What to do, what to do.
Since the December 2016 trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton that kickstarted their rebuilding effort, the White Sox have mostly been in a waiting game, waiting for all those highly touted prospects to develop in the minor leagues. There's been one big decision: to make another huge trade, of Jose Quintana, to accomplish the same task that was accomplished with the Sale and Eaton deals. The big league team since has been young and getting younger, in a holding pattern until the Eloy Jimenezes and Luis Roberts and Dylan Ceases and Dane Dunnings and Nick Madrigals of the world make their way to the South Side.
But while 2019 might end up looking a lot like 2018 at the major league level — give or take the presence of a top-three prospect in baseball — there are some important decisions to be made. And they start this winter.
The contracts of a couple of the team's lone veterans are moving toward their expiration dates, with both Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia set to hit the free-agent market a year from now. Both guys have the unfortunate distinction of coming off injury-plagued seasons. Garcia's hurt knee led to a hamstring injury and kept him on the disabled list for a huge chunk of the season, not to mention that it helped cause his numbers to plummet — save the home run total, which actually improved from his All-Star campaign in 2017. Abreu's pair of freak injuries — a procedure to relieve testicular torsion and then an unrelated infection in his thigh — didn't cause him to miss as much time as Garcia's ailments, but they kept him out long enough to make sure his midseason slump sank his numbers to unprecedented levels in his big league career.
And with all that, the White Sox now have decisions to make: Are Abreu and Garcia going to be a part of this team's long-term plans?
The decisions are different animals than they were a year ago, when Abreu was coming off his fourth straight 25-homer, 100-RBI season and Garcia was coming off a season in which he ranked among the league leaders with a .330 batting average and a .380 on-base percentage. Then, it seemed that no offer for Abreu could return the same amount of value the White Sox saw in his consistent production and his off-the-field mentorship of the franchise's young players. It seemed Garcia had finally figured things out, and some considered him a long-term centerpiece.
Rick Hahn is convinced that the down seasons for the team's current middle-of-the-order hitters don't change what his front office knows they can do. But he realizes that decisions are coming.
"There’s multiple decision points, with the last one being essentially a year from now when they would hit free agency under the normal course of business. We obviously have some decisions to make this offseason," Hahn said during his end-of-the-year press conference last month. "I think we know from the track record of performance what these players are capable of doing and can project with some level of certainty, given the health of each of them, what it’s going to look like going forward.
"We don’t need to make long-term decisions on either just yet. We’ll go into this offseason and look at our options and talk through where each of them are from a performance and health standpoint and what we project going forward and act accordingly."
It might be vague, but Hahn is right: The White Sox don't need to move either of these guys this winter, nor do they need to lock either up with contract extensions this winter. There's still time for different scenarios to play out. No trade interest in Garcia this offseason? Well, maybe he gets off to a good start in 2019, the White Sox can make a deal at the deadline and they can further bolster the rebuilding effort with the return. All those injuries to prospects last season casting uncertainty on the timeline of the rebuild? Maybe Abreu — who will be 33 by Opening Day, 2020 — no longer seems like the no-brainer long-term piece he might have a year ago.
Not to mention that the 2019 performance of both players might help make the White Sox decision for them, one way or the other.
Abreu's value beyond 2019 is certainly more obvious than Garcia's at this point. His age is advancing, but given a full season last year, he might've been able to chase down the milestones he hit in each of his first four season in the majors. And his relationship with Yoan Moncada and example for all the team's young players who either have arrived or will soon be arriving on the South Side provides a ton of off-the-field value. The down side is that age and, often, the decreased production that comes with it for older players. How many years of a new multi-year contract for Abreu would feature the same kind of production he's put up to date, with the caveat that the White Sox are hoping to be competing for championships?
Garcia, meanwhile, remains a bit of a mystery, despite the fact that he's played parts of seven big league seasons and has been on the White Sox for the past six years. He was, statistically, one of baseball's best hitters in 2017, but the question was whether he could do it again. There was no way to answer that question as Garcia only played in 93 games and played hurt in all of them. Then there's the fleet of outfield prospects developing in the White Sox loaded farm system, which makes Garcia look a bit more expendable, simply from a depth standpoint.
Will we see Abreu or Garcia depart this winter? Will we see them traded next summer? Will we see them walk off into the free-agency sunset? Or will we see them in the Opening Day lineup in 2020?
The White Sox need to decide.