White Sox

Why J.D. Martinez would be a perfect fit for the White Sox — and it's not just dingers


Why J.D. Martinez would be a perfect fit for the White Sox — and it's not just dingers

It’s easy for White Sox fans to want J.D. Martinez on the South Side.

The guy was so good for the 2018 world-champion Boston Red Sox that he won not one but two Silver Sluggers, that in addition to his fourth-place finish in the AL MVP vote. He’s launched 184 homers since the start of the 2015 season. He’s a three-time All Star and one of the best sluggers in the game.

He’s expected to be one of the headliners on the free-agent market this winter — if he, as is anticipated, opts out of the remaining three years on his deal in Beantown — and would be the ideal solution to the White Sox problem at designated hitter. Martinez slashed .304/.383/.557 in 2019, compared to the abysmal .205/.285/.356 line put up by White Sox DHs.

See? Easy.

But let’s make White Sox fans even more gaga for this guy.

Martinez’s unrivaled production makes him the dream add to the middle of the White Sox batting order, but there are other attributes that come with any player, and it sounds as if Martinez has ones the White Sox should crave.

Talking with NBC Sports Boston’s John Tomase on Tuesday’s edition of the White Sox Talk Podcast, we here in Chicago learned some more about Martinez as a clubhouse presence and an influence on young up-and-coming stars.

“This is what could make Chicago an intriguing destination for him and for them: You obviously have that great young core on the left side with (Yoan) Moncada and (Tim) Anderson and (Eloy) Jimenez, and those are guys that could benefit from J.D. Martinez,” Tomase said. “When he arrived with the Red Sox, one of the first things he did was he took Mookie Betts under his wing, he took Xander Bogaerts under his wing. And he’s a guy that’s one of those old-school, ‘I will talk to you about hitting, I have a million ideas about hitting, and that is all we will talk about,’ and that’s exactly what those guys needed.

“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Mookie became an MVP — I know he had been second in that race a couple years earlier — but he was the MVP last year. And Bogaerts, in particular, was somebody who hit the ball as hard as anybody in baseball, but it was always on the ground, and J.D. was the one who convinced him, even more than Red Sox hitting coaches, who tried to get the same message across, ‘You need to start hitting the ball in the air. If you hit it 110 miles an hour with a launch angle of one degree, it’s going to be a ground out to short. If it’s a 14-degree launch angle, it’s a double off the wall.’

“And so when I look at Chicago’s young nucleus of hitters, I say, ‘J.D. Martinez could be a perfect fit for that group.’

“And not only that, he’s bilingual, he’s Cuban-American, he relates to American players, he relates to Hispanic players. So he can sort of be one of those guys who’s a bridge within the clubhouse culture, that’s important. So I just think you can really make a case, if you’re the White Sox, that it would be money well spent to add him to your team.”

That’s music to White Sox fans’ ears.

Many of those same fans, of course, will remain skeptical that the White Sox can land a big-name free agent, especially after the way last offseason’s Manny Machado sweepstakes played out. General manager Rick Hahn has said that skepticism will remain and any “false narratives” about the team will persist until his front office proves them wrong.

The White Sox have the financial flexibility to pay a big-name, big-money free agent like Martinez. Whether they will outbid other suitors remains to be seen, obviously, and they didn’t outbid the San Diego Padres, in terms of guaranteed money, for Machado last winter.

But just as crucial a factor will be getting these free agents to buy into the White Sox bright future. Hahn argues he’s in a much better position to do that this time around than he was last year thanks to the 2019 performances of Moncada, Anderson, Jimenez, Lucas Giolito and others.

“I really think we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t need to sell the team or talk about the future because it’s evident to everyone around the league what’s coming,” he said during his end-of-season press conference last month. “I’ve heard from my peers in other organizations, I know I’ve heard from players in the clubhouse what their peers have said. The coaches talk. There’s a lot of positive buzz about where this team is headed.

“When you are talking to some free agents, last year, we were probably a year too soon. You had to map out what it was going to look like and educate them a little bit about who was coming and how we saw this thing coming together. Over the course of this year, we saw a lot of it come together before our eyes, and it’s fairly easy to project out who is going to be joining us from our system and what’s that going to potentially look like. The excitement is there, not just in our clubhouse but around the game right now.”

Tomase described Martinez as more of a “hired gun” who isn’t exactly super emotional when it comes to selecting a team. That matches up with what Martinez, who’s played for three teams in the last three seasons, told the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham at the end of the season: “I don’t mind moving around. I kind of like it.”

But it’s possible there might not end up being too many teams looking to hire his services this winter. After all, Tomase went as far to say that Martinez “can’t play the outfield anymore,” that “his back flares up if he plays two games in a row out there.” That would figure to take 15 teams out of the running. If Martinez is limited to DH’ing, it’d have to be for a team that, you know, has an opening at DH. That knocks out much of the American League, too. Rebuilding teams that are a long way from contending like the Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals aren’t likely to fork over big bucks for a 32-year-old DH. So that leaves who? Maybe just the White Sox and a handful of other teams.

