White Sox

The story of the spring: How Manny Machado's decision affects the White Sox present and future

The story of the spring: How Manny Machado's decision affects the White Sox present and future

GLENDALE, Ariz. — No matter how much the players in the clubhouse want to move on from Manny Mania, there’s no doubting that Manny Machado’s decision to play for the San Diego Padres — or rather, his decision not to play for the White Sox — has been the defining storyline of the first couple weeks of spring training here at Camelback Ranch.

The White Sox will move on. The front office will dust itself off and go after big names again. The players will play with a 25-man roster and nine guys in the batting order, just like they would have. And, yes, even the angry corners of White Sox Twitter will forget Machado one day, which figures to be easy to do once Eloy Jimenez is crushing homers out of Guaranteed Rate Field.

But the 2019 season and those after it will be viewed through this lens, one where the White Sox missed out on an opportunity to sign one of the best players in baseball. Machado opting for the sunny skies of Southern California does not preclude the White Sox from living out Rick Hahn’s wildest rebuilding dreams, nor does it mean a premium free agent will never sign on the South Side. But it does have its obvious effects on the present and future of this franchise.

Here’s a look at some of those effects.

The White Sox will not be as good in 2019 as they would’ve been with Machado

Obvious, I know.

Machado would’ve done a lot of things for the White Sox, and the biggest allure of signing him was that he would’ve done those things for the better part of the next decade. While fans would have been amped to see Machado in action for the 2019 season, he was a White Sox target because as a 26-year-old superstar, he meshed pretty perfectly with their long-term plans.

Had Machado signed with the White Sox, though, he would have made them better in the immediate. He’s coming off a career year in which he slashed .297/.367/.538 with 37 home runs and 107 RBIs. Adding that to any lineup is going to make a pretty big difference.

And while Hahn has talked often about the idea of it being perhaps “a year early” for the still-rebuilding White Sox to be jumping at a free agent that would help vault them into contention mode, a weak AL Central and American League in general provided — and perhaps still does provide — an opportunity to make a surprise run at the postseason. With Machado in the fold, that might have been an even more realistic possibility.

It’s not to say the White Sox still couldn’t threaten to be in the wild-card mix later on this season. But without Machado, that seems to be a significantly taller task. Hahn made many noteworthy additions, but this roster is made up of many of the same players who lost 100 games last season. Another developmental year wouldn’t be at all surprising and would in fact be expected if you look at the recent history of successful rebuilds. The Cubs lost an average of 95 games a season in the first three years of Theo Epstein’s rebuild. The Houston Astros lost an average of 104 games a season in the four years leading up to their ascension to perennial power.

Without Machado, another developmental year — even one with highlights like the arrivals of Jimenez and Dylan Cease — looks more likely than a year early surprise.

Yoan Moncada is the third baseman of the present and future

The biggest on-field development of camp to this point is the White Sox moving full steam ahead with switching Moncada to third base, which was discussed as an option throughout the offseason but never committed to until position players reported to Glendale and Moncada started taking ground balls at the hot corner.

Machado would have been the obvious fit there had he signed with the White Sox, and his saying he’ll play third with the Padres (who are set to install former White Sox prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. as their shortstop of the future) pretty much confirms that he would have played there on the South Side, too.

Instead, it’ll be Moncada, who moves over from second base a season after committing 21 errors, the fourth-highest total in baseball last season. Rick Renteria has been extremely positive about Moncada’s work there so far this spring (it’s only been a couple days, and there’ll be a ton more to go on once games start this weekend), and the White Sox are hopeful Moncada can handle the job, with Renteria going as far to say that the increased focus Moncada will need to play third will help him offensively after he struck out 217 times last season.

We’ll see how things go in both aspects of Moncada’s game, but one thing is for sure: Without Machado, the team’s future at third base remains a question mark. There’s no slam-dunk answer there for the long term. Moncada could easily become that, of course, as the White Sox are still incredibly high on his ceiling and his future. But it’s a mystery as of this moment. Thanks to Jake Burger’s double Achilles tears last year, there are no obvious answers in the minor leagues, either. So it’s Moncada.

