CHICAGO -- Here’s a look at other topics addressed Monday during conference calls involving White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, pitcher Dallas Keuchel and agent Scott Boras:
Contending in 2020
A strong case can be made for the White Sox as the most improved team going into 2020 based on this highly productive offseason. Catcher Yasmani Grandal, left-hander Keuchel and fellow veteran lefty Gio Gonzalez joined the team via free agency. First baseman José Abreu, the face of the franchise, returned on a three-year, $50 million deal, and All-Star catcher James McCann came back on a one-year, $5.4 million contract. Right fielder Nomar Mazara was added through a trade with the Rangers.
Mix these players with top young talent already in place, and winning a less-than-stellar American League Central is not a complete long shot despite 72 wins in 2019. The continued development of the young core ultimately will dictate the team’s growth. At this point, Hahn is sticking with a “too early to predict” point of view.
“Let's finish the offseason, let's get ourselves to Spring Training, get everybody healthy come Opening Day and then assess where we are against not only our own expectations but what else is in our division,” Hahn said. “We were clear at the start of this offseason or at the end of last season that we felt this was going to be an important year to turn the page and move to that next step in the process.
“We've seen a lot of clubs in the last few years sort of mildly beat expectations in terms of their timeline, teams sort of jump up a year prior to when you expect. And, ultimately, that comes down not just to the moves a front office makes in an offseason, but it comes down to how quickly that young core is able to coalesce and fulfill their promise. And that second part's a little tough to predict.”
Hahn quipped about not expecting much before the end of 2019 since he was taking his two sons to lunch and time was running out before Wednesday. In reality, strengthening the bullpen would be his next primary target.
“I believe a couple times I alluded to that like all 29 other clubs, improving our bullpen would certainly be of interest to us this offseason,” Hahn said. “That's probably the area that currently remains untouched so far. That would likely be a focus going into the new year.”
There is flexibility to add, said Hahn, with an eye toward possible moves at the Trade Deadline for a team on the rise. Roster Resource projects the White Sox 2020 payroll at $123,156,499, including Edwin Encarnacion’s reported deal.
“When we have a payroll target in mind for the season, you do try to keep a little bit of powder dry for July,” Hahn said. “That said, if opportunities arise that make us better right now and sort of pre-buy that mid-July piece, we're willing to move forward on that sooner rather than later.”
Is Mazara all right?
Mazara’s profile shows much stronger results against right-handed pitchers. The White Sox could add another right-handed hitter to platoon with Mazara or use switch-hitter Leury García. But Hahn praised Mazara’s upside when questioned Monday.
“As we talked about it when we acquired Nomar, we very much believe in his upside and where his talent could take him at age 25 and 26 over the next couple of years,” Hahn said. “We think there's a lot of untapped upside there, and we think people may well be surprised if they have modest expectations for him.”
Amends with Abreu
Abreu was one of the players reached out to by Keuchel, who spoke of the first baseman’s leadership. But Keuchel also hit Abreu twice with pitches when Atlanta faced the White Sox on Aug. 31.
“I wanted to make sure that he wasn’t coming to get me and trying to come and whup my butt,” Keuchel said with a laugh.
White Sox buzz
Word of White Sox fan excitement has reached Hahn from the marketing people, the public relations staff and even from his two sons and their friends. That excitement has come secondhand to the baseball department.
“Perhaps we have some sort of illness or something, but the focus tends to be not necessarily on what we've done, it's been more on what we're going to try to do next,” Hahn said.
“This is not just me. This is [chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf], this is [executive vice president] Kenny [Williams], this is everyone in the baseball department. Once we get something done, it very, very quickly pivots to, ‘OK, that's great, but what are we doing next?’”