White Sox

Unwilling to spend big? Rick Hahn addresses narrative surrounding White Sox

Unwilling to spend big? Rick Hahn addresses narrative surrounding White Sox

When will the White Sox spend big on a premium free agent?

In the minds of those in the White Sox front office, that’s not even a question. They’re ready to do it now, fully realizing that the part of their rebuilding plan that involves bringing an impact player in from outside the organization hinges on paying big dollars. The money will be spent, so Rick Hahn proclaimed when it didn’t end up getting spent on Manny Machado last winter. Well, there are plenty of opportunities for it to get spent this time around.

On the other end of the spectrum is a segment of White Sox fans who are convinced it never will be spent and the White Sox are either unable or unwilling — or perhaps both — to ink a major free agent. After all, the largest contract in team history remains the $68 million over six years Jose Abreu received upon arriving from Cuba ahead of the 2014 season. Albert Belle’s one-time record-setting contract? That was 23 years ago. The reported discrepancy in guaranteed money between what the White Sox offered Machado last winter and what he ended up getting from the San Diego Padres, a reported $50 million, added ammo to this argument.

Hahn, of course, is not ignorant to the criticism. While he continues to insist that the unable-or-unwilling-to-spend narrative is a false one, he knows it will linger until his front office proves it wrong.

But Hahn isn’t the only target of the complaints involving free-agent spending. Some of the grumblings are reserved for team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. He’s the guy signing players’ checks, after all. Reinsdorf was among those who took the heat when Machado picked the Padres.

That heat doesn’t bother the chairman, according to Hahn, nor will it play any kind of role in his reaction if and when the White Sox sign a big-name free agent.

“Jerry’s been doing this for 37, 38 years. He’s lived in this town most of his life. I don’t think he lets the narratives that are written out there that we perceive to be false get to him that much. I think he’s just used to it being out there,” Hahn told NBC Sports Chicago during the GM meetings last week in Arizona. “And over the last several years, we’ve disproved a lot of them, and really at no point has he taken any sort of victory dance because, ‘Hey, we showed you.’”

Hahn talks frequently about the preconceived notions the White Sox have disproved: that they wouldn't launch a full-scale rebuild, that they wouldn't spend big on the international market, that they wouldn't make a trade of significance with the Cubs.

Just like the Machado rumors flew last winter, this offseason has already kicked off with the White Sox connected to the likes of Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. Yasmani Grandal and Madison Bumgarner seem like good fits. Plenty of speculators, myself included, have wondered what the likelihood might be of the White Sox jumping into trade talks with the financially minded Boston Red Sox with an eye on Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez or Andrew Benintendi.

Much of that has already been met with online eye-rolling, and even Hahn pointed to the fact that people are sick of rumors about what might happen and are hungry solely for results: “It's my experience that people aren't too interested in hearing about the labor, they want to see the baby.” But the White Sox are serious about contending for marquee free agents and know it will be difficult to convince certain folks otherwise until it happens.

Hahn said that Reinsdorf and the White Sox are far more concerned with getting a big-name player to sign on the dotted line than they are with shutting anyone up.

“In the end, any excitement that he would have about us signing a premium free agent in a way that people didn’t expect would come far more from adding that talent to our roster than disproving any false narrative that might be out there.

“Until we win,” Hahn added, “that can be said. It doesn’t change, fundamentally, what our goals are in any offseason or over the course of a year, and that’s to win a championship.”

The White Sox will undoubtedly stick to their rebuilding plans in their quest to win that title. Hahn said numerous times that the way the Machado pursuit played out last offseason won’t force the team to change its approach. Those plans, it should be noted, have always included adding from the outside, adding impact talent and spending to get it when the time came. There was an opportunity to do all that last winter, and it didn’t work out. There are more opportunities to do so this winter. If things continue to go according to plan and the White Sox move into contention mode in the near future, there will be more opportunities in winters to follow.

The last three seasons of losing have been an upsetting part of those plans, too. And those summers full of losses have contributed to a less-than-sunny disposition for some who continue to target Hahn, Reinsdorf and others with their complaints. All along, Hahn has said that the frustration that comes with repeated losing has been present in the front office, too.

White Sox fans understand what the team is trying to do through this rebuild but at this point they’re ready to see it bear fruit. The manager agrees, saying it’s time to turn the page. That includes the ace of the starting staff saying if the 2020 White Sox don’t make the playoffs, “then I don’t think we’ve come close to what we should be doing.”

And that includes the chairman.

“He's ready for this rebuild to be over,” Hahn said of Reinsdorf. “At the same time, he knows, from the start, what the plan was and what it looked like and what the likely time horizon was, as well as some of the events that have occurred over the last few years that have accelerated the timeline and some of them that have decelerated it. So, he's realistic.

