White Sox

White Sox Team of the Future: Designated hitter

White Sox Team of the Future: Designated hitter

What will the next championship-contending White Sox team look like?

That's what we're setting out to determine (or at least make a guess at) over the next few weeks. Ten members of our White Sox content team here at NBC Sports Chicago put our heads together to try to project what each position on the diamond would look like in one, two, three years. Basically, we posed the question: What will the White Sox starting lineup be the next time they're capable of playing in the World Series?

That question can have a bunch of different answers, too. We didn't limit ourselves to players currently a part of the organization. Think the White Sox are gonna make a big free-agent addition? Vote for that player. Think the White Sox are gonna pull off a huge trade? Vote for that player. We wanted to see some creativity.

We're moving on to designated hitter, and while much of the roster of the future is made up of players who haven't even put on a White Sox uniform yet, the winner here is someone who's already become one of the best hitters in team history. Jose Abreu is our designated hitter of the future.

Penciling in Abreu at DH and not first base isn't a knock on his fielding skills, though the White Sox will likely use Abreu more at the DH spot in 2019, platooning him there and at first base with newly acquired Yonder Alonso, in an effort to keep him off his feet a little more and possibly extend his career a bit. That becomes important if the team determines that the soon-to-be-32 Abreu is a part of the long-term future.

That's a determination that still needs to be made, with Abreu now in the final year of his current contract. An extension has long seemed a very real possibility, even if Abreu's age is significantly higher than the majority of the players who figure to make up the long-term core, the Eloy Jimenezes, the Luis Roberts, the Michael Kopechs. If Abreu's production drops off, maybe the White Sox decide to move on. Or maybe developments in the minor leagues will kick the contention window a tad further down the road, making the remainder of Abreu's career a poor alignment with those long-term plans of perennial contention on the South Side.

But the most realistic outcome still seems to be Abreu sticking around. The White Sox love this guy, constantly touting him as a model for their young players. They rave about his work ethic and describe him as someone who goes about his business in exactly the right way. They placed Yoan Moncada, a big part of those future plans, right next to Abreu in the clubhouse, hoping one Cuban could learn a lot from another. Team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf bestowed a special ring on Abreu after he became just the sixth White Sox player ever to hit for the cycle. And Abreu himself always talks about his love of the organization and how he hopes to be a part of it for his entire career.

And while those off-the-field qualities might have the biggest impact on the fleet of highly rated youngsters making their way to the major leagues, the on-the-field production has been just as excellent. Abreu is one of three players in baseball history — the others Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols, two of the best to ever play the game — to start his career with four straight seasons of at least 25 homers and 100 RBIs. He was the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year, he's a two-time All Star, including the AL's starting first baseman in 2018, and a two-time Silver Slugger. He's received MVP votes in three of his five seasons, finishing as high as fourth in 2014.

Last season saw Abreu go on an uncharacteristic, prolonged slump in the middle of the season that dragged his numbers down. And yet thanks to a red-hot stretch, it was possible he could have reached that 25-homer, 100-RBI mark yet again. Two freak injuries snuffed that hope out, twice sending him to the DL in the season's final months.

With full health and more consistency, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see 2018, statistically, end up an aberration. Plus, more rest thanks to increased time at DH could help Abreu in both the short and long terms.

Will he be here when the White Sox are next contending for a championship? It's a possibility, and one that doesn't seem all that unlikely. Abreu likes playing in the field, but he's our designated hitter of the future.

Other vote-getters

Yonder Alonso. The newly acquired Alonso isn't under contract long, with only one guaranteed season on the South Side coming in 2019. There's an option for the 2020 season. Alonso has certainly been productive in the past, the very recent past, for that matter, as he's just two years removed from an All-Star season in 2017, when he had a .365 on-base percentage and slugged .501 with 28 homers. He's a solid pickup for the White Sox who figures to help out Abreu, provide the lineup with some on-base skills it desperately needs and potentially even assist in luring Manny Machado to the South Side. Is he part of the long-term answer? Probably not, soon to be 32 himself without the five seasons of White Sox service that Abreu has. But one voter perhaps envisioned the team's contention window popping open at some point in the near future, meaning Alonso could still be around, in 2020, to be part of a contending group.

Daniel Palka. Palka showed he could be a powerful presence as a designated hitter, hitting 27 home runs as a rookie last season. He's constantly working on improving his outfield defense, though he seems better suited as a DH. That being said, the opportunity to play there seems to have dried up in a hurry with the import of Alonso, who as mentioned will split time at DH and first with Abreu. So where does that leave Palka? Not as a full-time starter, that's for sure, especially now that Jon Jay has been signed to upgrade the outfield. Palka will probably still get his opportunities, and he'll have to take advantage of them to work his way into the long-term conversation at any position. But he's got lefty pop, always a valuable commodity, so there's obviously a chance.

Jake Burger. There were outside questions about whether the White Sox first-round draft pick from 2017 could stick at third base, questions seemingly answered by director of player development Chris Getz at last year's SoxFest: "From what I’ve seen, there’s nothing that says that he can’t play third base." But then came the pair of Achilles tears that Burger experienced during 2018, not only robbing him of valuable developmental time in the minor leagues, but perhaps even more emphatically throwing his ability to stick at third into question. That's not to say, though, that he's done by any stretch, and a guy who swung a big bat at Missouri State could keep swinging it in the minor leagues and find his way to the majors as a valuable part of the lineup of the future. And one voter thinks he'll be doing it as a DH.

