White Sox

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White Sox

CARLSBAD, Calif. — Rumors are linking the White Sox to both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. The free-agent wish lists of White Sox fans involve those names and more, All-Star types like Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, Josh Donaldson and Craig Kimbrel.

Playing fantasy baseball is a fine way to pass the time until the boys of summer return to Guaranteed Rate Field. But how realistic is the South Side pursuit of such big names? After all, this was a 100-loss team in 2018, a rebuilding team with a bright future — but one with little to sell in terms of win-now capability.

Well, for what it’s worth, the White Sox general manager said we shouldn’t be surprised to hear his team (and therefore his front office) associated with some of the biggest talents in the game.

“You can’t control when certain players become available,” Hahn said Tuesday at the GM Meetings, echoing a refrain he uttered before the season came to an end. “We’ve made no secret about trying to accumulate as much talent that has the ability of winning a championship but also is strategically aligned with each other in terms of when they’re going to come to the big leagues and have their impact.

“No one should be surprised about seeing us involved with potential impact names that although given where we’re at right now in our rebuild, 2019 might not be the moment of greatest impact impact for all these players, we may be able to pick up some players via trade or free agency that align with what we’ve accumulated and make sense for us in the long term.”

That all seems like one way of saying that, yes, the White Sox would theoretically make a run at a high-priced, big-name free agent if it fit together with their already-existing rebuilding plan. And you can easily make the argument that most such moves would.

Thanks to a Monday report from MLB.com’s Jon Morosi, White Sox fans have been buzzing about Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, the two biggest names on the free-agent market and a couple guys expected to draw two of the biggest contracts in baseball history. Those contracts will be expensive and they will be lengthy, and it’d be difficult to contend that having either of those two for a long period of time wouldn’t match up with the major league arrivals of the White Sox top minor league talent.

The same would figure to be true of the next tier of free agents, like the Corbins, the Keuchels and the rest mentioned above.

The question, though, is when that alignment will happen. It sounds like the White Sox, should they get the opportunity, wouldn’t hesitate to sign an “impact” player this winter. But that player and the rest of the White Sox world shouldn’t expect that one signing to turn the South Siders into instant contenders. There’s a lot of player development that still needs to happen to get the White Sox to where this rebuilding road map has them ending up — with or without one of the biggest names on the 2018-19 free-agent market.

“We’ve made no secret from the start of this where we wanted to put ourselves in the position where we have the economic flexibility and wherewithal to add players that align with the impact prospects that we’ve accumulated,” Hahn said. “You can’t control when certain players become available, so we wouldn’t be doing this properly if we weren’t at least investigating all of our possibilities via trade and free agency to further expand that group of players that we have coming.

“We’ve got what we feel are some very interesting waves of talent starting to come to Chicago over the coming months and years, and it’s not a surprise, to us at least, that there are players out there that are going to have some choices that may be interested in being a part of that.

“We’re also in the position where we don’t have to do that now because of where we’re at in the rebuild. But we’ve gotten to the point where you can start seeing the transition into the next stage coming into sight, whether that’s in ‘19 or the year after. You’re starting to see it come together at the minor league level. And as a result, we’re interested in adding to that group when opportunities arise.

“It could be this offseason, it could be July, it could be next offseason. But at the very least, we have the ability to explore a lot of different, interesting possibilities.”

As this writer has mentioned many times before, the White Sox have hurdles to clear when it comes to convincing a big-name free agent to come to the South Side. Machado, Harper, et al will have win-now suitors with their own big checkbooks. Just because the White Sox have a small payroll compared with the rest of the league doesn’t make them instant candidates to land a high-priced free agent. They’ve got to get someone to believe in their plans and pick those plans over current championship contention.

Hahn thinks that won’t be a tough sell to those who have been paying attention.

“I don’t think it’s that difficult for people that have closely been following the club or are well informed about what we’ve put together,” he said. “Over the last couple days being here, we’ve heard from people about what our future holds and the kind of team they see us putting together. Agents, part of their responsibility is informing their players, and when we’re given the opportunity, we do our best to inform the individual target, as well.

“But it’s no secret what we’ve been trying to do over the last two-plus years, and it’s no secret about what potentially is coming in our future here.”

With so many other factors involved other than a desire to be opportunistic, there’s no real way to forecast whether or not there will be big names landing on the South Side this winter. But while the waiting game has to continue with the prospects in the minor leagues, Hahn at least illustrated Tuesday that the White Sox are not going to simply sit around and wait until the day they’re once again chasing a playoff spot to make a splash.