“But at the same time, like fundamentally any other fan, he's ready to win.”

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White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

Baseball free agency is heating up as the weather gets colder. This week we are breaking down 10 potential free-agent targets for the White Sox ahead of the Winter Meetings.

Marcell Ozuna, OF, Cardinals

Age: 29

2019 salary: $12,250,000

2019 stats: .241 BA, .328 OBP, .472 SLG, .800 OPS, 29 HR, 89 RBI, 80 R, 12/14 SB 

What Ozuna would bring to the White Sox

Ozuna appeared on the verge of becoming an elite star like Anthony Rendon after a breakout season in 2017 with the Marlins. Ozuna came up at 22 and had decent years early in his career. He improved upon his first few years with 37 home runs, 124 RBIs and a .924 OPS as a 26-year-old.

Unlike Rendon, who broke through in 2017 and has sustained that for three seasons now, Ozuna's breakout year appears to be more of a flash in the pan. Ozuna was traded to the Cardinals before the 2018 season and saw a dropoff in his production.

His power and walk rate took big dips in 2018, although he bounced back in both last season. However, he hit .241, which was the lowest batting average of his career.

Ozuna had a career-high walk rate (11.3%) and had the second-best extra-base hit and home run rates of his career (he was only better in those areas in 2017). His strikeout rate (20.8%) was in line with his career average. So what went wrong? His batting average of balls in play was a career-worst .257, which suggests that maybe he's due for some form of bounce back in 2020 as far as batting average.

To simplify all that, Ozuna was good in some areas and inexplicably poor (and maybe unlucky) in others. Does that mean he will return to his big 2017 year wherever he signs? Probably not, but it does help to alleviate some of the feeling of risk for a player who has been inconsistent in his career.

Defensively, Ozuna has a Gold Glove on his resume from 2017, but the stats say he's just an average fielder. Not to mention, he's become infamous for this fielding gaffe.


What it would take to get him

He's young with a mostly positive track record offensively and if he can recreate his 2017 season offensively, he's an all-star outfielder. He won't be cheap, but he has enough question marks to come up just short of $20 million per year.

Ozuna should be able to get four or five years in the mid-to-upper teens per year, similar to fellow outfield free agent Nicholas Castellanos.

Why it's a fit for the White Sox

The White Sox need a corner outfielder. He fills a position of need, adds depth, patience and power to the lineup and won't be a liability in the field.

Ozuna isn't the splashiest signing the White Sox could make, but it makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.

Latest rumors

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

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USA TODAY

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

The White Sox added a flamethrower to their bullpen.

Tayron Guerrero is the newest member of the White Sox relief corps, the team claiming the 28-year-old right-hander off waivers from the Miami Marlins on Friday.

Guerrero's most eye-catching attribute is his triple-digit fastball. He averaged 98.9 mph on his four-seam fastball in 2019 and threw the second most 100-mph pitches (178) of any pitcher in baseball. He posted a 10.6 K/9 in 2018.

But throwing hard and giving up runs are two different things. In 2019, Guerrero had a 6.26 ERA, a number that jumped up from the already less-than-ideal 5.43 ERA he turned in a year prior. He also had some trouble locating said fireball, walking 36 batters in 46 relief innings in 2019 for a ridiculously high 7.0 BB/9.

Still, this type of addition was signaled as perhaps the primary way the White Sox would add to their bullpen this offseason. With so many other items on Rick Hahn's offseason to-do list and the back end of the bullpen being a pretty stable part of the roster, the general manager said that small signings and waiver claims would continue to be part of the strategy when it comes to making additions to the relief corps.

Hahn referenced the team's acquisitions of Evan Marshall, who was signed to a minor league contract last winter, and Jimmy Cordero, who was claimed off waivers in the middle of the 2019 season, as moves to emulate going forward.

"All 30 teams will tell you ... that adding more bullpen pieces is an offseason priority, and we're no exception," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference in September. "Cordero's been a nice find, as has been Marshall, but that's not going to stop us from continuing to potentially take guys off waivers like Cordero or (sign) minor league free agents like Marshall.

"It's going to go into this offseason continuing to be a place we want to add because relievers are tricky. You see it every year, guys go from the top of the list to the bottom and back."

As Hahn frequently says, you can never have too much pitching, and while this might be a low-risk move, it could end up proving fruitful, as those Cordero and Marshall moves did.

Spending on money on more proven guys has also been a part of the White Sox strategy in this department in the recent past. Hahn's front office gave Kelvin Herrera a two-year deal just last winter. But as Herrera showed during a rough first year of that contract, even guys with good track records can lead to easy second-guessing on those kinds of deals. So building up depth through less splashy means figures to be a good idea, regardless of the results.

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