GLENDALE, Ariz. — What a day for Eloy Jimenez. At 22, he signed a $43 million contract with his proud parents standing nearby. He got his locker back in the major-league clubhouse after spending nine days on the minor-league side, and there he was, penciled in the White Sox’ starting lineup for the first time since then in a Cactus League game against the Dodgers.
“It’s something I was dreaming about when I was a kid,’’ Jimenez said of the moment, sitting next to general manager Rick Hahn and speaking in English after signing his deal. “The dream has come true. This is the moment I am never going to forget.”
Jimenez’s dream morning carried over to a splendid afternoon on the field. He went 3-for-3 with a walk and a home run to center field against left-hander Grant Holmes — who struck out five in two innings — his last time up.
“Today was a good day on and off the field,’’ Jimenez said. “One of the best days someone can have.”
Jimenez’s parents and brother Enoy, a low-level Sox prospect, were on hand for the occasion, a day that had been in the works since last year, Hahn said, and one that almost came to fruition in November.
And why was Jimenez on cloud nine? He had just signed the richest deal for any player who hasn’t played in the majors. The Sox hold two club options that could extend it through the 2026 season and make it worth $75 million. Jimenez gets a $5 million signing bonus in addition to $1 million in 2019, $1.5 million in 2020, $3.5 million in 2021, $6.5 million in 2022, $9.5 million in 2023 and $13 million in 2024. The club options are for $16.5 million in 2025 and $18.5 million in 2026, with $3 million buyouts for either season.
The Sox are certain the investment is sound because of Jimenez’s talent and makeup. He has face-of-the-franchise charisma and ability.
“Obviously, the talent is first and foremost,’’ Hahn said. “We view him as a very important piece of what we’re putting together here over the next several years and a player capable of playing a very important role on multiple championship clubs. But it does extend beyond that.’’
While not official, it’s safe to assume the left fielder will be on the Sox’ 25-man roster Thursday for Opening Day.
Hahn avoided making that declaration for baseball’s No. 3 prospect because other players’ immediate futures were affected by Jimenez being on it.
“That decision as to the final 25-man roster influences a lot of people, not just [Eloy],” Hahn said. “We’d like to have those conversations face to face. But I know both of us are certainly looking forward to Opening Day and Eloy getting started in his White Sox career.”
One such roster move was announced an hour later, when outfielder Nicky Delmonico was optioned to Class AAA Charlotte.
The Sox open against the Royals in Kansas City. Their home opener is a week later, April 4, against the Mariners.
Acquired in 2017 from the Cubs with top pitching prospect Dylan Cease and two other prospects for Jose Quintana, Jimenez batted .337 with 22 homers and 75 RBI in 108 games between Class AA Birmingham and Charlotte. Jimenez was hitting .154 this spring before the game against the Dodgers, saying timing was the issue, but admitted Saturday that pressure might have played a role.
“Yes, a little bit,’’ he said. “I felt a little bit of pressure. I put too much pressure on myself.”
Eloy Jimenez lines a single to center field Saturday.
On Saturday, the timing looked fine, and he raised his Cactus League average to .241.
“Now that the contract negotiation is done and I know that I’m going to fulfill my dream of playing in the big leagues, I don’t have any distractions on my mind,” he said. “Now people are going to really see what I’m capable of doing because the only thing I have on my mind is to play baseball like I know I can do it. Today’s game was just an example.’’
From here on out, “I’m not going to put pressure on myself,’’ he said. “I’m just going to be Eloy. I’m going to play hard and win a couple of championships.’’