Machado passing on the White Sox also means we’ll likely be talking about third base again next offseason, no matter how well Moncada might do this season. Nolan Arenado and Anthony Rendon are part of a loaded free-agent class.

For better or worse, we’ll have to do this free-agent thing again next offseason

I don’t know what the White Sox big board looks like, so I don’t know if Machado is their favorite player in baseball or not. Meaning, maybe any addition from here on out, no matter how big a name, is a consolation prize, or maybe it gives them an opportunity to chase someone they like better. Regardless of which of those two things is true, we’ll likely have to go through all this free-agent business again with the White Sox next offseason.

Thankfully, the class is jam-packed, featuring the aforementioned Arenado and Rendon as well as Gerrit Cole, Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Paul Goldschmidt, Justin Verlander, Josh Donaldson, Madison Bumgarner, Didi Gregorius and Marcell Ozuna. You can spend forever debating whether any of those guys are as good as Machado. But there’s little argument over the fact that those are a lot of very good baseball players.

Hahn has promised perennial aggressiveness from the White Sox on the free-agent market and in the pursuits of the biggest names and best players in the game. Here’s what he said at SoxFest:

"We belong at the table in these negotiations, we belong as part of negotiations for premium talent. And regardless what happens over the next several weeks with either of these two players (Machado and the still-jobless Bryce Harper), we plan to be at the table and continue to attempt to convert on these guys."

Fans currently stinging over the White Sox getting outbid by the Padres for Machado might choose not to believe Hahn’s promise until they see it in action. But Hahn, in his comments all offseason long and here at spring training, has promised that the White Sox will utilize their financial flexibility in the pursuits of big-name talent. So expect to see them as a featured player next winter as much as they were this winter.

But how will that process be different?

Fans right now are unconvinced that the White Sox will ever be willing to spend enough to land a marquee free agent like Machado, and Machado taking the $300 million guaranteed over the $250 million guaranteed in the White Sox offer has done little to change what Hahn has referred to as a “false narrative.”

The White Sox certainly believed their offer was good enough to get Machado to the South Side, that much was clear by the visible emotions of both Hahn and Kenny Williams on Tuesday. But after losing out in this sweepstakes, will they be able to change that narrative next time around?

Unfortunately, the answer is only if they land a big fish. Certainly, the White Sox were not “cheap” in their pursuit of Machado, as many fans have accused them of being. A commitment to spend $350 million on a player is, by definition, not cheap.

But if they’re in on Arenado or Rendon or Bumgarner or Martinez or any of the players listed above, will they approach things differently? Hahn said there is no magic number of a limit where the White Sox will not spend and said there is no overarching organizational philosophy on opt-outs. And he’s promised that the money saved up for runs at these free agents will be spent, not “sitting around waiting to just accumulate interest.”

Hahn and his front office is rarely one to succumb to pressure from antsy fans. If that was the case, Jimenez would have been a big leaguer long ago. But you wonder how much the desire to add a “finishing piece,” something that’s been part of the rebuilding plan all along, will play into next winter’s pursuits or trade talks at other points in the calendar.

Those aren’t answers we have right now. They’ll come out on the next free-agent go-round.

The White Sox will definitely take their time with their top prospects

There was little doubt this was going to happen, regardless of Machado’s decision. But there was a possibility, as discussed above, that Machado could’ve improved things enough to quicken the timeline of the team’s contention phase. And if that were the case, would the White Sox have felt the need to exhibit a little less patience and try to get some of their top prospects to the majors a little quicker?

That question can’t be answered with anything more than a “maybe,” but now that Machado is in San Diego, it would seem the White Sox will most definitely stick to their rebuilding playbook.

