In a short-term move with potential implications for a bigger, long-term endeavor, the White Sox acquired first baseman Yonder Alonso from the Cleveland Indians.
The Sox gave up 24-year-old minor-league outfielder Alex Call in the trade, announced Saturday. It’s an intriguing acquisition because Alonso is the brother-in-law of free-agent infielder Manny Machado, whom the Sox are expected to meet with this week.
General manager Rick Hahn wouldn’t link the deal to Machado in any fashion, even though everybody else was doing so for obvious reasons.
“I hate to disappoint you, but I have not read every story that has mentioned his brother-in-law. … It’s out there, huh?” Hahn said in a lighthearted tone. “Fundamentally, this is a baseball deal. We feel this makes us better. We like how Yonder fits between the lines, in the clubhouse, and he helps further what we’re trying to accomplish in 2019 and beyond.
“The potential ancillary benefits to it in terms of his relationship to others really can’t be part of pulling the trigger and making a decision to acquire a big-league player, especially a veteran with this type of contract commitment.”
Also, the Sox already have a highly regarded first baseman in All-Star Jose Abreu, who has one year left on his contract. Hahn talked to Abreu before the deal was announced and said Abreu was “enthusiastic” about the trade.
“He’s probably the ultimate team guy, and he felt good about the addition of a good player and someone he’s good friends with,” Hahn said.
Manager Rick Renteria will determine how time is divided between Abreu and Alonso at first base and designated hitter, the latter a role Abreu doesn’t care for.
“Jose just wants us to win,” Hahn said. “He also knows there is benefit from getting off his feet some time.”
The Sox have hinted all along they would prefer to keep Abreu, so the trade doesn’t necessarily signal a desire to move what figures to be a $16 million salary through arbitration. Alonso, 31, who will earn $8 million in 2019, could be used in a first base/designated hitter rotation with Abreu.
“Alonso provides a proven offensive performer from the left side of the plate, and he also brings a veteran presence on and off the field,” Hahn said. “Yonder has a solid reputation around the league as a professional and a great teammate.”
After non-tendering corner infielder/DH Matt Davidson, who hit 20 home runs in 2018, the Sox seemed to be opening more opportunities for left-handed-hitting outfielder Daniel Palka, who hit 26 homers with a .240/.294/.484 batting line.
Palka struggled defensively at the corner outfield spots, but Hahn said “there’s certainly the chance [Palka can be a regular outfielder].”
“At age 27, Daniel doesn’t want to be a full-time DH,” Hahn said. “He still believes he can contribute on the defensive side of things, and he has worked hard this offseason already. He told [hitting coach Todd Steverson] recently he’s back down to his college weight.
“We like what he brings in terms of his power, and we feel his offensive game will improve as he rounds that out as a pro.”
The Sox agreed to terms with free-agent catcher James McCann on a one-year deal Friday. Hahn had said acquiring a catcher was on his to-do list this offseason, but adding a first baseman such as Alonso came as a surprise, considering the Sox’ fondness for Abreu, 31, and his valued leadership.
Alonso, a left-handed bat who is better defensively than Abreu, will be under club control for 2020 with a $9 million option. After batting .250 with 23 home runs and 83 RBI in 145 games, his move to another club appeared imminent after the Indians traded for first baseman Carlos Santana and first baseman/outfielder Jake Bauers on Thursday.
Machado and Bryce Harper are the two biggest free agents on the market, and the Sox are pursuing both. And with only $33 million in pre-arbitration salary commitments for next season, they have the payroll flexibility to afford at least one of them.
Would they commit to $50 million or more for two players for one season, the likely combined cost for Harper and Machado for one season? Moving Abreu would be one way of creating even more space. Acquiring Alonso suggests they’re leaving no stone unturned in a bid for Machado.
In the end, they may end up with neither. So while going after Harper and Machado as long-term, nine-figure pursuits, the Sox continue to check off short-term needs for 2019. McCann’s one-year deal, for a reported $2.5 million, will be announced pending a physical, a source said. The Sox also traded for starting pitcher Ivan Nova on Tuesday and for reliever Alex Colome last week.
Call batted .248/.345/.415 with 12 homers and 58 RBI between Class A Winston-Salem and Class AA Birmingham in 2019. The Sox are stacked with outfield prospects at the A and AA levels, and Call, a 2016 third-round draft pick, is not ranked among the Sox’ top 30 prospects.