LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — To trade or not to trade?
That seems to be the question for Rick Hahn at this week’s Winter Meetings.
The rebuilding White Sox don’t have to do what they did a year ago, when they exploded out of the rebuilding gates with a couple of huge trades, shipping Chris Sale to Boston, sending Adam Eaton to Washington and bringing back a boatload of highly rated prospects in return. The foundation was laid, and now the time has come to sit back and let all that young talent develop.
But the biggest mystery of the week is whether Hahn & Co. will be active or stay quiet. Will they trade their assets to once again bolster the farm system or simply play the waiting game?
It seems the White Sox are leaning toward having a quiet Winter Meetings this time around. But that doesn’t mean the guy who dealt away Sale, Eaton and Jose Quintana in the last 12 months is closing any doors.
“If we’re able to find a similar match in the coming days we’ll move on it, but at this point my common theme of needing to be patient needs to be reiterated — not necessarily for White Sox Nation but for those of us up in the room,” Hahn said Monday at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort.
“I’d be lying to say that you don’t feel the impact of being down here. You know that deals are taking place. You know that teams are more serious, that free agents are coming off the board. The focus of not only White Sox fans but all of baseball is on these four days here. I’d be lying if I said we were impervious to the desire to show some fruit of our labors down here.
“That said we’re pretty good at taking a longer term view. We’ve got in a good pace of doing that in the last year plus. So we have enough sensible people in that room that will stop anyone from doing anything too impetuous here in next few days.”
Just because the White Sox might be in a position to stand pat and let their minor league talent continue to cook doesn’t mean they’ve been absent from the barrage of trade speculation that’s flown through these Winter Meetings like a certain local airborne elephant.
Most of the Sox-related chatter has involved Jose Abreu, the team’s best hitter who in 2017 became the fourth player ever to hit at 25 homers and drive in 100 runs in each of his first four major league seasons. Reports have simultaneously suggested that the White Sox are unlikely to deal the slugger and that he’s being pursued by multiple teams. Hahn did not announce one way or the other which way the team will go with Abreu, prudently keeping multiple possibilities alive.
And if nothing else is a certainty about the Abreu question, it’s that he gives his general manager plenty of options. Of course Abreu’s bat makes him a strong trade candidate. But his value as a team leader and mentor to younger players in the White Sox clubhouse is also extremely valuable. And at this stage in the rebuild, the White Sox might see more value in the latter, making a trade increasingly unlikely.
“It's very tough to quantify,” Hahn said, speaking of Abreu’s off-the-field value. “I think all 30 clubs can put some sort of cash value on what he does between the white lines, using whatever metrics you favor and coming to generally the same area. The sort of softer-science side of things, the example he sets in our clubhouse, the work ethic, the way he plays the game, the way he represents us in the community, that’s really tough to quantify and it’s something we value. It’s something the organization has valued for years on various players, whether it’s (Paul) Konerko or (Mark) Buerhle or others come to mind immediately. And it probably makes it a challenge at times to overlap with another club that doesn’t quite fully know what to make of that, because they haven’t had the opportunity to have them yet.”
In addition to being a strong argument as to why the White Sox would benefit from keeping Abreu on the South Side, it’s also a possible explanation as for why a trade just won’t happen. Surely, as reports have indicated, it would take a big package to pry Abreu away, and in asking for that sizable return package, the White Sox are perhaps thinking of things that other teams are not considering. To trade or not to trade when it comes to Abreu? The answer is never no for Hahn. But you can plainly see why it’s been reported that a deal is unlikely.
Of course Abreu isn’t the only thing on Hahn & Co.’s minds this week. Avisail Garcia has been speculated about as a potential trade chip. And then there are the necessary additions the team needs to make to its starting rotation and its bullpen.
When it comes to free-agent activity in general, the White Sox were one of the first teams to make a move this winter, inking Welington Castillo to a two-year deal (with a possibility for a third) at the beginning of the month. That was a somewhat surprising signing, the rebuilding White Sox adding a win-now type player coming off a career year offensively and defensively.
So maybe the White Sox front office could surprise with more signings like that or it could make more expected additions, like adding veteran starting pitchers to help balance out a young rotation, or bullpen arms to make up for the many trades made involving the relief corps during the 2017 season.
Regardless of what the direction ends up being, Hahn said that the team was expecting those moves to come later, only for the Castillo signing to get things started early. And now, baseball-wide, activity is in full swing at the Winter Meetings.
“It’s funny because we did think a fair amount of whatever our free-agent activity that would be for the White Sox this year would be closer to the holidays or perhaps first of the year based on how previous markets have unfolded. But we had the opportunity to sign Welington Castillo, one of the first free-agent signings of the year,” Hahn said. “Coming down here it did seem like it would be a quiet market at least as of a week ago, but now based on our conversations in the last three or four days, it seems some of the players in that category are starting to move as well.
“So I can’t give you a great answer on the timing other than to tell you that we initially thought it would be a late-developing market and we were ready for that, but if the opportunity, as it did with Castillo, arises to do something that improves us, we’ll move on it.”
And so one day into these Winter Meetings, the door remains open for some White Sox activity. To trade or not to trade? To sign or not to sign? To stand pat or not to stand pat? Those questions don’t have answers yet, and that’ll keep things interesting.