Cease is probably the player this applies to the most. All signs point to Jimenez arriving in the major leagues a couple weeks into the 2019 season, so his timeline is unaffected by this whole thing. Cease, though, starts the 2019 season in a similar spot to where Michael Kopech was a year ago. He’ll likely spend start at Triple-A Charlotte after a dazzling 2018 split between Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham, but the White Sox will give him every opportunity there, just like they did with Kopech last year. Kopech didn’t make his big league debut until August. It seems Cease is on a similar timeline, especially now that, without Machado, there might be no playoff race to leap into. We’ll have to see about that one.

Luis Robert is still so inexperienced in the minor leagues after last year’s injury-plagued campaign. Dane Dunning will be eased into things coming back from his injury; he’s not even in big league camp this spring. Nick Madrigal is a bit more of a question mark, considering the “best all-around player in college baseball” should be able to move through the system a little quicker than someone who wasn’t described in that fashion. But there’s no reason to rush him. Zack Collins could make his big league debut in 2019, but perhaps not until when rosters expand in September.

But, again, with no reason to bump these guys along quicker than necessary, why rush them? Especially if Machado’s absence means the rebuild is on a less rapid timeline.

Does Machado’s decision give current White Sox a chip on the shoulder?

White Sox players were pretty committed to one message on Machado throughout the offseason: It’d be great if Machado came to the South Side, but if he doesn’t, no big deal.

Not exactly the same way White Sox fans feel right now.

But these players have spoken for the last couple weeks about how much faith they have in the current roster — and how much urgency might be seeping in. They’ve heard about the future for a long time and think maybe it’s time to start talking about the present, too.

“I’m sick of losing,” Lucas Giolito said.

“There's a point in time where it’s s**t for get off the pot,” Carlos Rodon said.

And Tim Anderson has been leading the charge. He was the most vocal during the White Sox pursuit of Machado, defensive and adamant about his desire to remain the team’s starting shortstop. In the wake of Machado’s decision, he stood up for his group.

“We’re going to be South Side regardless. Nobody’s decision determines what we’ve got going on in this locker room," he said. "I feel we have a great group of guys here. We’re going to do something special. The White Sox are moving in the right direction. One decision won’t dictate our season.

“We’re going to keep rolling. Either ride with us or get run over. We know who’s on the boat with us and which way we want to sail.”

They won’t necessarily admit to Machado’s decision giving them added hunger, added motivation or an added chip on their collective shoulder. But these White Sox have something they want to prove. And in addition to proving it to fans and observers who are still waiting for 2020, maybe they can prove it to Machado, too.

“He might have,” Anderson said when asked if Machado missed the boat by not signing up with the White Sox.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

Luis Robert checks in at No. 3 in MLB Pipeline's final Top 100 Prospects list of 2019

Luis Robert checks in at No. 3 in MLB Pipeline's final Top 100 Prospects list of 2019

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Luis Robert is generating year-end buzz after a phenomenal 2019 campaign.

Three days after the official conclusion of the 2019 Minor League Baseball season, MLB Pipeline released its final Top 100 Prospects list of the year and, as expected, Robert made an appearance near the top. He didn’t quite nab the first spot, though. Despite taking home MLB Pipeline’s minor league hitter of the year award just over two weeks ago, Robert checked in at No. 3 in the site’s rankings, trailing only Dodgers middle infielder Gavin Lux (No. 2) and Tampa Bay shortstop Wander Franco (No. 1). 

Lux and Robert have vied for a number of Minor League accolades. In addition to being named Pipeline’s minor league hitter of the year, Robert also recently took home USA Today’s minor league player of the year. Lux edged Robert out for Baseball America’s MiLB player of the year, though, and now finishes one spot ahead of him in Pipeline’s Top 100. Franco spent 2019, his age-18 season, split between Class-A and High-A ball, slashing .327/.398/.487 with 18 stolen bases in 114 games between the two.

Robert jumped from No. 5 to No. 3 in the latest update to the Top 100, and this time last year was ranked No. 44. A season slashing .328/.376/.624 (1.001 OPS) with 32 home runs, 96 RBIs and 36 stolen bases will do that.

Michael Kopech (No. 18), who missed the 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last September, joins Robert in representing the White Sox in the top 20. Additionally, Robert and 22-year-old starting pitching prospect Jonathan Stiever were named the White Sox's 'Prospects of the Year' by MLB Pipeline.

