White Sox

What the Phillies' meeting with Bryce Harper could mean for the White Sox and Manny Machado

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USA TODAY

What the Phillies' meeting with Bryce Harper could mean for the White Sox and Manny Machado

The baseball world already made its trip to Las Vegas. The Philadelphia Phillies are going back.

The White Sox are competing with the Phillies in not only the derby for Manny Machado but for the other 26-year-old superstar on this winter's free-agent market, Bryce Harper. And while the White Sox have reportedly twice met with Harper in Sin City — once early in the offseason, with Hall of Famer Jim Thome supposedly present, and again during the Winter Meetings, when the baseball world descended on Harper's hometown — the Phillies are just now sitting down for a face-to-face meeting with one of the best players in the game.

While it's been reported that the Machado saga could soon be reaching its end, there's seemingly no end in sight for the Harper sweepstakes, which more than one report has suggested could last into February.

And because there's no apparent rush for Harper to ink what's expected to be one of the biggest contracts in baseball history, perhaps there's time for a little chess.

Not long ago, it seemed the Harper derby was down to three teams: the White Sox, the Phillies and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Well, the Dodgers haven't been making any noise on the Harper front, even if they did clear outfielders from their roster and salary from their books in that blockbuster deal with the Cincinnati Reds. Then the Washington Nationals re-entered the picture, despite Harper having reportedly rejected their initial offer of 10 years and $300 million. Harper, agent Scott Boras and Nationals owner Ted Lerner reportedly sat down for five hours just before Christmas, and now the possibility that Harper will return to the team with which he spent the first seven seasons of his big league career is looking like a mighty strong one.

So where does that leave the Phillies? You'll remember their owner saying they might "be a little stupid" with their spending this winter, and it wouldn't come as any surprise if they end up bringing a big bag with a dollar sign on it to their Saturday meeting in Vegas.

But remember, too, that the Phillies and Nationals are division rivals. And so whichever team doesn't get Harper is going to have to face him 19 times a season for the next decade. So what will the Phillies do if they're on the short end of that stick?

Enter The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, who has a suggestion that ties all of this together. He wrote Thursday that the Phillies still prefer Machado to Harper. And with the New York Yankees continuing to add infielders to their already crowded infield, the Machado derby appears to be down to the White Sox and Phillies. If the Phillies want to spend that "stupid" money on Machado, why are they meeting with Harper? Rosenthal has a guess:

"A contingent from the Phillies’ front office is scheduled to meet with Harper in his native Las Vegas on Saturday. If the Phillies’ preference is Machado, as some in the industry believe, then the meeting from their perspective might simply be a ploy to drive up the price for the Nationals, a division rival. Harper and Boras, in fact, might be proceeding with the same motivation."

Oh really?

The White Sox have recently been considered "long shots" on Harper and have, like the Phillies, been reported to be more "in" on Machado, who by everyone's guess is expected to sign before Harper, with Boras likely waiting to ensure his client gets the biggest payday of the offseason. But if the Phillies throw their "stupid" money at Machado and reel him away from the rest of the "Miami Baseball Brotherhood" on the South Side, then does the Harper derby get whittled down to two teams, with the White Sox as one of them?

It's all a bunch of "what ifs" as this whole thing continues to be a head-spinning mess, with the rest of baseball along for the ride as much as fans of the involved teams.

Machado's decision could reportedly be made by next week, and perhaps the goings-on in Vegas will have something to do with that. In other words, stay tuned.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: The White Sox should be better than this

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: The White Sox should be better than this

It's still April, but we all agree: the White Sox are underperforming as a team.

Chuck Garfien, Ryan McGuffey, Vinnie Duber and Chris Kamka break down the reasons why (1:30). What's going on with Ivan Nova and Ervin Santana? (5:20)

Could Dylan Cease be the answer sooner rather than later? (10:55)

Why the White Sox should be .500 (17:15).

What's going on with Jon Jay and how his signing is backfiring so far (19:30) and more.

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

White Sox Talk Podcast

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A White Sox team with raised expectations was supposed to beat the bottom of the barrel, but they haven't so far in 2019

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USA TODAY

A White Sox team with raised expectations was supposed to beat the bottom of the barrel, but they haven't so far in 2019

The White Sox might not be destined for the postseason in 2019. They might not be destined to finish .500, what with the rebuild still grinding along on the South Side.

But this team spent spring training talking about raised expectations, a logical next step for a group of young players supposed to make up part if not much of the rosters of the future that will carry expectations of a lot more success. And while the individual improvements of Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson and and Eloy Jimenez and Carlos Rodon and Reynaldo Lopez are more important than whatever the win-loss record ends up being, there was a realistic hope within the fan base for more wins.

In part, that was due to the competition around these White Sox. The AL Central is aggressively weak, the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers further back in their own rebuilding efforts than Rick Hahn's front office ever was and the supposed "upper echelon" of the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins anything but terrifying. Outside of the Boston Red Sox (who to this point have been atrocious in defending their World Series championship), the New York Yankees (with a ridiculous number of players on the injured list) and the Houston Astros (generally taking care of business though not in first place in the AL West), did any other American League team look unbeatable during the preseason?

And yet, 23 games into their 2019 campaign, the White Sox have been knocked around by the American League — the good, the bad and the ugly of it.

Wednesday's 4-3 defeat to clinch a series loss to the Baltimore Orioles was particularly disheartening when it comes to which teams the White Sox will be able to take advantage of this season. The Orioles lost 115 games in 2018, the worst team in baseball, and things aren't exactly looking up this time around, either. Well, they just took two of three against the White Sox, knocking the South Side starting staff around enough that Ervin Santana's 4.2 innings of work Wednesday were the most of a White Sox starter in the series. Manny Banuelos and Ivan Nova went four innings apiece in the first two contests.

The Royals and Tigers? Those two teams combined to lose 202 games last season and seemed good bets to finish with worse records than the White Sox this season. That can certainly still happen, but so far the White Sox have split six games against the Royals and dropped two of three in their first series against the Tigers last weekend.

They've split two games with the Indians. They went a gross 1-5 against two surprise division leaders, the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners. The only team the White Sox have a winning record against is the aforementioned Yankees thanks to taking two of three in The Bronx earlier this month.

A rebuilding team not expected to make the playoffs losing to a smattering of teams including two of the best in the game to this point is not surprising. No one should pretend that other teams aren't seeing the White Sox in the same light White Sox fans see the Royals and Tigers and Orioles. The White Sox lost 100 games last year, too.

But if the expectations have truly increased, if there is progress truly being made, then these are the teams the White Sox should be showing that progress against. They haven't.

Now, individually, things are a bit of a different story. This series in Baltimore featured no starting pitcher that can be considered a part of the White Sox long-term plans, and Nova and Santana turning in losing efforts against the Orioles, no matter how frustrating, doesn't really have negative consequences for the future. Anderson and Moncada are still batting over .300, Jose Abreu could be in the middle of an early season turnaround, and the bullpen only gave up two runs in three games despite pitching more than 12 innings. In the end, what the young guys do will be what's most important, not the White Sox record against any individual team this season.

But the frustrations can be understood — and surely they're being felt inside the White Sox clubhouse as much as they are outside it — because taking care of business against teams expected to be at the bottom of the standings was supposed to be one of the examples of progress, one of the examples of improvement. The White Sox haven't taken care of business against those teams yet this season.

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