LAS VEGAS — When asked Tuesday what the White Sox biggest selling point is, manager Rick Renteria didn't hesitate.
"The future," he said.
That's not a surprising answer to that question, but it's one the White Sox are giving with an awful lot of confidence at these Winter Meetings, a week in Vegas where they're being rumored to potentially hit a free-agent jackpot.
In fact, just before general manager Rick Hahn held his Wednesday-evening media session, one analyst tossed it out there that the White Sox were the front runners in the sweepstakes for Bryce Harper, the biggest name on the market and a guy who could alter the future of the franchise by signing on.
The White Sox have been reportedly interested in both Harper and his fellow mega free agent Manny Machado for a while now, though in the wake of those initial reports, it seemed a team coming off a 100-loss season with nothing but plans for future success would have a tough time competing against suitors with win-now rosters. Money might unsurprisingly end up making the biggest difference in this whole thing, and if the White Sox offer up the largest contract, certainly possible given their near complete lack of long-term financial commitments, then there you go, maybe that's the ballgame.
But Hahn has spoken confidently about his team's pitch, one that attempts to lure these big names to the South Side by talking up a loaded farm system and a collection of young talent that could grow up around an imported superstar and produce a perennial championship contender. The team's future is undoubtedly bright, and it sounds as if these free agents and their representation know that very well.
"There’s very bright days ahead," Hahn said. "Now again, it might be a year premature in terms of selling this club as a postseason contender, but we’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years to put us in a position where we very reasonably, or objectively we have a bright future ahead of us. And we’ve heard from a number of different players about their interest in being part of it, which I don’t think should be surprising.
"There’s been a lot of positive feedback in terms of the long term. It’s funny because when you are talking about a shorter-term deal, like a one- or two-year deal, you are getting a response from a lot of the players like, ‘Hey, we want to be part of the fun times, too. I’ll just do something a little bit longer.’ It can cut both ways.
"Definitely, the general consensus is one of optimism."
And not only are players reacting well to what the White Sox are selling when it comes to their long-term outlook, but they're coming to the table with that knowledge already.
Harper's agent, Scott Boras, talked earlier Wednesday to a mass of reporters and confirmed that he's provided Harper with all kinds of information about teams, including details about their farm systems and what kind of talent they have coming down the line.
"It's been my experience there's been a very deep understanding on the other side of the table about what we're about and where we're going," Hahn said. "They might not have every detail about some of the amenities of the ballpark or some of the services we provide for families or player assistants or stuff like that. But when you're starting to talk about on-field product and where this thing is headed, while we have our own opinions on things, they come pretty well armed with an understanding of what we're about and where we're going."
The highly ranked prospects, the 2020 lineup projections, it's all common knowledge to fans who have been invested in this rebuilding project for two years now. But perhaps the lure of playing alongside Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech and Luis Robert and Dylan Cease is a lot stronger than originally anticipated, or at least as strong as the lure of playing on teams with win-now rosters like the Los Angeles Dodgers, the New York Yankees and, to an extent, the Philadelphia Phillies, other teams reportedly in the mix for Harper and/or Machado.
And that's got to feel pretty good, right? The White Sox have spent two years in rebuilding mode, and it's rarely been a pretty sight at the major league level during that span. But all those young players and their expected bright future seems to have the attention of the baseball world. So much so, in fact, that some of the best players in the game want to be a part of it.
But don't think that just being in the running for a player like Harper or Machado will completely validate the rebuild.
"Honestly, the only thing that's going to validate it is a parade at the end," Hahn said. "That's what it comes down to. It makes you feel good about some of the hard times of the past couple years, perhaps that it's been worth it to an extent. But in the end it's going to come down to rings. If this doesn't ultimately land us in a position to win multiple championships, then in my view it would not have worked."
And perhaps that helps explain the aggressiveness this winter. Again, this aggressive pursuit of free agents is part of the plan, not a sign of desperation from a 100-loss team. Adding that "finishing piece" is a step of this process that Hahn has talked about for a long time. If it's Harper or Machado, that goes a long way toward making the White Sox championship contenders down the road.
Maybe it's that much-ballyhooed financial flexibility that's keeping the White Sox in this hunt. Perhaps money does trump everything else and the biggest contract offer will win the day.
But there has to be other elements to this thing, and the elements the White Sox are talking up — that future that Renteria was so quick to bring up — might be getting through to the Harpers and the Machados of this free-agent world.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.