General manager Rick Hahn’s parting words on a Zoom call Thursday were: “Stay tuned. We’ll see.”
For what, we’re not exactly sure.
It was an answer to a question about what’s next for him as the White Sox’ offseason heads into the holidays and into January. The virtual winter meetings last week were comparatively quiet around baseball, although Hahn and his fellow Sox front officers traded for right-hander Lance Lynn and signed free-agent right fielder Adam Eaton.
Lynn is a significant addition, albeit for one season. Eaton, a Sox player from 2014 to 2016, wasn’t George Springer, Joc Pederson, Marcell Ozuna or Michael Brantley, the pricier possibilities fans were hoping for to man right field, but he should be better than 2020 bust Nomar Mazara. Together, Lynn and Eaton add $15 million to a payroll that is slotting in the middle pack of baseball’s 30 teams.
What prevented the Sox from aiming higher and spending higher in right field?
“Because we try to look at the offseason or the roster-building as a whole,” Hahn said.
“If we spend the entirety of what we have to spend on one position, obviously other needs aren’t addressed. Adam not only addresses a lot of what we were trying to do with upgrading our production in right field but also allows us the flexibility to add over the course of the offseason.”
Those objecting to the Eaton signing — his numbers declined in 2020 — point to the Sox’ major-market existence and mid-major check-writing. Those accepting it say OK then, give us Liam Hendriks to replace Alex Colome at closer and roll out the barrels of cash saved during the rebuilding years and add Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer to the rotation.
But no one expects the Sox to pursue Bauer. And certainly not Springer.
“[The Eaton signing is] not entirely different from the Lynn acquisition,” Hahn said. “Yes, we perhaps could have gone straight to the top of the free-agent market. However if we had done that, we would have wound up perhaps not being able to do other things important to rounding out a championship roster.”
Hahn has said through the rebuilding years that the money would be spent when it was time to win. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf ponied up for free agents Yasmani Grandal ($73 million) and Dallas Keuchel ($55.5 million) last offseason while paying Yoan Moncada ($70 million) and Luis Robert ($50 million) well before they hit free agency. And Jose Abreu got a $50 million extension. And then the pandemic slapped a $3 billion loss on the industry, according to commissioner Rob Manfred, leaving uncertainty hanging over every team next season.
Reinsdorf and Hahn have this going for them: no bad contracts on the books and a cost-controlled roster of young, well-paid talent with Moncada, Tim Anderson, Robert, Eloy Jimenez, Aaron Bummer and possibly Lucas Giolito, if he gets an extension. On paper right now, the Sox might be the favorite in the American League Central, a young team with a blend of veterans on the cusp, managed by a proven winner in 76-year-old Tony La Russa.
La Russa hasn’t managed in nine years, and his hire has come under fire. One line of thinking was that Reinsdorf, badly wanting his close friend to succeed, would spend freely to ensure that it happens. But as the Sox’ total commitment of $15 million for Lynn and Eaton demonstrates, that hasn’t happened, not during a pandemic. Not yet, anyway.
“We’re proceeding fairly normally as if it were a normal offseason,” Hahn said. “We have a sense of what’s available to us from a payroll standpoint, and we’re going about trying to tick off as many needs in a quality way as we can given that payroll amount. That amount is obviously influenced by some uncertainty, and hopefully over the course of the summer, things improve dramatically for everybody, and it turns out that there are potentially more resources along the way.”