The White Sox are getting serious.
About winning now.
In a matter of two days late last week, they signed free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year contract worth $18.25 million per year and gave first baseman Jose Abreu a three-year, $50 million deal, committing $123 million to a plan aimed at ending a seven-year run of losing seasons.
It was an aggressive, early quick strike in the free-agent market, and indications are the Sox aren’t done. They shouldn’t be, not with a young core of talent, including third baseman Yoan Moncada, American League batting champion Tim Anderson, left fielder Eloy Jimenez, All-Star right-hander Lucas Giolito and prized center-field prospect Luis Robert, the minor-league player of the year in 2019.
The good, young players are in place, waiting to be complemented by good, proven veterans to create a winning mix in the rebuild’s fourth year. As Anderson tweeted after the Sox announced Abreu’s deal Friday, “Thank you.”
It remains to be seen what level of intensity and spending juice the Sox will attack the rest of the offseason with, but the Grandal signing — as well as Abreu’s extension — strongly suggests the time is now.
Grandal is 31 and Abreu will be 33 in January. These deals weren’t made with only 2020 in mind.
What’s more, the AL Central Division is there for the taking. Two of baseball’s worst teams, the Tigers (114 losses) and Royals (103), combine for 38 games on the 2020 schedule. The Twins and Indians will be reckoned with, but neither is a juggernaut.
Are those teams even worried about the Sox, who finished comfortably in the middle of the AL Central pack with a 72-89 record, a disappointing mark considering they hit the All-Star break with a 40-42 record? They probably should be for the long haul, but until the Sox bolster their young pitching staff with veteran arms, they needn’t be.
The next few weeks, or maybe months, will tell.
The Sox’ payroll stands above $90 million projecting arbitration eligibles, comfortably shy of their top Opening Day payroll ever, $128 million in 2011. So there’s room to add right-hander Zack Wheeler or lefties Madison Bumgarner or Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Or, on a grander scale, right-hander Gerrit Cole or, if they’re willing to move Moncada back to second base or to the outfield, third baseman Anthony Rendon.
In any event, the Sox are a couple of acquisitions away from finding themselves on more than a few prognosticators’ picks-to-click lists come spring. Grandal already was touting the Sox as a “dark horse.”
General manager Rick Hahn is playing it close to the vest about what’s up next, only saying it’s “on to the next one” after reeling in Grandal. He listed starting pitching, bullpen help and right field — the latter possibly for the long term but perhaps for one year — as needs. But, keep in mind, he didn’t list “catcher” and downplayed an emphasis on obtaining a left-handed bat as a need before swooping in and landing the switch-hitting Grandal.
“Those are areas that still need to be addressed,” Hahn said. “And hopefully we’re going to be able to do that as quickly and as effectively as we were able to add Yasmani.”
We’ll be watching.