Maybe that’s a good thing for the White Sox, that there won’t be as much competition. It likely kept them in the running for Machado and Bryce Harper last winter. But they also lost both those derbies, so other factors could be of greater importance.

But regardless of whether or not they’ll end up landing him, at this early stage we can focus on what kind of fit he’d be for these White Sox. And while the “hired gun” stuff is easy to envision, inserting Martinez’s production into a lineup that needs it, having him in the clubhouse working with all the team’s young hitters for the next three or four years sure seems appealing in its own way.

The White Sox have a lot of holes they’ll be trying to plug this winter. Martinez sure sounds like a perfect fit to fill one of them.

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Winter Meetings wrap: Why the White Sox left San Diego without a top-of-the-market free agent

Winter Meetings wrap: Why the White Sox left San Diego without a top-of-the-market free agent

SAN DIEGO — “We belong at the table in these negotiations, we belong as part of negotiations for premium talent. And regardless what happens over the next several weeks with either of these two players, we plan to be at the table and continue to attempt to convert on these guys.”

That was Rick Hahn in January, talking about his front office’s pursuits of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, the two biggest names on last winter’s free-agent market and two guys who landed $300 million contracts. Neither, obviously, is playing for the White Sox. But Hahn set forth expectations last winter that the White Sox were going to try to land that kind of top-of-the-market talent.

Fast forward to the current free-agent cycle, and the biggest names on the market have all signed. None of them signed with the White Sox. The Winter Meetings saw a tidal wave of spending, with Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon all coming off the board, all inking huge deals that figure to transform their new teams (or old team, in the case of Strasburg).

The White Sox, meanwhile, headed home with nothing more to show for their efforts than Nomar Mazara. No word came from any of the usual baseball news-breakers connecting the South Siders to Cole, Strasburg or Rendon.

Why not?

Hahn spent this week, and has spent his media availabilities this offseason and in the months prior, talking about fit. The White Sox are looking for players who fit their long-term plans. The 2020 season might be the year the long-awaited transition from rebuilding to contending comes. It might not be. So the White Sox are searching for players who align with a contention window far into the future.

And that’s an admirable goal. The White Sox should stick to those plans. They’ve suffered too much to make a handbrake turn to try to rush things, certainly at the expense of their bright future. That’s completely understandable.

But didn’t Cole, Strasburg and Rendon fit into that box? Aren’t they the type of premium talents Hahn has talked about wanting to add to a burgeoning young core? Wouldn’t the long-term deals they got insert them right into that contention window?

“Probably a guy the fans see out there and see fits with what we're doing and, ‘Hey, they should pursue him,’ maybe we did,” Hahn said Thursday. “Maybe we have extra information where it shows that would’ve been a fruitless pursuit in the end, just based on the player’s preference for where they want to be, league or locationally. Perhaps it’s something that we did get after and just weren’t able to convert on.

“We obviously operate best when there’s less noise around what we’re doing. Certainly we recently showed that on (Yasmani) Grandal. It would be temporarily nice or fulfilling for me to stand here and say like, ‘Yeah, we didn’t go after Player X because we knew for a fact this thing about why he wasn’t coming here,’ or, ‘We did go after Player X and we came up short.’ That might satisfy some sort of desire to show that we were active if people didn’t think we were.

“But I would hope after all this time that people understand our approach tends to err on the side of being aggressive. And if there’s a high-quality player that seems like a fit for us, we probably went down that path to some extent, and if it didn’t wind up converting, there’s usually a pretty good reason why.”

That quote hit the Twitterverse not long after it left Hahn’s mouth, and the reactions were, generally, less than favorable. Plenty saw it as an excuse. But while vague, there’s a lot of truth in those words.

The White Sox cannot control everything when it comes to free-agent pursuits. They can control how much money they offer, but as we saw with Zack Wheeler, that doesn’t always win the day. Wheeler spurned the White Sox richer offer to please his family and pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Cole, meanwhile, was long expected to choose between a preference for the West Coast or his childhood fandom for the New York Yankees. It helped, of course, that the Yankees offered him a stupifying contract. Strasburg was long expected to return to the Washington Nationals, and that’s just what he did, with folks wondering if there was any consideration given to pitching somewhere else.

Those are mighty difficult things to overcome, and they could have made the White Sox — and plenty of other teams — jumping into the fray a potential non-starter.

“More often than not, early in the process, you hear why it’s a potential non-fit for either side,” Hahn said Monday, speaking in the wake of Wheeler’s decision. “Again, that doesn’t mean anything was mishandled or anything was wrong with this. In the end, when offers are on the table and it's decision time, guys can make that decision based upon any factor that they view as important. You’ve got to respect that. And they’ve earned that right.”

That’s not really supposed to make anyone feel any better. As Hahn often says, you either sign the guy or you don’t.

What’s probably got some fans stewing as much as the eventual free-agent destinations is the White Sox complete lack of attachment to Cole, Strasburg or Rendon in the typical stream of rumors that flows during baseball’s busiest week. As Hahn mentioned, all being quiet doesn’t mean the White Sox weren’t pursuing those players. But after years of discussing financial flexibility, the team seems to have the economic means to play in the deepest end of the free-agent pool, so it’s not unreasonable to expect to hear about it doing so.

