Can White Sox Achieve Off-Season Success Without Signing Harper or Machado?
By Jeff Shirk
By most media accounts, the White Sox are in the hunt for both of the top free agent targets Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Is success this off-season predicated by signing either or both?
Jim Bowden, the crackerjack baseball reporter for The Athletic (subscription required), posted a December 15th article grading all 30 Major League teams after the winter meetings. He gave the White Sox a D.
Bowden is either a Cubs fan, or like ESPN he isn’t aware of the team’s recent history.
Already established as their record but for the purposes of this article, let’s confirm the 2019 off-season for the Chicago White Sox.
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They turned Justin Yurchak, Omar Narvaez, Yordi Rosario, Alex Call and some International slot money into Alex Colome, Yonder Alonso, Ivan Nova, and Manny Banuelos. They also signed catcher James McCann to a one-year deal to replace Narvaez as their backup backstop in 2019.
On top of that, they turned Rule 5 draft pick Jordan Romano into the $150,000 they likely added to the Alonso deal by trading him to the Texas Rangers. And after exposing Spencer Adams and Zach Thompson in the same draft, didn’t lose either.
Consider what the team received versus what they gave up. A starter, a closer, a home run hitter and a backup catcher – all for three prospects none of whom are considered in the team’s Top 30, their previous backup catcher and a net sum zero in cash exchange.
Sorry, Bowden, that’s far better than a D. So what’s the haps?
I believe I know. Bowden is hinging the White Sox success or failure on whether the team signs a major free agent target such as Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, or even one of the top players right behind them such as A.J. Pollock. That’s not fair, and frankly, that’s not an absolute requirement.
It’s far less probable than it is possible the Sox sign any player for big money at this point – remember what these types of free agents are seeking from the market and the franchises competing for them – and it’s arguably unnecessary.
Bowden isn’t alone in this expectation. The entire baseball press is in on it too, and perhaps even the fans. For the press, a major signing would be news – which would be monetized in the form of content. For the fans, it would be fodder – to chew on, devour and come hunting for more. The expectation seems to come from not only the team’s messaging but their spending power. A low committed 2019 budget must mean some significant signings are imminent.
Rick Hahn is crafty. It’s possible the talk about big signings and even the formal pitches are a wishing-fishing type of exercise. If the Sox land a big fish, wonderful. If not, they elevated their brand through the pursuit and process…especially to the free agent class of 2020. After all, the team is looking to win a war and not a single battle and will need all the influence they can muster moving forward to do so.
The White Sox are wooing not just Machado and Harper – they’re wooing everyone. If they fall short in any individual pursuit, of course, there are contingency alternatives. The Sox are managing their brand brilliantly. Harper and Machado are also managing their brands. They each have more on the line than they might think.
And whatever their respective choices might be will express to the baseball world what to expect from them moving forward: team player versus self-promoter, fight with and help build a little guy versus jump on an established bandwagon, etc.
For the Sox to win either free agent pursuit likely means the team would have to submit the biggest offer, either in terms of guaranteed years and dollars, total dollars or player control and flexibility. Remember who they are competing against.
I expect from the White Sox a disciplined approach with focus and resolution within a strategic framework that makes sense for the team. What I don’t expect is spending stupid. And with that said, I think it’s unlikely the team signs either of these players.
If that’s a D, then D stands for Diligence.