Chicago's next big move might wait until summer

January 30th, 2020

CHICAGO -- As the White Sox have switched gears from full-fledged rebuild to playoff hopeful during their busy offseason, the team’s focus turns to production on the field with Spring Training just two weeks away.

White Sox fans wondering how the club would respond to missing out on Manny Machado or Bryce Harper from last year’s coveted free-agent class would be duly satisfied by Chicago’s response -- spending big this winter on free agents like , , and others.

“If anything, I was perhaps a little too candid at the end-of-season press conference about what our needs were when I laid out that we wanted to add probably two starting pitchers, a right fielder, balance the lineup and a DH,” general manager Rick Hahn said on Jan. 23. “But I think we were able to accomplish everything, at least on that list, and a few other things when you include the Luis Robert extension or bringing back [José] Abreu. So, we're certainly pleased.”

Hahn has preached financial flexibility to the fan base since the White Sox began their rebuild in December 2016. But now that those days are in the rearview mirror, the Sox can move into new territory with their financial freedom.

The White Sox are likely done making big moves this winter, but as a team with its eyes on October -- and with franchise-changing players such as Mookie Betts and Nolan Arenado potentially on the market -- it’s not too early to look at the possibility of them making midseason roster additions.

If the opportunity presents itself, would the Sox feel comfortable extending payroll even further? Hahn believes they are set to do just that.

“Not necessarily because of a specific edict about, ‘This is the number, and this is the room you have’ come the summer,” Hahn said. “But I do feel like we put ourselves in a position to have that type of flexibility as well, as it's been my experience here over the last couple of decades that when we've been in a position to truly win and add impactful pieces around the Deadline, we've been able to find the wherewithal to get that done.”

While it’s true that Chicago has had several midseason acquisitions over the years, including Alex Rios, Geoff Blum, Jake Peavy and older veterans such as Manny Ramirez and Ken Griffey Jr., a marquee talent would cost much more.

The White Sox have both the payroll flexibility and prospect capital -- four Top 100 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline -- to make them an attractive trade partner.

Chicago’s payroll sits at $123 million for 2020 -- according to Baseball Prospectus’ Cot’s Contracts -- which is just below the league average, and it will be below $80 million in ‘21 and ‘22. The Sox have also put themselves in a steadier salary situation in the future by signing , and to long-term extensions.

Though it’s unknown if the White Sox truly desire to part with top players from their talent-laden farm system like second baseman (who should contribute to the big league team for the bulk of this season) and first baseman (who might be only one year away), the team’s willingness to spend this offseason has provided a peek into its competitive window.

“The long-term success of this whole process was always going to be dictated by how well the young players came together and how many of them were able to reach their ceilings,” Hahn said. “Part of what made being a little more aggressive this offseason make sense was the progress we saw from the [Lucas] Giolitos and [Yoan] Moncadas and [Tim Anderson]s last year, Eloy acclimating himself at the big league level, feeling like Luis Robert was ready to contribute as well and feeling strong about where this young core was.”

While the Sox have the assets, they aren’t under pressure to make a big move this summer. Allowing their young core to continue progressing in 2020 before then adding another major piece next offseason is also a viable option.

“We think very bright days are ahead of us and we look forward to enjoying them," Hahn said. "But in terms of feeling like we've accomplished something or feeling satisfied, ask me after the parade."