Phase one of the White Sox’ rebuild — the trading of top major-league assets, including Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana for top prospects — is essentially done.
Phase two is about developing those prospects at the major-league and minor-league levels — while continuing to bolster the farm system through the draft and also exploring more trade possibilities to expand and deepen the core of talent the Sox envision translating into championship-caliber rosters.
Love first baseman Jose Abreu all you want — and it’s understandable why you do — and celebrate Thanksgiving with a large helping of gratitude for right fielder Avisail Garcia’s breakout year in 2017. But also know that manager Rick Renteria’s middle-of-the-order sluggers are not locks to be with the Sox in spring training three months from now.
When he gathers with his peers this week in Orlando, Florida, Sox general manager Rick Hahn will listen if other GMs want to discuss trades for two of the Sox’ top known commodities. Trades are generally made next month at the winter meetings and after, but groundwork is often laid when the GMs get together in November.
Abreu, who turns 31 in January, and Garcia, who turns 27 in June, are under club contract control for two more seasons, through 2019. But Hahn, vice president Ken Williams and other Sox planners view 2020 as a more reasonable target to win for the core they’re building. So will they offer new or extended contracts, or trade Abreu and/or Garcia for more young, controllable pieces to go with budding prospects Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, to name a few?
Part of the answer lies in the return that Abreu and Garcia would bring. Garcia was a 2017 All-Star whose defense looked somewhat better while he hit .330/.380/.506 with 18 homers and 80 RBI.
Abreu is coming off a year in which he arguably deserved a Silver Slugger Award by hitting .304/.354/.552 with 33 homers and 102 RBI. He also hit his stride as a clubhouse leader and positive influence on young players such as fellow Cuban Moncada. But he plays a position rife with productive bats. And after opting into salary arbitration for the last two years of his deal, he projects to command about $18 million next season. In 2020, starting a new deal with Sox, he’d be 33.
According to MLBTradeRumors’ calculations, Garcia’s projected 2018 salary in arbitration is $6.7 million, and being 4½ years younger than Abreu, he might garner more interest. The Athletics, for one, are reportedly interested in adding a young, controllable outfielder and are said to have an eye on Marlins All-Star, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who projects to make about $11 million in arbitration. Who wouldn’t want Ozuna? But perhaps Garcia would be a less expensive target, if not for the A’s then for anyone who can’t afford J.D. Martinez money on the free-agent market.
Here’s something working in Hahn’s favor: While some would say they’d be selling high in both cases, the Sox are under no pressure to decide now on Abreu and Garcia, who will have market value for another year or so.
Perhaps the coming week will give Hahn an idea of where it stands now. Both players are special cases, both say they want to stay, and both present tough decisions for the GM, who acknowledges their Sox futures aren’t etched in stone.
“Any player who isn’t controllable through the bulk of our window, we have to make an assessment,” he said.
There are other orders of business for Hahn this winter. The Sox, who figure to have a payroll in the neighborhood of $75 million in 2018, aren’t ready to spend big on free agents. But in some shape or form, Hahn will upgrade a bullpen depleted by the 2017 trades-for-prospects of David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak and Dan Jennings, plus injuries to Nate Jones, Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam. A starting pitcher, perhaps a sign-and-flip type, is also a likely target.
Let the hot stove begin. Pitchers and catchers report in three months.
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