Zack Collins. Another first-round pick with questions about where he'll end up defensively is Collins. The White Sox are still plenty confident he can be their long-term catcher, and that's the track he's on in the minor leagues. But he also got a lot of experience as a DH last season when he and fellow catching prospect Seby Zavala were on the same roster at Double-A Birmingham, playing catcher in only 74 of his 122 games. Even though he won the Double-A Home Run Derby, Collins' most impressive achievement in 2018 was a fantastic .382 on-base percentage, something that will definitely be of value, no matter what position he ends up playing. There have been questions about his defense since he was drafted, rightly or wrongly, and so it's no surprise to see one of our voters putting him at DH.

Khris Davis. Here's a creative pick. Already one of the better designated hitters in the game, Davis is set to become a free agent following the 2019 season. He was sensational in 2018, finishing eighth in AL MVP voting after hitting a major league leading 48 home runs and driving in 123 runs for the playoff-making Oakland A's. Should the White Sox keep looking to make big free-agent splashes next winter — perhaps meaning they missed out on Machado and Bryce Harper this offseason — Davis could be an intriguing name in a loaded free-agent class.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Rick Hahn talks Eloy deal, Machado pursuit and White Sox offseason in 1-on-1 interview

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Rick Hahn talks Eloy deal, Machado pursuit and White Sox offseason in 1-on-1 interview

Chuck Garfien sits down with White Sox general manager Rick Hahn in Arizona.

They talk about everything from Eloy Jimenez signing a long-term contract with the White Sox to missing out on Manny Machado. Hahn discusses how long a new deal with Jimenez had been in the works (5:10), if the contract talks affected Jimenez at the plate this spring (7:00), why it took so long for Manny Machado to sign (13:30), why they weren't willing to guarantee the last two years for Machado (16:00), what Hahn would say to skeptical White Sox fans who don't think White Sox will be able to sign a premium free agent (18:00), how the White Sox lost a deal this offseason because of a tweet (22:30), whether the worst part of the rebuild is in the past, (24:30) if the stakes are higher now for those on the major league club (27:20) and more.

Listen below or click this link to hear the latest episode:

White Sox Talk Podcast

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White Sox make long-term deal with Eloy Jimenez official

White Sox make long-term deal with Eloy Jimenez official

The White Sox officially announced the long-term contract with Eloy Jimenez, the details of which were reported earlier this week.

The 22-year-old Jimenez received the richest contract ever for a minor league player who has yet to make his major league debut.

The team confirmed what was reported earlier in the week, that the deal is worth $43 million over six years with a pair of team options that could extend the contract through the 2026 season.

From the White Sox announcement:

"Under terms of the contract, Jimenez will receive a $5 million bonus in addition to $1 million in 2019, $1.5 million in 2020, $3.5 million in 2021, $6.5 million in 2022, $9.5 million in 2023 and $13 million in 2024. The White Sox hold options for $16.5 million in 2025 and $18.5 million in 2026, with $3 million buyouts for either season."

Should the White Sox eventually pick up both options, this deal has the potential to be the largest the franchise has ever handed out, surpassing the $68 million deal given to Jose Abreu ahead of the 2014 season.

The contract seems to be a smashing success for the White Sox, who despite taking on the risk of giving so much guaranteed money to a player yet to see a big league pitch, gain eight years of club control over the No. 3 prospect in the game and a player they believe can blossom into one of baseball's elite hitters.

Most notably, in the immediate, the deal wipes away the service-time conversation surrounding Jimenez and his eventual major league debut. Playing within the rules, the White Sox were expected to delay Jimenez's big league arrival long enough to prevent him from accruing a full season of major league service time. Though they never publicly said that was their intent, such an action would have given them an extra, seventh year of control on his rookie contract. This new contract throws the necessity for such a maneuver out the window and could allow Jimenez to make his major league debut on Opening Day next week in Kansas City.

But the deal is far less about having Jimenez in a White Sox uniform for the next six months than it is about having him a White Sox uniform for the next eight years. The long term of this deal could extend their planned contention window a year further, keeping the team in championship contention longer. Jimenez becomes the centerpiece of the entire rebuilding project, and the stars of the future can come up and grow with him into a a hoped-for perennial contender.

“Eloy is a tremendously talented young player who has impressed us with his baseball skills, poise and maturity from the moment he joined the White Sox organization,” general manager Rick Hahn said in the team's announcement. “We view him as an important member of the core we are building over the coming years and so are pleased to have reached this long-term agreement to have him in a White Sox uniform for many seasons to come.”

“My family and I are very happy and excited to sign this deal,” Jimenez said in the announcement. “It gives us the opportunity to ensure our future, but more importantly, to reinforce my commitment to the White Sox organization. All of my effort, focus and desire is to help this team win multiple championships and bring joy to our fan base.”

Now, it's time to watch the first year of that deal, a season in which Jimenez will be one of the favorites to win American League Rookie of the Year honors.

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