Weeks before the trade deadline, general manager Rick Hahn made it pretty clear that when it came to a potential deal for his White Sox, cost was going to be everything.
Monday’s trade deadline came and went, and outside of last week’s deal for speedy pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson, the White Sox couldn’t find anything in their price range.
That’s less about the financials — though money has a little something to do with everything, especially given the game’s uncertain economics in the midst of a fan-less season — and more about what Hahn would have had to trade away to land a big fish to boost his team’s chances at a championship in 2020.
The thing is, Hahn’s goal is championships in the 2020s. Both plural.
“We had a lot of conversations, obviously. There were some conversations in which perhaps we were a little more aggressive than others,” Hahn said shortly after the deadline passed Monday afternoon. “But at the end, it came down to not wanting to do anything that was going to compromise what we are excited about for the better part of the next decade.
“We feel very good about what this team has accomplished over the first part of this season. We feel confident in what this team is capable of doing over the next several months. But just as importantly, we are excited about where this team is headed for the next several years.
“In the end, we didn’t want to do anything that was going to compromise what this bright future looks like.”
In short: The White Sox didn’t end up with Mike Clevinger or Lance Lynn because it would have meant weakening the long-term future for a short-term boost. And that’s not what this rebuilding project has been about. Not now, not ever.
The White Sox have been playing some excellent baseball over the last two weeks and woke up Monday in a first-place tie atop the AL Central standings. The question is no longer whether they are capable of reaching the postseason, and ending the franchise’s more than decade-long playoff drought, but how much noise they can make once they get there.
The White Sox are obvious contenders after a two-week stretch that’s seen a no-hitter, four consecutive homers, a major league record 27 home runs in seven games, a Crosstown-series win over the rival Cubs, a pair of walk-off dingers and 11 wins in 13 games. And what do contenders usually do? They involve themselves in the midsummer arms race that is the trade deadline to try to bulk up ahead of pennant races and playoff runs alongside the rest of baseball’s elite teams.
But the White Sox have more on their minds than just one run at a title. Hahn considers this a long-term endeavor, as he’s made clear from the very start. And the carefully laid rebuilding plans seem to have yielded the potential for annual contention during a lengthy window.
That’s been readily evident over the last two weeks. The things that elevated the White Sox to the status of teams that usually do big things at the deadline are the same things that have this team looking so well positioned not just in this season but in seasons to come. The argument that the White Sox should’ve done something is the same as the argument that they should’ve stood pat: This team looks capable of doing big things.
The plan is working.
“Each day (this season) we wanted to come here and hopefully move closer to that goal that we want (to reach) of being able to contend annually for championships,” Hahn said. “The rapidity with which many of these things have happened — Luis Robert's ability to acclimate himself to the big league level, Lucas (Giolito’s) ability to be able to maintain that elite status in a rotation, Eloy (Jiménez’) further development as a hitter, Tim Anderson maintaining himself as an offensive threat and improving defensively — there's a great deal of satisfaction.
“We've been able to get those positive moments each day. Some of them, like the no-hitter or the four home runs in a row, these momentous events, have perhaps stood out more than others. But all of it has really led us to not only feel good about where we are as an organization now but reinforce where this thing is going to lead us over the better part of the next decade.”
Certainly the White Sox could have benefitted from an addition to their starting rotation. Past an elite 1-2 punch of Giolito and Dallas Keuchel at the top, there are question marks about consistency. Dylan Cease has a nice ERA, but he’s had problems with homers, walks and getting into jams. Reynaldo López is just returned from the injured list and coming off a woeful 2019 campaign. Carlos Rodón is still on the injured list with a bout of shoulder soreness that sidelined him for nearly the entirety of August.
Clevinger or Lynn would’ve been a nice boost, nou doubt about it. But they also would’ve cost an awful lot. How far down the list of White Sox prospects would you go before finding a centerpiece that wouldn’t blow a hole in the long-term planning? And would such a prospect have been attractive enough to the other team to land a pitcher the caliber of Clevinger or Lynn?
It’s true neither pitcher was the rental Hahn signaled wouldn’t be coming, both under club control past the end of the 2020 season. But, for example, Michael Kopech — who was speculated about by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale as a candidate to go the other way in a Clevinger deal — has long been a part of the White Sox planning. He’s under club control through the 2025 season. The White Sox believe he can be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher for a long time. They opted for the long term over the short term.
And so the White Sox are where they were before the deadline. You can pull your hair out over a supposed missed opportunity to create an unbeatable force come October, but the truth is the White Sox remain a first-place team with one of the three best records in the American League. They remain a white-hot offense hitting more home runs than just about anyone. They still have two of the Junior Circuit’s top hurlers at the top of the rotation.
And they are confident as hell that they can beat anybody.
“The players that are out there right now, if you asked every single one, to a man, they would probably tell you, ‘Hey, we can do it with the guys that we have,’” manager Rick Renteria said. “Right now, I'm very happy with these guys. But we've got to keep playing, we've got to keep doing it.
“There's no looking back now. You've got to push forward, and as we talked about, everything we do matters.”
On top of all that goodness for the rest of 2020, the White Sox are still well stocked for years to come. As good as they have been, they’re still getting better. And by standing pat as the clock struck 3 on Monday afternoon, Hahn opted to keep his team on that same upward trajectory.
Now and well into the future.