What if White Sox don’t sign Bryce Harper?
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And what if the White Sox don’t pull it off?
What happens if they don’t sign Bryce Harper?
What happens if, after all the intoxicating speculation about their dogged chase of the biggest free agent on the market, the Sox’ pursuit is blown up by a higher bidder?
National pundits are beginning to line up, touting the Sox as the favorites to sign the 26-year-old superstar outfielder to what likely would be the richest deal in baseball history. They’re not lining up en masse, but it has only taken a few to lift the yearning Sox fan base to higher heights of suspense by the day.
But what if the Sox get a lump of coal in their black-and-white stockings this Christmas, leaving nothing more than Ivan Nova, Alex Colome, Yonder Alonso, James McCann and a replacement-level outfielder as their best gifts of the offseason?
Oh, the collective crash and groan that would befall Sox Twitter world, which has been whipped into a frenzy with dreams of Harper as the big-name centerpiece of the rebuild.
That would leave a mark.
Sox fans would need time to heal.
The Sox can say they tried, as they did for Alex Rodriguez, Masahiro Tanaka and other big free agents only to finish as runners-up.
If they don’t get Harper, a lower-tiered outfielder will be signed or traded for as a temporary stopgap for their up-and-coming crop of outfielders in the farm system, arguably their deepest area of talent.
At least there would be that to fall back on.
“We have an abundance of outfielders I’d consider average to above-average prospects,’’ director of player development Chris Getz said. “We have some impact talent in the outfield.’’
That they do. There is prized prospect Eloy Jimenez, a star in the making in his own right who would form an imposing pair alongside Harper in the middle of the lineup and wrapped around center-field prospect Luis Robert in a future outfield. Jimenez, ranked No. 3 among all prospects by MLB Pipeline, and Robert, No. 44, top a classy crop of outfielders in the Sox’ system.
Four more outfielders are ranked among their 14 top prospects: No. 9 Luis Basabe (acquired in the Chris Sale trade), No. 11 Micker Adolfo, No. 12 Steele Walker (their 2018 second-round pick) and No. 14 Luis Gonzalez.
That’s a deep class, which could, should Harper get signed, be dipped into as trade assets for a finishing piece or two down the line when the Sox are ready to win. There is your best-case scenario.
But if Harper signs with — speculate where you may — the Phillies, Dodgers, Nationals or a late-breaking team to be named to the sweepstakes, gloom and doom for the Sox’ outfield of the future would not be warranted.
Who knows? Maybe there’s another young star in the making besides Jimenez on the way.
In any case, general manager Rick Hahn wants you to know the Sox are trying to put a current star in some prospect’s way.
“There’s only so much we can control in the end,’’ Hahn said on the last day of an uneventful winter meetings. “Ultimately, free-agent players have earned the right through hard work and longevity in their career to choose their ultimate destination. And sometimes factors beyond money factor into these things, whether it’s location, whether it’s a wife’s family’s location, family preference, spring training, all sorts of factors that come into this decision at the end.
“All we can do is put our best foot forward, our most aggressive foot forward and try to convert on what we feel are necessary targets.”
If they don’t convert on Harper, there will always be next year, when Rockies star third baseman Nolan Arenado could hit the free-agent market. That would seem to line up with the Sox’ window to win, anyway.
And for now, there’s always Manny Machado. He is expected to meet with several teams, including the Sox, next week.