations the talk of spring training. Even while everything around us has changed, that optimism hasn’t.

“What I was witnessing around camp and what I've kind of gathered from talking to guys, I think we're just going to pick right back up where we left off,” Giolito said. “We were in a very good spot when things did come to an abrupt end there. But when things do resume, I think that we're just going to pick up where we were.

“We had a very good team collective mindset, and we're not going to let this pause to what we were doing affect what we're building toward in a negative way.

“I think when it comes time to start playing again, we'll all come together and pick it up right where we were.”

With so much unknown about the future of circumstances in the country at large, it’s impossible to guess what that future holds for Major League Baseball. Discussions between the league and the union have reportedly included a wide range of possibilities: games without fans present, games played away from home stadiums, the regular season stretching into October and the playoffs approaching Thanksgiving. They’ve also reportedly talked about the worst-case scenario of no season at all.

That would be a tough blow for every baseball fan, and White Sox fans are no exception. They’ve waited patiently through this rebuilding process for brighter days to return to the South Side. Now, on the cusp of what looks like a new winning era, everything is on hold.

Of course, the White Sox are built for the long haul, which was the main objective of Hahn’s front office during this process. This season, like every other individual campaign, was not designed to feature a brief chase at wild-card glory, only to yield to a recession back into mediocrity. The long-term deals the White Sox handed out to their young stars like Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada point to visions of an extended contention window.

Even facing the prospect of losing a year of quality production from those guys and other youngsters, the amount of team control the White Sox hold with their players continues to point to an elongated period of winning potential.

That likely won’t do much to soften the emotional blow of a reduced or altogether canceled 2020 season, which had the potential to be the first taste of winning in a long time on the South Side. The White Sox haven’t finished above .500 since 2012. They haven’t made the postseason since 2008.

But it signals that even in the event of that worst-case scenario, the White Sox will remain positioned to compete, contend and captivate for years to come.

In the meantime, as Giolito said, baseball, and the White Sox leap into contention mode, has to take a backseat.

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