CARLSBAD, Calif. — The White Sox got some key initial offseason decisions out of the way, declining to pick up second baseman Cesar Hernandez’s $6 million option for next season, picking up reliever Craig Kimbrel’s $16 million option and choosing against giving All-Star left-hander Carlos Rodon an $18.4 million qualifying offer for 2022.
Hernandez will sign elsewhere, and Rodon probably will, too, although general manager Rick Hahn said he’s keeping the door open while Rodon and agent Scott Boras see what multiyear deals can be had on the open market. Kimbrel, an eight-time All-Star closer who flopped in a non-closer role after Hahn gave up Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer to get him, will be dangled as trade bait.
“We’re evaluating all our options for Craig for next year,” Hahn said.
As Hahn gets together with his peers at the general managers meetings Tuesday and Wednesday, his aim to improve a 93-win division champion that got buzz-sawed by the Astros in the American League Division Series will center on seeing what he might get for Kimbrel in a deal while adding more pitching and a second baseman. Hahn and manager Tony La Russa touted converted first basemen Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets and a healthy Adam Engel as viable right-field candidates, suggesting an internal option there. And they probably should look to provide starting catcher Yasmani Grandal with a backup with good defensive skills as they try to find ways to spruce up one of baseball’s lowest-ranked fielding teams.
“As we look to potentially bring in guys from the outside, defense will be part of our focus,” Hahn said.
But pitching is always Hahn’s primary focus and will be this offseason, too, starting at the GM meetings, which often set the table for the annual winter meetings in early December, but that bigger industrywide event might not happen. Knowing the collective-bargaining agreement expires on Dec. 1, few are planning for a gathering in Orlando, Florida, next month, which might heighten the importance of these GM meetings — a smaller get-together but with more face-to-face communication between GMs.
Hahn said the Sox are proceeding as though an agreement will get done, at least for now.
Ryan Tepera, acquired at the trade deadline, is a free agent, and if Kimbrel is traded and Michael Kopech goes to the rotation as planned, that leaves three right-handers gone from the bullpen. Evan Marshall, injured for much of the season, is having Tommy John surgery.
Hahn said he’s not targeting the trade market above or below the free-agent market as a primary avenue to add.
“Free agency will have certain options to address certain needs, and trades will have others,” Hahn said. “It’s just a matter of how we line them up. If you spend big on one thing via free agency maybe it’s best to address the other need in a more cost-effective way via trade.”
Whether free-agent shortstop Marcus Semien, a former Sox player who clubbed 45 home runs and stole 15 bases while playing second base for the Blue Jays, is Hahn’s idea of spending big remains to be seen. Semien could command more than the $18 million annual salaries to be given to the Sox’ highest-paid players next season — Grandal, Jose Abreu, Lance Lynn and Dallas Keuchel — and for at least three years, so perhaps Eduardo Escobar is a more reasonable target.
Top free-agent starters include lefty Robbie Ray, an AL Cy Young favorite, and right-hander Marcus Stroman, both of whom could command five-year deals in the $100 million-and-higher range. Such long-term commitments for pitchers would be bold by Sox standards.
All eyes are watching to see how the front office improves a good team.
“We have work to do,” Hahn said.
“The postseason performance was disappointing. The postseason performance was frustrating. It highlighted certain areas where we need to get better.”
NOTE: Sox right-hander Lance Lynn is one of three finalists for the AL Cy Young Award. He’s joined by the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole and the Blue Jays’ Robbie Ray. Lynn went 11-6 with a 2.69 ERA. In 157 innings, he struck out 176 and walked 45.