"The money will be spent,” Hahn said in February, after Machado picked the San Diego Padres. “It might not be spent this offseason, but it will be spent at some point. This isn’t money sitting around waiting to just accumulate interest. It’s money trying to be deployed to put us in best position to win some championships.”

With that in mind, plenty assumed the White Sox would be able to afford even the gargantuan contracts that went to this winter’s three free-agent superstars. But simply having money to spend doesn’t mean they believed Cole was worth the $324 million he got from the Yankees. It doesn’t mean they believed Strasburg was worth the $245 million he got from the Nationals. It doesn’t mean they believed Rendon was worth the $245 million he got from the Los Angeles Angels.

That’s where that discussion of fit comes in again. It’s easy for us to see a player and believe him a fit for what the White Sox are building. But we’re not the ones defining the fit. The White Sox are. And while they might have pursued all three, might have wanted to pursue all three, might have been willing to back a truckload of money up to all three, it’s also possible that, for whatever reasons, they didn’t see them as the same kind of fit they see other players at different price points.

The lingering notion that the White Sox shy away from handing out long-term deals to pitchers is likely more of a general caution than the edict it’s often portrayed to be. It’s also not reserved to the White Sox.

“In general, the investment in a position player is less risky than an investment in a pitcher,” Hahn said. “Those things vary. We are talking just about generic players, you generally err on the side of a position player being less risky.”

“Is anybody worth $300 million?” USA Today’s Bob Nightengale said Tuesday on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “Say the White Sox signed Gerrit Cole, it doesn’t make them an automatic winner. He’s a good pitcher, but hey, good pitchers get hurt, too.”

OK, so what about Rendon? The White Sox were willing to offer a reported $250 million in guaranteed money to Machado last winter. Rendon got less than that to play for the Angels. Of course, Machado’s free agency came before Yoan Moncada blossomed into the team’s best all-around player at third base. Machado was 26 during his sweepstakes. Rendon is 29. These are not necessarily defenses, they are simply truths.

“As a general thought, when you are making a long-term commitment, doing that to a player who is in their mid 20s, in general, is a more appealing alternative then doing that with a player who is in his 30s at the start of the contract,” Hahn said. “Everyone is familiar with aging curves and risk and how that balances out as you get older. So yeah, the idea of devoting big money to someone who is younger versus older is certainly more appealing.”

And then there’s the clarifying Hahn did on those “money will be spent” comments from 10 months ago. Basically: That money doesn’t all have to be spent in one place to make the White Sox better.

“I think it would be awfully foolish to say we're going to go out and spend whatever the amount of the offer (to Machado) was immediately,” he said Wednesday. “The point of that comment was there's other ways for us to allocate this money, and it's going to be allocated toward player acquisitions.

“You could argue some of it went to Grandal, you could argue some of it went to the Eloy (Jimenez) extension or re-signing (Jose) Abreu or whatever we have coming down the pipe next.

“That offer was over an eight- to 10-year period, so to say it's all going out the door in Year 1 just because it's sitting there, maybe, but it's got to be for the right players.”

None of this will satisfy the critics. And that’s a product of the frustrating on-field success of the big league team during the rebuild and the expectations that came into this offseason. The White Sox pursued the talent at the top of the free-agent market last offseason, so they must be willing to do the same thing again this winter, right? They might have. But it didn’t work out, and now there are two offseasons where fans wanted Machado and Harper and Cole and Strasburg and Rendon and watched all those players go elsewhere.

It’s important to remember the White Sox did sign Grandal, that they do still have that young core that broke out in a big way in 2019. The future is still blindingly bright, and Hahn & Co. see that. It’s why they remain so committed to their long-term plans — because they could very well work.

Those plans might mean that the consolation prizes for teams that didn’t land one of the top three prizes on the free-agent market aren’t quite as appealing fits. It’s not as easy as just moving down to the next name on the list. The White Sox are being picky, and they can afford to be picky. Not adding a huge free agent — and, again, remember they did sign Grandal — doesn’t mean Moncada and Jimenez and Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito are suddenly all bad. The future is snowballing for the White Sox, in a good way, and the melting process is nowhere near starting.

Yes, the South Siders left San Diego without Cole, Strasburg or Rendon. Perhaps it wasn’t for lack of trying. Perhaps they weren’t able to get past the bouncer, no matter how big the checkbook was. Perhaps they didn’t see these guys as good fits. Perhaps they saw these guys as expensive in a way that would jeopardize their carefully laid plans.

The biggest takeaway from this week: Those plans are the driving force for these White Sox. Do not, for any reason, expect them to deviate.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Guest appearance Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson

NBC Sports Chicago

White Sox Talk Podcast: Guest appearance Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson

Ford Frick winner and Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson joins Chuck Garfien on the podcast.

(3:15) - People that have congratulated Hawk on his induction, including some people you would never guess

(12:24) - Origin of some of your favorite "Hawk-isms"

(15:29) - Great story about the late great Harry Carey

(18:46) - His life growing up in Savannah, Georgia

Listen here or via the embedded player below:


White Sox Talk Podcast