White Sox

White Sox free-agent focus: Manny Machado

White Sox free-agent focus: Manny Machado

This week, we’re profiling some of the biggest names on the free-agent market and taking a look at what kind of fits they are for the White Sox.

White Sox fans have been eyeing Manny Machado as a potential free-agent addition for years, and now Machado’s time in the free-agent spotlight has finally come.

But at least on Twitter, Machado is no longer the universally agreed-upon, must-have addition to this rebuilding effort he once was. Machado generated countless headlines with his words and actions during the playoffs this October, causing many a fan to sour on the 26-year-old four-time All Star. He didn’t run out a ground ball, not exactly a cardinal sin — unless you play for Rick Renteria, more on that in a bit — but made matters so much worse when he said hustling wasn’t his cup of tea. Then he interfered with a couple double-play turns and appeared to intentionally drag his foot over the leg of Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar.

On-field antics are nothing new for Machado. He’s thrown a batting helmet and a bat at opposing players in the middle of games, and he had a notorious spikes-up slide into Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. But the playoff shenanigans brought his on-field style into the national limelight, and White Sox fans noticed.

But how much difference will it all make in the end? Machado is still expected to receive one of baseball’s all-time biggest contracts considering he’s still young and has a remarkable track record of success with the bat and the glove. He’s thrice finished in the top 10 in AL MVP voting and won a pair of Gold Gloves at third base. He’s coming off a career year, finishing the 2018 regular season with a .297/.367/.538 slash line, 37 home runs and 107 RBIs — all those numbers the best of his seven-year career.

When it comes to the White Sox specifically, he of course fits with their long-term plans at just 26. He’d be an obvious upgrade for a team that lost 100 games last season and would slot into the middle of their order for years to come. They’re reportedly interested in Machado — along with the other biggest name in this year’s free-agent class, Bryce Harper — with mentions of their interest dating back to last year’s Winter Meetings. But interest has to be mutual, and Machado’s been mentioned as desiring to play for the New York Yankees, who could use a shortstop while Didi Gregorius recovers from Tommy John surgery.

Plus, there are some White Sox related questions that would accompany Machado that wouldn’t apply to Harper.

First, the White Sox have a long-term shortstop in Tim Anderson, whose defensive improvement was one of the biggest highlights of the 100-loss 2018 campaign for the South Siders. Anderson earns consistent rave reviews from White Sox brass, and while Machado is a Gold Glove third baseman — a position where the White Sox do have an apparent long-term need — he was rather insistent on playing shortstop this year and figures to still have such a desire to stay at that position. Would Anderson thrive elsewhere on the field? Would Machado be willing to move back to third for the right contract?

And then there’s Renteria, who made a habit of benching players for not running out ground balls, pop ups and line outs throughout the season. No type of player was safe from Renteria’s punishments, with Avisail Garcia, the White Sox lone 2017 All Star, getting a benching during a spring training game. How would Machado, who insists he’ll never be “Johnny Hustle,” fit in with Renteria’s culture? For what it’s worth, general manager Rick Hahn once again committed to that culture during last week’s GM Meetings. He also revealed just how committed the White Sox are to Renteria in confirming a previously unannounced extension for the skipper.

Whether any of the addressed stuff outside the MVP-caliber production ends up mattering in a union between Machado and whatever team ends up signing him remains to be seen. But he will without a doubt make that team a better one.


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One analyst says White Sox are current front runner for Bryce Harper


One analyst says White Sox are current front runner for Bryce Harper

LAS VEGAS — The White Sox reported pursuit of Bryce Harper might be aggressive enough that it's made them the front runner to land baseball's biggest free agent.

According to CBS Sports baseball analyst Jim Bowden, the White Sox are leading the pack right now, potentially the team willing to offer the longest and richest contract to the top name on this winter's free-agent market.

As discussed in recent days at the Winter Meetings, the White Sox are beginning to look like a more and more realistic fit for Harper as other teams seem to be dropping out. The New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals insist they're not interested in Harper, and the Cubs have been discussing their financial constraints all offseason. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies were mentioned along with the White Sox as potential finalists earlier this week, with the caveat that the Dodgers would have to do a lot to clear room for Harper. The Phillies, meanwhile, have vowed to spend "stupid" and seem to have the same amount of financial ability to land Harper as the White Sox, who have almost no long-term financial commitments to speak of.

