Winter meetings: Great for baseball, meh for White Sox

While free agents Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon were signing big-money deals elsewhere, the Sox traded for Nomar Mazara.

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Those were some wonderful winter meetings for baseball, weren’t they. For the White Sox?

Not so much.

They made one trade, an uninspiring deal for underachieving Rangers right fielder, Nomar Mazara, the news of which broke at the exact same time as Gerrit Cole’s $324 million deal with the Yankees.

From the Sox vantage point, in one moment it presented a snapshot of the four-day get-together.

Some would say the Sox underachieved at the meetings, where they became spectators to signings of top free agents Cole (Yankees), Stephen Strasburg (Nationals) and Anthony Rendon (Angels) at a time when much of the baseball industry was expecting the Sox, with money in their pockets, to aggressively begin putting finishing pieces on a rebuild entering its fourth year.

The Sox can point to signing All-Star catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million deal, first baseman Jose Abreu to a three-year, $50 million deal and offering right-hander Zack Wheeler $120 million or so but getting rejected by the Phillies as doing just that.

Those questioning the Sox’ resolve can say why not Nicholas Castellanos in right field and why not Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu or Dallas Keuchel for a starting rotation that is crying for proven help?

Perhaps they will. There’s still a lot of offseason left. But general manager Rick Hahn’s message during these meetings never proclaimed a push for the postseason in 2020. He dropped several more reminders that the plan is to build championship rosters for multiple seasons.

Over dinner with executive vice president with Ken Williams, while discussing a trade that was on the table, Hahn said they had to pull back and discern “where this really fits in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish for the long term and being true to the long-term plan versus maybe a short-term hit or a short-term fix that that jumps us forward for next year but might compromise us for an extended period.”

And so the Sox left the coast with broadcaster Ken Harrelson winning the Ford C. Frick Award that puts him in the Hall of Fame commanding their biggest headline.

As Hahn said, Opening Day is more than three months away. Don’t judge just yet.

“We have the same motivation [as the fans] in the office,” Hahn said. “If we have three of four needs and we get them all done the way we want with our priority targets in November, fantastic. But youcan’t force the pace of this. And certainly if we hit on the right targets, come next June or July, nobody’s going to have any issue with whether we acquired them on Dec. 13 or we acquired them on Jan. 13.”

Sox fans will be watching, knowing there are upgrades to be made if the Sox, 72-89 in 2019, are going to contend for the .500 mark, let alone contention in a vulnerable AL Central.

Here’s how the Sox’ rough draft for 2020 looks right now on paper:

Starting rotation: Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, Dylan Covey.

(Put an asterisk on Kopech’s name because he might be physically ready by Opening Day but might start off at Class AAA Charlotte because of his long layoff from Tommy John surgery. Carlos Rodon can’t be counted until mid-season coming off TJ surgery, and well-regarded prospect Dane Dunning is coming off the same major elbow operaton.)

Bullpen: Alex Colome, Kelvin Herrera, Evan Marshall, Aaron Bummer, Jace Fry, Carson Fulmer, Jose Ortiz.

Lineup: Leury Garcia 2B, Yoan Moncada 3B, Jose Abreu 1B, Yasmani Grandal C, Eloy Jimenez LF, Tim Anderson SS, Nomar Mazara RF, Zack Collins DH, Adam Engel CF.

When minor league player of the year Luis Robert gets called up to play center field early in the season, and 2018 first-round draft pick Nick Madrigal to play second base, Engel and Garcia would add some depth to a bench that includes McCann in a backup role at catcher and DH.

For all of the optimism about the Sox turning a corner, it’s evident this is far from a winning roster as constructed. Too many uncertainties in the rotation have to click, which is why not landing Wheeler in the free agent market stung, and why it’s crucial a starter or two get added.

To what level of quality starter the Sox pursue is the question of the hour. Aside from national pundits calling the Sox potential landing spots for many of the top free agents, they were not linked to the big names this week.

The speculation was based on Sox needs, the timing of their rebuild and plenty of available money. But Hahn all week seemed to be saying “be patient, we’re aiming for 2021 and beyond.”

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