CARLSBAD, Calif. — The White Sox don’t need Bryce Harper to achieve their rebuilding goals. But they sure as hell will take advantage of an opportunity if one presents itself.
General manager Rick Hahn has been talking about being “opportunistic” for months now, his word for looking into acquisitions that don’t necessarily fill an immediate need but would line up with the team’s long-term plans.
Harper coming to the South Side didn’t seem like an idea even worthy of consideration until this week, when MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported the White Sox were interested in the services of the top free agent on the market, a guy who is expected to command the biggest contract in baseball history. While the odds might not figure to be in their favor — other deep-pocketed clubs can pitch the ability to win a championship right now — the White Sox sure seem willing to spend, with Hahn spending more than a year discussing the team’s recent string of shattering preconceived notions and trumpeting the current financial flexibility as a win during this rebuilding process. He said earlier this week that no one should be surprised to see the White Sox linked to some of the game’s best (and most expensive) players.
A question this writer has had leading up to this offseason, however, is whether a big addition right now would be entirely worth it. After all, how much of that contract would be spent still waiting for a team to form around the big-name addition? There’s still plenty of player development and other acquisitions to be made before the White Sox look like the perennial contender they plan to be. Harper is as good as they come in baseball, but would even he alone turn the 2019 White Sox into a playoff team?
But Hahn explained that an “opportunistic” move would be a smart one. The White Sox don’t expect to be rebuilding forever, of course, and even if 2019 wouldn’t end in a playoff appearance, the move would be made for the long term, for the many playoff seasons that would follow during the course of that contract, once the organization’s highly touted prospects reach the major leagues.
In other words, he’s not worrying about the unknowns when it comes to making such a move because the known would mesh with, not be in place of, the carefully laid rebuilding plans.
"The opportunistic ones are the easy ones, actually,” Hahn said Wednesday at the GM Meetings in Southern California. “Those are the ones where you see how it aligns in the short-term and potentially the long and you feel a level of excitement about the immediate benefit as well as how it fits in your potential long-term plan.
“You don't know exactly how it's going to come together in two years, three years, but when you see pieces that conceivably can be part of a championship club that are available to you now at a price that makes sense and is economically reasonable, you feel a level of excitement moving on that.”
Hahn is confident, too, that the prospect of winning in 2019 wouldn’t end up being the deciding factor for a player the caliber of Harper.
“I don’t think for any long-term commitment the deciding factor is going to be our ability to win immediately,” he said Tuesday. “With any major investment, it’s going to be a long-term commitment with a belief on both sides that this union is going to produce multiple championships over the long term. The timing when that first starts is going to be relevant, it’s going to be a part of any conversation. But I don’t think ‘Are you going to win a championship in ‘19 alone?’ is going to be the deciding factor.”
That doesn’t change the fact that the White Sox will be pitching planned long-term success while teams like the Cubs, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and even the Philadelphia Phillies can pitch rosters that can go on dynastic runs right now. But it shows the confidence the White Sox have in their plans, a confidence they hope can turn into buy in from one of the game’s best players, be it this offseason or sometime down the road.
There’s plenty of mystery in any rebuilding effort, and 2018 injuries to a large swath of the organization’s list of top prospects didn’t help when it comes to forecasting when the White Sox contention window will open. But Harper is expected to get a contract that will last many years. Same goes for Manny Machado, the other superstar in this free-agent market. If the White Sox get the opportunity to add one of those guys, they’ll take it with no concern that doing so wouldn’t line up with the planned fruits of the rebuild.