GLENDALE, Ariz. — During SoxFest, Rick Hahn was asked about the preconceived notion surrounding the White Sox that this team will not spend the money necessary to land one of the biggest free agents in the game.
Weeks later, with Manny Machado opting to sign with the San Diego Padres for 300 million guaranteed dollars, as opposed to the 250 million guaranteed dollars the White Sox reportedly offered the 26-year-old superstar, what Hahn called in January a "false narrative" has become, in the minds of many South Side baseball fans, impossible to disprove.
Allowing a day to pass has not calmed White Sox Twitter, and the social-media complaints from White Sox fans have continued more than 24 hours after their favorite team failed to win the derby that's captivated their attention for months. At times, their ire has been directed at Machado — Tim Anderson became that segment of the fan base's hero Wednesday, when he said Machado might have missed the boat — but much of the anger has been directed at the front office and ownership.
"Why not guarantee another $50 million?" they've begged, before jumping to their own conclusions that the White Sox will never be able to land a top-of-the-line free agent.
Hahn spoke for a second time Tuesday during Cactus League media day in downtown Glendale and recognized, even shared in, some of that frustration. But his most relevant message was a promise that the financial flexibility created by the ongoing rebuilding process will not go to waste.
"I get that sentiment. I understand that sentiment," he said when asked about fans' desire for the team to spend more aggressively. "What you try to do in these situations, I believe, is try to balance out the risk and the reward in all these things. These long-term contracts are obviously complicated. ... So it does come down, sometimes, to more than just throw more money on top of it in terms of a guarantee, which is probably the only area someone can argue, 'Hey you should have been more aggressive in this situation.'
"At the end of the day, we made what we felt was not only a very aggressive offer, a very compelling offer and one that helped balance and represent the risk and the upside for both sides. Didn’t work, which is obviously disappointing. But it does not change the fact that we are going to once again be in this market when the time is right and hopefully, at that time, convert.
"The money will be spent. It might not be spent this offseason, but it will be spent at some point. This isn’t money sitting around waiting to just accumulate interest. It’s money trying to be deployed to put us in best position to win some championships."
Attacks that the White Sox were being "cheap" in their pursuit of Machado are simply wrong. If reports are accurate, they committed to paying Machado $350 million over the course of 10 years. Now, there are obvious differences in the offers reportedly made by the Padres and White Sox, and if Machado shows up to Padres camp in Peoria, Arizona, in the coming days and breaks his leg, he'll be $50 million richer than he would've been had he signed with the White Sox. But is also important to note that the White Sox reported offer allowed Machado to bet on himself and potentially earn $50 million more than he is set to make in San Diego over the course of the next decade.
The biggest takeaway from this whole situation is that the White Sox rebuilding plans are not negatively affected one iota by Machado's decision. Machado heading to San Diego does nothing to decrease Eloy Jimenez' power or make Michael Kopech's recovery from Tommy John surgery more difficult or take a mile per hour or two off Dylan Cease's fastball. The core is still coming, still looks capable of forming a perennial championship contender, and Machado's decision was never going to change that.
Additionally, Machado's decision is only that: his decision. There's another loaded free-agent class coming next offseason, and those players will all have their own decision-making processes, their own desires in terms of contracts and bets on themselves and a desire to win and align themselves with a team like the White Sox, who will undoubtedly be involved and likely as aggressive, if not more so, than they were this offseason. Maybe Nolan Arenado feels differently. Maybe J.D. Martinez or Anthony Rendon feel differently. Maybe Justin Verlander or Madison Bumgarner want to be the South Side version of Jon Lester. It also figures to be an easier job to sell the White Sox another year down the line, when players from around the league can see what it would be like to play alongside Jimenez and Cease, when there's a clearer picture of what this team will look like in contention mode.
And barring a surprise splurge on Bryce Harper — they're reportedly out on the biggest name on the free-agent market — they'll have the same financial flexibility to add this caliber of player. Machado wasn't the only opportunity to make that kind of addition. There will be others, and soon.
"A year from now, we will be in a better position to know more about our own guys and know more about what’s available and where specific needs may lie and what specific needs we may have addressed. When we have that knowledge, that’s where this money is going to go," Hahn said. "It’s going to serve us well in the long term to have this economic flexibility and this economic might to make ourselves better.
"We saw an opportunity now to potentially fit in for the long term. Didn't work, but does not change the fact we are going to take advantage of those opportunities again when they arise in the coming years."
None of that, of course, is likely to soothe the tempers of fans still reacting to this free-agent defeat. And none of it has to. Fans are allowed to be mad, and they'll likely carry the idea that the White Sox won't spend until they're proven wrong.
And Hahn recognizes that. He said as much back at SoxFest.
"If for whatever reason we fail to convert this time around, perhaps that narrative will exist for another year," he said, "but we look forward to proving that one false like we have the others."
Unfortunately, that remains an item on the to-do list.