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.”