Bowden addressed all of that in his breakdown of the situation for CBS Sports.

Bowden declaring the White Sox the front runners comes in the wake of a pair of reports describing the White Sox as less than confident that they'll end up winning the derby, so the situation seems to be a fluid one.

Bowden also mentioned that the White Sox have intrigued Harper with their plans for the future and their loaded farm system that boasts some of the highest-rated prospects in the game. Eloy Jimenez, the No. 3 prospect in baseball, should be up early on in the 2019 campaign. Michael Kopech, one of the highest-ranked pitching prospects in baseball, will be back from Tommy John surgery for the 2020 season. Dylan Cease, who was good enough in 2018 to earn MLB Pipeline's minor league pitcher of the year honors, could arrive in 2019, too.

Add Harper to that mix, and while it might not even mean a playoff berth in 2019, it could mean a perennial championship contender not long after.

Whether or not Bowden is right about the White Sox holding the lead in this race, it's yet another confirmation of their aggressiveness and their commitment to taking advantage of an opportunity to add one of the best players in the game to their long-term vision. Harper meshes perfectly with all those prospects, and should he choose to play his home games on the South Side, they'd arrive to build a contender around him.

A lot can change between now and when Harper makes his final decision, but maybe Rick Hahn's future-focused sales pitch is working.

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With White Sox in hunt for Bryce Harper, Scott Boras touts his client's value: 'These are pivotal moments'

With White Sox in hunt for Bryce Harper, Scott Boras touts his client's value: 'These are pivotal moments'

LAS VEGAS — If anybody knows who's going to win the Bryce Harper sweepstakes, it's Scott Boras.

But he's not telling.

Harper's agent drew his annual crowd of reporters at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday and confidently stated how much teams around the league should want to back a dump truck full of money up to his client's house. Of course, Harper is expected to receive the biggest contract in baseball history, so is confidence isn't exactly misplaced.

The White Sox are reportedly in the running for Harper — as well as Boras' former client and the second-biggest name on the free-agent market, Manny Machado — and so Boras' thoughts are of particular interest on the South Side of Chicago. Unfortunately for those Harper-hungry folks, he wouldn't get into many specifics: not about contracts, not about teams, not about much besides how happy a team should be to sign one of the game's best players.

"I think that in the end, all organizations are going to look back on this opportunity," Boras said. "They’re going to look back on it, and they’re going to say, ‘What should I have done? How should I have done it? What steps should I have taken?’ These are pivotal moments. There are a lot of organizations and general managers that will be evaluated about what they did do or didn’t do when you have the availability of a player like this."

As for the White Sox general manager, he knows what kind of opportunity this is. Rick Hahn has used that word often this offseason, "opportunity," describing in what kind of instance the White Sox would make a big splash. And that opportunity is a player like Harper, who at just 26 years old fits in so well with the team's long-term plans. Installing Harper in right field for the next decade would allow the White Sox bevy of highly touted prospects to grow up around one of the game's top stars and form the perennial championship contender Hahn and his front office envisioned when they started this rebuilding process.

Hahn talks about every move the team makes as needing to make sense in the long term. It sounds like Boras and Harper are thinking in a similar fashion.

"I think the effectiveness of ownership in meetings is one where they talk about histories, they talk about their ability to create a winning modality that is consistent with what a club may do over a 10-, 15-year period," Boras said. "If they can establish that and listen to it, I think when you’re signing long-term contracts, you’re looking at a franchise in the long term, not just the short term."

For those looking for any little grains of information to help understand the White Sox chances at landing Harper, Boras said he and his client have "met with everyone that we need to meet with" and he had nothing but good things to say about team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, saying "I enjoy talking to him all the time." He confirmed that Harper has received information about teams' farm systems and what kind of talent they have coming down the line.

But in the end, Boras stuck to his script as pitchman for Harper as baseball's best value, even at a potential $400 million price point. He talked up Harper's impact on the TV ratings and attendance and merchandise sales in Washington. He talked up how signing a player like Harper can increase the value of a franchise. And surely the White Sox would love all that.

But they'd love winning more.

To get Harper aboard and crank up the brightness on an already bright future on the South Side, they first have to win this sweepstakes.

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