White Sox

What Rick Hahn and the White Sox are thinking as avalanche of rumors links them to Manny Machado

What Rick Hahn and the White Sox are thinking as avalanche of rumors links them to Manny Machado

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.”

Avi Garcia's played in fewer than 20 games since April, but could he still attract trade-deadline suitors?

Avi Garcia's played in fewer than 20 games since April, but could he still attract trade-deadline suitors?

Avisail Garcia returned from his latest disabled-list stint with a bang, smacking a three-run home run in the fourth inning Saturday in Seattle.

The White Sox right fielder hasn't even played in 20 games since late April, when he went on his first DL trip, which lasted two months. A second, also featuring an injury to his hamstring, made it two weeks between games.

But when he has been able to step to the plate this summer, Garcia has been tremendously productive. He came into Saturday night with a .333/.347/.783 slash line and a whopping eight home runs in the 17 games he played in between his two DL stays. Then he added that homer Saturday night off longtime Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, giving him nine homers in his last 14 games.

Keeping this up could do an awful lot of things for Garcia: It could make his ice-cold start a distant memory, it could prove that last year's All-Star season might not have been a fluke, and it could keep him entrenched in the conversation about the White Sox outfield of the future, giving the team one of those good problems to have when deciding how he would fit into the puzzle alongside top prospects like Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert.

But here's another possibility: Has Garcia swung a hot enough bat in his limited action that he could be a trade candidate before this month runs out?

The White Sox don't figure to have too many players who are going to get contending teams worked up into a lather. James Shields, Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Xavier Cedeno. Those guys could classify as additions that would bolster teams' depth, but they might not be the attractive upgrades the White Sox were able to trade away last summer.

Garcia, though, could be. He might not slide into the middle of the order for too many contenders, but someone looking for a starting corner outfielder might be enticed by the kind of numbers Garcia has put up in June and July, albeit in a small sample size. Teams would also have to consider his health. He's already been to the disabled list twice this season. Teams would certainly have to be confident he wouldn't return in order to make a deal.

On the White Sox end, Garcia would figure to fetch a far more intriguing return package than the aforementioned pitchers, given that he's still pretty young (27) with one more season of team control after this one.

The White Sox have plenty of options when it comes to Garcia. They could deal him now, deal him later or keep as a part of the rebuild, extending him and making him a featured player on the next contending team on the South Side. But with a lot of significant injuries this year perhaps having an effect on when all those highly rated prospects will finally arrive in the majors — not to mention the disappointing win-loss numbers the big league team has put up this season — perhaps it would make more sense to acquire some rebuild-bolstering pieces.

Of course, it all depends on if there are any deals to be made. Do other teams' front offices like what they've seen from Garcia in this short stretch as much as White Sox fans have? We'll know by the time August rolls around.

The White Sox outfield is finally healthy, and it's got a lot to prove in the second half

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USA TODAY

The White Sox outfield is finally healthy, and it's got a lot to prove in the second half

The outfield the White Sox thought they'd have all season long is finally back together.

Avisail Garcia came off the disabled list ahead of Saturday night's game in Seattle, bringing an end to his second DL stint of the campaign, both of which involved hamstring injuries. Garcia's return came a day after the return of Nicky Delmonico, who had been on the DL with a broken hand since mid May.

Here we are 96 games into the season, and Garcia has logged just 35 games, with Delmonico playing in 38. Leury Garcia had his own lengthy DL trip and has played in only 59 games. Daniel Palka, the replacement for any variety of those injured outfielders, has played in 66 games. Adam Engel, the Opening Day center fielder who is once again struggling with the bat (he entered Saturday with a .215 batting average), is the lone outfielder to see action in an overwhelming majority of the team's contests. He's appeared in 86 of them.

At the dawn of the second half, though, everyone's healthy again. But as is the case with most positions on the current big league roster, how long into this rebuilding franchise's future will those players be occupying those spots?

Outfield is one of a couple areas in which the White Sox have incredible depth. Eloy Jimenez is the No. 2 prospect in baseball and gets a deserved amount of attention (he hit two home runs in Friday night's game down at Triple-A Charlotte), with Luis Robert generating plenty of excitement, too, with his high ranking and oft-discussed tool set. But those two headliners are hardly the only guys angling for a spot in the White Sox outfield of the future. There's Micker Adolfo, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Luis Gonzalez, Joel Booker and more all developing down in the minor leagues.

Will all those names make the current crop of White Sox outfielders, finally healthy, irrelevant? And if so, how quickly?

Garcia came into the season as the White Sox reigning All-Star representative, but health isn't the only area in which he's had bad luck this season. He had a very slow start at the plate, slashing just .233/.250/.315 with one homer in 18 games before hitting the DL for two months in late April. Of course, after returning from that first layoff, he was excellent. Garcia slashed .333/.347/.783 with eight homers in just 17 games between June 22 and July 8 before hitting the DL again.

Garcia still has plenty to prove if he wants to be a part of the White Sox long-term future, chiefly in the form of consistency. Some of his numbers in 2017 were among the best in the American League, but can he do that again? Injuries have wiped out his ability to show he can do it over the course of another full season, but the remaining two months and change of the 2018 campaign will be the perfect opportunity to show the White Sox, not to mention the rest of the league, that he is a dependable long-term piece. If he can do that, the White Sox could find offseason suitors or interested parties at next year's trade deadline to swap Garcia for a rebuild-improving package. Or they could opt to extend him. His team control runs out after the 2019 season. Remember: He's only 27 years old.

Delmonico was another player embarking on a "prove it" campaign when 2018 began, and the broken hand sure didn't help him out in that department. But he managed to impress enough to get into the long-term conversation in only two months of action last season. Perhaps he could do the same over the final 60-plus games of this season.

If he's going to impress enough to do that, though, he'll have to shake off his own not-so-great beginning to the season, when he slashed .224/.333/.302 with only one homer in 37 games. In Friday's second-half opener, he went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts.

Can any other members of this outfield do enough to keep themselves among the possibilities as the wave of prospects starts washing ashore on the South Side? For has hard as he's hit the ball — his nickname maybe should be "Exit Velocity" — Palka's managed just a .234 batting average and a .280 on-base percentage to go along with his 12 homers and 33 RBIs. Engel has still struggled to show he can do much offensively to complement his great defensive abilities. The player with the best case to stay in the conversation, at this point, might be Leury Garcia. The White Sox love his versatility, his ability to play both infield and outfield, and he's been on an offensive tear since returning from his own month-long layoff, slashing .338/.348/.477 in his last 20 games. Maybe he garners some interest as the trade deadline rapidly approaches?

Jimenez — slashing .319/.373/.594 with five homers in 18 games since being promoted to Triple-A — is coming. If he keeps this pace up, he'd figure to be a lock to play for the White Sox before the end of this season. But Rick Hahn has talked about the importance of Jimenez getting at-bats in Triple-A, and the 30-games-under-.500 White Sox are in no rush to bring up reinforcements before their development dictates it.

So there might be an increasingly limited window in which this crop of outfielders has the opportunity to prove its worth in the White Sox long-term plans. Injuries that have slowed things down for Robert and Adolfo have increased that opportunity for the current big leaguers, too. But as Basabe showed in last weekend's Futures Game, there's no shortage of outfield prospects knocking on the door. So for the Garcias, Delmonico, Engel and Palka, now's the time to impress.