As Hot Stove season officially comes to baseball, White Sox fans are hoping for a big splash in free agency.
Two of the biggest names on the free-agent market this winter would figure to draw the team's interest, given the stated positional needs general manager Rick Hahn said he'd look to address. But those same two names will have a little more to their free agency than others.
Trevor Bauer and George Springer were among the six players to receive a qualifying offer from their 2020 employers Sunday. The half dozen guys who were extended the one-year offers for $18.9 million have 10 days to accept or decline. If they decline those offers, the team that ends up signing them will be forced to surrender a draft pick and international signing money.
Major League Baseball recently reworked the rules, and the draft picks teams have to surrender are not as high as they once were. In recent offseasons, teams stayed away from free agents with draft-pick compensation attached, including to a severe degree two winters ago, when current White Sox pitcher Dallas Keuchel had to wait until midway through the 2019 season to get a job.
In an offseason following the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, one in which teams could be hesitant to part with any resources, it could be another factor worth paying attention to. Already, baseball has seen more than one surprising decision on player options with teams seemingly looking to save wherever possible.
But even with that extra stuff attached to the free agencies of Bauer, Springer and the other four players who received qualifying offers — catcher J.T. Realmuto, infielder DJ LeMahieu and pitchers Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman — they are still expected to receive their paydays. For that reason, they're expected to decline those qualifying offers.
The White Sox are on the hunt for starting pitcher and a right fielder, putting Bauer and Springer at the top of fans' wish lists.
The White Sox are clearly in win-now mode after an ascendant 2020 season and would figure to do plenty to put themselves in the best position to compete for championships in 2021 and beyond. Both Bauer and Springer would obviously fit that bill, and multi-year deals for them like the ones the White Sox handed out to Yasmani Grandal and Keuchel an offseason ago are well within the realm of possibility.
Of course, even Hahn isn't sure how this unpredictable offseason will play out, and while the compensation attached to these players might seem like small potatoes to fans, teams might think differently about hanging on to their assets, especially after a season without paying customers in the stands.
And so while the qualifying offers could end up having nothing to do with the White Sox interest in guys like Bauer or Springer, it's something to keep in mind as any pursuits occur over the weeks and months to come.