Topping White Sox general manager Rick Hahn’s to-do list is hiring a manager to replace Rick Renteria, whom he fired with a year left on his contract.
And Hahn can’t talk to certain candidates — including former Astros manager AJ Hinch, who is believed to be at the top of that Sox list — until after the World Series.
After a manager is in place, the all-important matter of constructing the roster for a deeper postseason run will demand attention.
Who will be gone?
Closer Alex Colome and catcher James McCann are free agents, and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion ($12 million) and infielder/outfielder Leury Garcia ($3.5 million) have club options on their contracts.
McCann, the backup to $73 million starter Yasmani Grandal and a part-time DH, will want starter status and money and is most likely gone, judging by the tenor of his last interview after the Sox’ season-ending loss in the wild-card series. Encarnacion, 37, the latest in a line of failed Sox DH remedies, won’t be renewed, but Garcia should be.
The loss of Colome, who would be one of the top free-agent relievers on the market if the Sox don’t hand him an $18.9 million qualifying offer, would be significant, but the Sox figure to allocate free-agent cash elsewhere with left-hander Aaron Bummer and right-hander Codi Heuer possessing ninth-inning ability. And 101-102 mph rookie Garrett Crochet, whose path to starting might go through the bullpen as Chris Sale’s did, has lockdown stuff.
Left-hander Gio Gonzalez won’t be back.
Decisions to tender or non-tender must be made on these arbitration-eligibles, with approximate 2021 salaries based on MLB Trade Rumors projections: outfielders Nomar Mazara ($5.6 million-$5.9 million) and Adam Engel ($1 million), left-handers Carlos Rodon ($4.5 million) and Jace Fry ($900,000) and right-handers Reynaldo Lopez ($2 million), Lucas Giolito ($2.5 million-$5.3 million) and Evan Marshall ($1.3 million-$1.9 million).
Rodon might be too risky because of his health history, and Mazara (one homer) was a disappointment. Giolito, Marshall and Engel will be tendered, and Fry stands a good chance. Lopez, not good enough to make the postseason roster, appears to be on the bubble.
What will be new?
Hahn has cited DH, right field and starting pitching as areas needing upgrades.
“The fact is, we didn’t quite get the production out of right field or DH that we wanted this year,” he said.
Prospect Andrew Vaughn, an offensively skilled first baseman, has the DH spot within his grasp, a role that could be shared with Eloy Jimenez if the defensively challenged left fielder is spelled by, say, Engel, a former Gold Glove finalist, in suitable matchups. Right field? George Springer is a prized free agent if the Sox are willing to spend big.
With McCann likely gone, next up on the depth chart are Zack Collins (1-for-16 last season) and minor-league slugger Yermin Mercedes, both of whom are challenged defensively, as options to spell Grandal. For such a key position, Hahn might want to go outside the organization for a good signal-caller.
Perhaps the biggest need, the available pool of youngsters such as Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, Dane Dunning and Jonathan Stiever notwithstanding, is starting pitching after Giolito and Dallas Keuchel. Free agents include right-handers Trevor Bauer, Kevin Gausman, Marcus Stroman, Taijuan Walker and Jake Odorizzi and left-handers Jose Quintana (reunion!), James Paxton and Mike Minor.
The big question
The timing to spend in free agency, with the core of young talent coming together and a pressing need in the rotation (see Game 3 of the wild-card series), absolutely makes sense this offseason. But will the Sox spend?
The market is something of an unknown, what with teams losing ticket revenue, cutting organizational jobs and wondering about ticket sales in 2021 as a second wave of the coronavirus picks up steam. With industry losses in the billions, Hahn said, “we will wait and see how the market plays out. The bummer is that we’re not immune to the reality of what’s going on around us.”