News like this - and there has been an abundance of it recently - only adds to a burgeoning sense of optimism for the future around the White Sox and its fanbase. Now, to count the days until the 2020 season, and Robert’s eventual call-up.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

After White Sox bullpen shuts down Twins, who's in and who's out for 2020?

0918_alex_colome.jpg
USA TODAY

After White Sox bullpen shuts down Twins, who's in and who's out for 2020?

The White Sox bullpen did a splendid job Wednesday night.

A “bullpen day” against the Minnesota Twins’ high-powered offense had potential disaster written all over it. Instead, Ivan Nova and a parade of relievers held those Twins hitless through five innings and to just one run in a sweep-avoiding win.

It’s actually the second time a “bullpen day” went better than expected against one of the best teams in baseball, Wednesday’s effort joining the one back in May against the Houston Astros. The White Sox lost that night but gave up just three runs to the kings of the AL West.

While nearly every pitcher that trotted out from the visitors’ bullpen Wednesday night in Minnesota pitched well, it doesn’t mean that the White Sox will carry this exact unit into a 2020 season that could be one in which they make the long awaited transition from rebuilding to contending.

Certainly Alex Colome and Aaron Bummer have been among the many bright spots for the White Sox this season, and the retention of both at the trade deadline provides confidence in what the back end of the bullpen can be in a potentially contending season. But while the eighth- and ninth-inning jobs are easily projected, what does the rest of the White Sox bullpen look like heading into 2020?

While starting pitcher is definitely on the winter wish list for Rick Hahn’s front office, it would be no shock to see relief pitching get addressed, too. It’s hard to predict which of the tons of relievers could wind up in a White Sox uniform before the team heads to Arizona for spring training. But we can try to guess at the fortunes of the relief arms currently on the roster, many of whom appeared in Wednesday night’s game.

Late-inning arms for 2020

Even if the White Sox make no additions to their bullpen this winter, the back end is pretty easy to project.

Colome has one more year of team control after being acquired in a trade with the Seattle Mariners last winter. He’s been allowing more base runners as the season has wound down — including a walk-off homer to Omar Narvaez, the guy he was traded for, last weekend in Seattle — but he’ll finish the campaign with excellent numbers, still having blown only one save. That’s the best save percentage in baseball. He’s got 124 saves over the last four seasons.

Bummer, meanwhile, has emerged from a host of internal candidates to grab a pretty tight hold on the eighth-inning job. He has a 2.31 ERA on the season with a week and a half to play, and he’s a guy who could be a back-end reliever and a potential closer for years to come.

As for other late-inning guys, Jimmy Cordero seems to be a diamond in the rough uncovered in season. He’s got a 3.34 ERA since joining the White Sox and has been an oft-used arm by Rick Renteria. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the White Sox put even more high-leverage situations on his plate next season.

Evan Marshall, too, figures to be back next season. He was another quality addition to the ‘pen, and he’s actually been better in the second half, with a 2.59 ERA since the All-Star break compared to the still-very-good 2.86 ERA before it.

Is that a fearsome foursome at the back end of a contending bullpen? Certainly all four of those guys have been good to very good this season. The White Sox would probably express a great deal of confidence in that quartet, but adding another late-inning arm to that mix in free agency would make that confidence level even higher.

What do you do with these guys?

If those four are very likely to be in key spots in the 2020 bullpen, what about some of the guys’ whose futures aren’t so obvious?

Jace Fry threw 1.2 innings without giving up a run Wednesday, dropping his season ERA to 4.96. That’s not a very pretty number, and there have been stretches this season that haven’t been very pretty, either. In a five-outing span in late May and early June, he walked six of the 19 batters he faced and gave up four earned runs in just 3.1 innings. Over a 13-outing span in August and September, Fry gave up 12 runs in 10.2 innings, walking nine and giving up 13 hits to the 53 batters he faced. But the White Sox love Fry’s potential. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see him a part of the Opening Day relief corps. But if the White Sox are in contention mode, how long could they afford his inconsistencies?

