The expectations for this White Sox offseason were sky high.
And though Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon are playing elsewhere in the American League, the sheer volume of White Sox additions — as well as new contracts for a couple key guys who were already part of the organization — has made it easy to argue that this offseason has been nothing short of a home run.
The White Sox entered the winter with the memory of how the Manny Machado saga played out fresh in every fan’s mind, and a certain segment of those minds seemed sure the team was unwilling or unable to spend big enough to land impact talent. Rick Hahn said in the wake of Machado’s decision last February that “the money will be spent.” Plenty seemed unconvinced.
Well, Hahn’s never going to phrase it this way, nor would he even want to, but I guess the most apt segue would be: “How do you like me, now?”
Remember, spending that money was never about proving anybody wrong, but that’s exactly what’s happened, as the White Sox shelled out a franchise-record $73 million contract for free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal in November. Then they gave free-agent pitcher Dallas Keuchel a deal that, if the team picks up a fourth-year option, could end up worth $1 million more than Grandal’s. Thursday’s contract extension for Luis Robert could reach $88 million, a new franchise record, should everything play out that way.
There’s the reported — though not yet announced — signing of free-agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion. There’s the trade that netted the White Sox right fielder Nomar Mazara from the Texas Rangers. There’s the signing of free-agent pitcher Gio Gonzalez — back with the team that traded him twice as a minor leaguer. There’s the new deal for face of the franchise Jose Abreu.
The amount of activity, particularly at this point in the calendar, is downright astounding.
But it hasn’t merely been activity for activity’s sake. Hahn’s front office has followed its rebuilding plans to a T, adding Grandal and Keuchel on long-term deals that mesh perfectly with what’s expected to be a lengthy contention window. Obviously, the Robert extension is a move for the long, long term, one that could keep him in a White Sox uniform through the 2027 season. Eloy Jimenez, who signed a similar contract last March, could be in the lineup with Robert through the 2026 season.
Only the moves for Gonzalez and Encarnacion haven’t been long-term adds. (Mazara is only under team control for two more seasons, but he’s just 24 years old, aligning him with the other youngsters in a different way.) And those two, though specifically Encarnacion, speak to where this franchise has traveled by following those rebuilding plans and staying committed to a long-term vision. Breakouts for Jimenez and Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito and Tim Anderson allowed the White Sox to enter this offseason with the ability to make a couple win-now moves. That’s something they couldn’t do last offseason, even while pursuing Machado. They weren’t there yet.
Hahn has also accomplished every goal he established, positionally, at the outset of the offseason, filling two holes in the starting rotation with Keuchel and Gonzalez, finding a new everyday right fielder in Mazara and finding a thumper for the DH spot in Encarnacion. And that’s in addition to bringing in a new everyday catcher who will also bat in the middle of the lineup, locking up the face of the franchise at first base and keeping his bat in the middle of the order and making sure Robert is in center field and in that lineup beginning on Opening Day.
And he’s not done.
Hahn said the White Sox focus will be on improving the bullpen now that the calendar has turned to 2020, and there’s still a possibility of another addition in right field that could form a platoon with Mazara. And let’s not forget Nick Madrigal, who will, at some point, join Robert, Grandal, Mazara and Encarnacion as another everyday player added to this roster.
Plenty wanted this kind of offseason. I’m not sure how many expected it. Well, the White Sox have done it.
Now, winning the offseason does not put a ring on anyone’s finger, nor does it put a trophy in the case. The White Sox have plenty of questions that will need to be answered, a lot of them in a mostly unproven and back-from-injury group of starting pitchers. Their two best hitters from a season ago benefitted from some extraordinarily good luck. The bullpen is on Hahn’s to-do list for a reason. The Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians figure to have something to say about the outcome of the AL Central. And the White Sox have to get to October first before we can compare them to the New York Yankees and Houston Astros.
But the White Sox future has indeed arrived, with realistic playoff expectations and a contention window that has the potential to stay open for a very long time.
Just like Hahn & Co. drew it up.