LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Rick Hahn is not commenting on the avalanche of trade rumors linking the White Sox to Manny Machado, the flurry of reports that have thrown the final day of the Winter Meetings into complete madness.
Supposedly a bunch of teams have contacted the Baltimore Orioles about their superstar third baseman, but according to a report from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, no team’s offer has been as good as the White Sox.
Hahn, speaking in his final media session of the Meetings, refused to comment on the reports — and he should not have been expected to. But what the White Sox general manager did do was repeat his team’s dedication to its rebuilding effort, one that’s come a long way in just a year thanks to a massive influx of minor league talent.
“Obviously you guys know me, know us well enough to know I’m not going to comment on any individual trade rumors or anything specific to conversations that we may or may not be having,” Hahn said. “However you also know us well enough to know everything we have done over the last year-plus has been aimed at putting us in the best position for the long term. Nothing has changed in terms of what we are trying to accomplish.
“We are not looking to make any sort of move that’s aimed at simply jumping up and perhaps contending for a wild card or maybe even the division for one year. The focus remains on the long term.
“Now we may take some calculated risks along the way. We repeatedly said we are going to be opportunistic in this market and explore opportunities to make us better. However the goal again remains putting us in the best position for the long term. Nothing in the last few days or the last year-plus has been done with the intention of deviating from that long-term vision.
“We’re very interested in adding premium young talent to what we’ve already built, but at the same time we’re not going to rob Peter to pay Paul, if that makes sense,” Hahn said later in the session. “We know that we are in a position right now and are headed towards a bright future, and we want to make moves that are going to enhance that, not necessarily take away from it.”
Now that sounds like a pretty forceful denunciation of the high-risk notion of trading multiple of those highly touted prospects for Machado, who has just one year left on his contract before becoming a headlining member of the bonkers 2019 free-agent class. According to reports, there will be no negotiating window in any potential trade, meaning Machado will be just a one-year player for whichever team acquires him as he plans on hitting the market next winter.
The names of big-time pitching prospects Michael Kopech and Lucas Giolito were mentioned in a report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, and it's been reported the Orioles are seeking two young, controllable pitchers. To see the White Sox deal away either of those arms — plus any other members of the “championship team of the future” that would be needed to create a return package — for a player who would not be guaranteed to be under contract past the 2018 season would be to see the White Sox pull an about face in their stated goals: to methodically build a team that contends far into the future.
But the lure of a proven player like Machado is understandably strong. At the young age of 25, he’s already made three All-Star teams, won a pair of Gold Gloves and finished in the top 10 in American League MVP voting three times. He’s a slick defender — who reportedly wants to move to shortstop — and has a great bat, with a combined 105 home runs in the past three seasons.
If the White Sox were somehow able to convince Machado to sign a contract extension rather than search for a monstrous deal on the open market, that would be quite the player to build a team around.
And, while Hahn keeps saying he wants to acquire as much young talent as possible — a descriptor, by the way, that does not exclude Machado — having so many highly rated players in the system allows Hahn’s front office to make some decisions based on that depth, especially when some of it is still a few years from making an impact at the big league level.
“We are every interested in premium young talent that can be here for the long term,” Hahn said. “That hasn’t changed. Whether that’s prospect-level talent you’ve seen us accumulate over the last year, or young players that are already in the big leagues, but again the focus remains on putting ourselves in the best position for the long term. Nothing has changed in that regard.”
Hahn also said that flexibility extends not just to trades but to free-agent spending. If the White Sox truly covet Machado as much as their fan base does, they could wait 2018 out and make a run at him next offseason — no matter how expensive that might be.
“Certainly if a high percentage of the players we have internally are able to contribute to a championship club in Chicago,” he said, “it should be fairly cost effective from a payroll standpoint which would allow us some freedom to be more aggressive on spending either on higher-price players via trade or in free agency.”
A problem, though, with committing resources — both in prospect capital and actual money — to a player like Machado is the fact that there is still to development that needs to happen for some of those minor leaguers that have fans so excited for the future. Without knowing exactly where the holes will be a few years down the road, it’s perhaps difficult to make such an impactful decision with one player.
“That’s exactly what the balancing act is at this time,” Hahn said. “I think as time passes that will become a little bit easier once we know a little bit more about the pace and the likelihood of hitting the ceiling of many of our young players. At this point there’s a still a bit of projection on guys who are in A-ball. As they advance up the ladder, we’ll know more. As for how do we balance that at this time, that's a risk-reward analysis. And again, we’re going to be opportunistic, we’re going to take some calculated risks along the way in order to further this thing, but every move we make along those lines is going to be aimed at the long term.”
And so in the end, Hahn did what any baseball executive should be doing at this time of year: He left all the doors open. At first he painted a picture of a team waiting on its prospects to develop, a team whole-heartedly dedicated to its long-term vision of a homegrown champion. But he made it clear that there were ways the White Sox could surprise without deviating from that plan. As much as trading away these recently acquired minor leaguers seems to be counterintuitive to that vision, Machado’s age and proven capabilities have the potential not to weaken the rebuild but to strengthen it.
You can call it dancing around a question or talking out of both sides of your mouth, but the White Sox have made themselves flexible over the past year. That was a theme of the Jose Abreu trade speculation at the beginning of this week’s activities, and it remains a theme of the most recent barrage of Machado-related craziness.
The White Sox are dedicated to long-term success. As for how they get there, though, well the options are open.
“I think the moves over the past year-plus reinforced our words and have put us in a position to have a very bright future,” Hahn said. “When it comes time to add to what we’ve accumulated or continue this process it’s going to be with the vision of putting ourselves in the position to contend for multiple championships. In the end that’s what’s going to be more important: the ability to win championships.”