The White Sox might not make the biggest splash of the offseason, but with their deal for Dodgers minor-league left-hander Manny Banuelos on Thursday, at least they can say they made the first trade.
A deal for the former prized prospect was nowhere near what the first few words of the press release teased — “White Sox acquire Manny” — what with Manny Machado hitting the free-agent market and all, but it was a start to shoring up a roster that must be more competitive than the one that played to 100 losses in Year 2 of the rebuild in 2018.
“We need to augment the rotation and the bullpen,” said general manager Rick Hahn, getting set for the GM meetings in Carlsbad, California, that start Monday. “We’re still going to remain true to our long-term focus and build on what we’ve accumulated for the future, but we are fully aware there are needs we need to address in the coming weeks and months.”
Starting that by trading for Banuelos, 27, was only a small part of that.
“He’s versatile enough to fill a starting or bullpen role,” Hahn said. “We saw an opportunity to pick up some depth and decided to move on it. It’s not going to stop us from making other adds.’’
Whether he moves on a free-agent class of starting pitchers that includes Nathan Eovaldi, Dallas Keuchel, J.A. Happ, Gio Gonzalez, Charlie Morton, Wade Miley, Drew Pomeranz and Hyun-Jin Ryu, Hahn isn’t tipping his hand. Just how big the Sox go in the free-agent and trade markets remains to be seen, but the innings that would have been taken by Michael Kopech (out for 2019 after Tommy John surgery) will be filled from outside.
As for the two biggest names in the free-agent market — infielder Machado and outfielder Bryce Harper — it’s likely too soon for a 100-loss team like the Sox to go all in. But it’s not necessarily too much dollar-wise because price tags are unknown in early November and the Sox, with under $20 million in payroll obligations on the current books for next year, are not cash-strapped.
“It’s not unintentional having the flexibility we enjoy going forward,’’ Hahn said. “That was a secondary goal of the rebuild, to make sure we had flexibility and economic strength when the time was right to spend and add on to what we’ve accumulated. Whether we use it this offseason or next, we’ll see.’’
Citing expected progress from middle infielders Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada, starting pitchers Reynaldo Lopez, Carlos Rodon and Lucas Giolito and perhaps other young players who contributed in 2018 as well as additional incoming young talent, including outfielder Eloy Jimenez, the Sox’ top prospect, Hahn expects the Sox to be better on those elements alone.
“As to whether we’ll be ready to contend, a lot of that depends on the moves we make this offseason,’’ Hahn said in late September.
This week, Hahn will engage in talks with other GMs and lay the groundwork for deals during a get-together that serves as a precursor to the Winter Meetings from Dec. 10 to 13 in Las Vegas. The GM meetings include rules and policy-change discussions and debates among the 30 clubs, but “there are trade talks and meetings with agents on free agents, so there is a decent amount of groundwork laid for future deals,” Hahn said.
At the GM meetings in 2016, the Sox met with teams to make them aware that their rebuild “was about to happen.” They met with the Red Sox on Chris Sale and talked to a number of teams about Jose Quintana, traded one month and eight months later, respectively.
“Teams are comparing notes [at the GM meetings] and casting a wide net to get a better sense of what is possible in the coming weeks and months,” Hahn said.
“It sort of marks the official start to the offseason where you start getting more substantive in terms of potential fits and trades. That always gets some excitement going.”