It’s a Yaz! So far, White Sox fans are seeing less of the labor and more of the baby this offseason. (YouTube)
At this time last year, the White Sox were embarking on a seemingly endless journey in pursuit of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. The club had a minimal payroll heading into the 2018 offseason, and seemed like they were in a good position to land one of the big fish. Even though the team wasn’t completely ready to start winning and they still had to work on the development of some of their own key players, Rick Hahn and Co. knew this was an opportunity that they couldn’t pass up.
With Harper and Machado having a smaller market due to their steep price tag, the White Sox were aggressive in their pursuits early as they tried to sell both players on the future of the ballclub, and how they would have a great opportunity to win consistently on the South Side. Unfortunately, we all know how this story ends, as the White Sox came up completely empty. It was yet another offseason where the White Sox were actively engaging with the big free agents, but swung and missed, leaving a lot of fans in doubt about the team’s future.
Sure, the White Sox do have talent in the farm system. However, it’s almost impossible to win on homegrown talent alone. Teams need to be able to supplement what they already have with players from outside of the organization, whether to fill holes, bring over veterans to guide younger players, or make the most of an opportunity to sign/trade for a player who once might’ve looked like a longshot. There are many reasons why free agency and trades are important, and after last offseason’s shutout it started to feel like the White Sox were running out of time to strike and make an impact move.
Fast forward to this offseason, where the White Sox once again found their name in the rumors surrounding almost all of the top free agents available. There was a little more skepticism from fans this time around, and rightfully so, as they didn’t want to get their hopes up again in what could be another failure of an offseason. Hahn acknowledged the frustration, and knew this offseason was important when he addressed the media at the GM Meetings earlier this month:
Rick Hahn, to reporters at the GM Meetings today: “In the end it’s kind of my experience people aren’t too interested, maybe outside this room, people aren’t too interested in hearing about the labor. They want to see the baby.”
— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) November 12, 2019
And he was right. White Sox fans are tired of “having a seat at the table” as Hahn likes to say, and want the front office to start making things happen. Being in the mix for top tier free agents and coming up empty is an exhausting practice, especially for a fan base that is starving for a winning team. At the conclusion of the 2019 season, the team was trending upwards, in large part due to the developments of core players, the arrival of Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, and with Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal on the way shortly. In addition to that, the team would be getting Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodón back for the upcoming season as well.
With all the positive developments that came from last season, the White Sox still needed a few dominoes to fall, and had to make something happen this winter in order to start putting out a product that could win consistently. The team still has quite a few holes to fill with starting pitching, left-handed hitting, and right field being the most notable. This free agent class was littered with plenty of names that could fill those gaps and instantly be an upgrade, and it was time for the White Sox to, in Hahn’s parlance, show us the baby.
It didn’t take long for the organization to show they were serious about winning this offseason, as they came out of the gates quickly and inked Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million deal that gave the catcher the largest contract in the history of the franchise.
Grandal checks off a lot of boxes for the White Sox. He’s a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate, gets on base frequently, and is one of the best defensive backstops in the game. This is that type of immediate-impact signing that will benefit the club and pitching staff in many ways. Everything Grandal brings to the table makes him the complete package, and his name was up there as one of the best available free agents. The White Sox were able to get the deal done and outbid the rest of his suitors, which is a result that isn’t common on the South Side.
The Brewers made an attempt at re-signing Yasmani Grandal, extending multiple offers during free agency, according to sources. In the end, four years, $73 million was out of their price range. Said one source: “We tried.”
— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) November 21, 2019
After a painfully long 2018 offseason, it was beyond refreshing to see the White Sox get a deal of that significance done early in the process. It also goes to show that Hahn and Co. are ready to get down to business this year. Not to mention, having Grandal as a member of the team now makes the White Sox a more attractive destination for other free agents, especially pitchers. He’s a highly-respected catcher throughout baseball, and just about anyone would benefit from working with him full-time. His elite framing ability is going to get the most out of the pitchers he works with, as he’s sure to get them a ton of extra strikes during his time in Chicago.
One free agent pitcher that the White Sox have been linked to this offseason is Zack Wheeler, one of the most prized pitching targets this winter. Members from the Mets media and other Mets outlets started mentioning the White Sox as serious suitors for Wheeler. Danny Abriano of SNY even went as far to say that the White Sox were among the “leading group” of teams bidding for Wheeler’s services. This news dropped just days before the Grandal signing became official, so Hahn was working on signing not just one significant free agent right away, but two.
Hahn could’ve sat around and celebrated the first big signing, but instead immediately went right back to work, focused on making the White Sox a winning team, and making them a winning team now. There hasn’t been much movement on the Wheeler front since those initial tidbits of information dropped, but at least the club has identified what would be another major upgrade — and they wouldn’t have to spend $200 million or more for that upgrade, as they would have last year. Sure, Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg would both be incredible additions, but those two are likely going to be out of price range. It would be wise to allocate the money among multiple players, as opposed to sinking most of it into one arm. Wheeler is in a tier slightly below Cole and Strasburg, but he has the potential to be a very good pitcher for a long time — and at half the price.
In addition to that, the White Sox outrighted Yolmer Sánchez and signed José Abreu to a three-year, $50 million dollar contract. The Abreu deal didn’t make much sense at the time, especially considering the fact that he recently accepted the qualifying offer. However, with the extension, the White Sox will save money this year and it won’t hamper their ability to continue to sign free agents. Not to mention, Abreu has been around some rough teams during his White Sox career and he deserves some security for the next few years. As far as Yolmer goes, that decision was made primarily because he was due to make $6.2 million in arbitration. Even though he’s fresh off of winning a Gold Glove, defense is about the only value he provides to the team, unless you count being a clubhouse guy/Gatorade showers.
The White Sox could’ve easily been OK with paying Yolmer the $6.2 million, because they still aren’t committed to a high payroll as of now, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they did that. However, with Madrigal being ready to take over second base in the not-so-distant future, it didn’t make sense to pay Yolmer to ride the bench. The team also has Danny Mendick, who can contribute much more offensively than Sánchez, and while he’s not a Gold Glove-caliber defender, he is solid defensively and can play multiple positions. Mendick is a perfect fit to hold it down at second base while Madrigal finishes up his development in Triple-A. Barring any surprise trades or signings, I would expect Mendick to take that job for now.
So what happens next? Well, the White Sox are off to a good start this winter, but their work isn’t even close to being done. Grandal was a great signing, but they still need to add more. We know the White Sox are once again in the mix with a lot of free agents, but this time around it feels a little different. They’ve made some noise early, and it finally seems like the front office is ready to shift their focus towards winning and being more competitive. They’ve already shown the willingness to outbid other teams and set the market for certain players, and hopefully they will continue to do that with their other targets.
The AL Central is the worst division in baseball right now. With a few more moves and the arrival of some of the highly-touted prospects, the White Sox could potentially be in the heat of a divisional race for most of next year. At the very least, there should be significant improvement, and the team might be able to squeeze their way into a wild card spot. A lot would have to go right for the White Sox to be fighting for the playoffs in 2020, but for now, at least the team is closing the book on the rebuild and is ready to start winning.