Entering Year 4 of their rebuild, the White Sox have assembled enough young, good and long-term pieces for something to build on.
For three years, most fans have patiently bought into the rebuild while being subjected to an average of 95 losses while the club stashed money away operating with one of baseball’s lowest payrolls.
Now, it’s time to spend and deal, beginning with this offseason, which shifts to a higher gear next week when general managers assemble for their annual meetings, in Scottsdale, Arizona, to discuss trade possibilities and the free-agent market.
The Sox will spend. GM Rick Hahn made it known a right fielder, designated hitter and a starting pitcher or two are needs he’ll address this winter, and while he has assured the “money will be there,” just how much chairman Jerry Reinsdorf approves for his 2020 payroll bears watching. That is the question of the hour.
The Sox looked the part of big-city big spenders while pursuing Manny Machado, and to a lesser degree Bryce Harper, last offseason but in the end took a public-relations hit after they were outbid for those stars’ services. You’ll hear them linked to all sorts of names as the winter rumor mill gets churning, but we’ll all be stunned if they seriously go after the biggest fish (right-hander Gerrit Cole and third baseman Anthony Rendon) in this offseason pond. There are, however, enough next-level free agents out there, especially pitchers such as right-handers Zack Wheeler and Jake Odorizzi and lefty Madison Bumgarner (to name only three) whose signings would temper skepticism among fans and add needed quality and depth to a rotation of likely 2020 Opening Day starter Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez and top prospects Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease.
Free-agent outfielders include Nick Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna, Yasiel Puig, Kole Calhoun and Corey Dickerson, but none of them size up as a perfect fit for an already defensively challenged outfield.
Switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal, a skilled pitch framer who would provide balance in a right-handed-heavy lineup, would more than nicely complement All-Star James McCann while expanding manager Rick Renteria’s options at designated hitter. Renteria’s DH choices produced a .208/.285/.362 hitting line in 2019.
Four years into the rebuild should mean it’s time to dip into an ample stock of minor-league prospects for trades to bolster the major-league roster, but the Sox’ farm system, while touting premium prospects such as center fielder Luis Robert, second baseman Nick Madrigal (who figure to spend most of the season in the majors) and Kopech, hasn’t assembled or developed the necessary depth for packages suitable to land J.D. Martinez or Mookie Betts from the Red Sox.
The Red Sox are looking to shed payroll to get under the luxury tax, and the Cubs seem open — for the right deal — to listening to offers for talent such as Kyle Schwarber, who won’t be a free agent till 2022. How good would Schwarber’s left-handed bat look at DH? The Cubs need young, controllable pitching, but the Sox aren’t likely to part with Kopech or Cease and the Sox still need more, not less, young pitching funneling into their own staff.
Hahn is expected to upgrade the roster with trades nonetheless, and he does have movable pieces, closer Alex Colome included. But with Kelvin Herrera’s $8.5 million salary the biggest on the 2020 books as of now, there is plenty in reserve to land enough free agents to push the Sox to an above-.500 team.
The Sox could do nothing at all and dust off their “The Kids Can Play” theme for 2020 with Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez and Giolito on the cover of the -media guide. But as Renteria, echoing sentiments from Sox fans everywhere, said at the conclusion of a 72-89 season, “It’s time for us to now take the next step.”
“I don’t want to be on the [negative] side of wins and losses anymore.”
Speaking for everyone in, around and behind an organization that has been there every year since 2012, who does?