Kelvin Herrera is almost certain to be back in 2020, considering the White Sox inked him to a two-year deal last offseason. But he’s going to need to improve dramatically from what he did in his first campaign on the South Side. He’s got a 6.51 ERA right now in 53 appearances. That’s obviously not good enough, and the White Sox will be hoping for something close to the kind of guy who mowed them down when he was a key piece on those back-to-back World Series teams for the Kansas City Royals. Another season removed from the foot injury that ended his 2018 season early ought to help.

Have the White Sox seen enough of Jose Ruiz and Carson Fulmer? Again, these guys have upside the team is excited about. Ruiz can throw the ball pretty hard, and Fulmer is a former top-10 draft pick. But the results have not been good, to say the least. Ruiz has a 5.87 ERA in 39 games. Fulmer, who threw 2.1 scoreless innings Wednesday, has a 5.33 ERA in 18 big league appearances. If there are free-agent additions to be had, these two could be squeezed out of the picture. But for right now, the White Sox aren’t done with them just yet.

Where art thou, minor leaguers?

If you cast your mind back to last season, you’ll remember a bunch of young arms that looked like candidates for the bullpen of the future. For various reasons, those guys didn’t do much impressing in 2019.

Injuries are to blame in certain cases. Ryan Burr was one of the many White Sox pitchers to have Tommy John surgery this season, wiping out an audition of a 2019 season for him. Ian Hamilton was similarly knocked out for the year with a pair of freak injuries. He was hurt in a car accident during spring training and then suffered a number of grisly facial injuries when he was struck with a foul ball while sitting in the dugout at Triple-A Charlotte.

Under-performance struck, too. Caleb Frare only made 31 combined appearances between the majors and Charlotte, but he posted a 10.13 ERA at the big league level and a 7.66 ERA with the Knights. Thyago Vieira had a 10.29 ERA in six major league games and a 6.27 ERA in 39 games at Triple-A.

But all four remain on the 40-man roster, for now.

Then there are three other guys who were highly thought of a year ago who didn’t help their cases for a major league promotion. Zack Burdi, the former first-round pick, was routinely rocked pitching in only 20 games at Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham, with a 6.75 ERA in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. Tyler Johnson had good numbers but only pitched 31.1 innings in 22 games. Zach Thompson had a 5.23 ERA in his 45 appearances with Brimingham and Charlotte.

None of that screams must-include pieces of the 2020 major league bullpen. A lot can change between now and Opening Day, as well as now and any later point in the season when reinforcements to the relief corps could still make a big difference. But as we stand here right now, it’s hard to say any of these guys will be in the Opening Day ‘pen.

Unlikely bullpen arms?

The other internal options for relief arms in 2020 might come from an unlikely spot: the starting rotation.

There are only five spots on the 2020 starting staff, and Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease figure to have three of them spoken for. The White Sox will make at least one offseason addition, speaking for a fourth spot. And despite a bumpy 2019 season, it would not be surprising to see Reynaldo Lopez in that rotation, too, come Opening Day.

That doesn’t mean he’ll stay there all season, though. A contending White Sox team might not be able to put up with the kind of inconsistent results Lopez has delivered in 2019. Similarly, there’s a possibility Kopech could have to start the season in the minor leagues if the White Sox think he needs more time to work himself into game shape following a long layoff while recovering from his Tommy John surgery. Whether it’s multiple offseason acquisitions or simply Kopech returning and claiming a spot, Lopez might be squeezed out, in which case the bullpen would be a possible destination for him. The White Sox see him as a starter now, but there’s no reason that a squeezed-out Lopez, should it happen, couldn’t still help the team from the ‘pen.

Also, what becomes of other Tommy John recoverers when they return to full health? What happens if Carlos Rodon or Dane Dunning or Jimmy Lambert is available late in the year? Could they help in the bullpen even if they’re destined to be long-term starters? Maybe. It’s just speculation, but time will tell.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.