CHICAGO -- Hello contention, goodbye rebuild.
It’s the message sent by the White Sox since the end of the 2019 season, supported by a four-year, franchise-record $73 million deal with catcher Yasmani Grandal and the return of first baseman and organization staple José Abreu via a three-year, $50 million contract. And the $125 million over five years the White Sox offered Zack Wheeler, according to an industry source, should squelch any doubt remaining on this matter.
With Wheeler ultimately choosing the Phillies on Wednesday afternoon, despite the White Sox making a more lucrative offer, Chicago has more work to do upon arriving in San Diego Sunday night for the Winter Meetings. But it’s really just a continuation of the intense work and preparation already put in by the front office in this next important step toward contention.
The rotation already has Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Reynaldo López, with a healthy Michael Kopech returning from September 2018 Tommy John surgery. But a contending team needs veteran starting pitching, and the White Sox could use two pitchers in this category. Their 2019 numbers in right field and at designated hitter were the worst in the American League, and a left-handed bat in one of those spots would help balance the lineup. The need for a designated hitter rates lower on the list, with Zack Collins, James McCann, Abreu and Grandal able to rotate through that spot.
Whom might they trade?
Free agency seems to be the White Sox preferred mode with a great deal of financial flexibility, but general manager Rick Hahn has definitely not ruled out trades. The White Sox have assembled a solid young core through the rebuild, but the important factor is to know everyone and anyone in their system whom they might trade and to have as much information as possible to avoid moving a future standout. But even with this high level of young talent amassed, there are very few off-limits in the right trade.
Prospects to know
Center fielder Luis Robert, the No. 1 White Sox prospect and No. 3 in Major League Baseball, and second baseman Nick Madrigal, who is No. 4 and No. 40, respectively, will be in the Majors for the bulk of the 2020 season, making the White Sox stronger without any outside move. Madrigal is a Gold Glove-caliber defensive player with elite contact skills, and Robert might be the best overall prospect of the whole White Sox group. The White Sox will be careful with Kopech as he works his way back to his first regular-season action since September 2018. Also keep an eye on Zack Burdi, who could make a bullpen imprint as soon as ’20 after going through his own Tommy John and knee surgeries.
Rule 5 Draft
Alec Hansen is an interesting name in regard to Rule 5 Draft exposure after not being added to the 40-man roster. The White Sox second-round selection in the 2016 MLB Draft had a Minor League-high 191 strikeouts over 141 1/3 innings in ‘17, but he has struggled over the last two seasons, with 103 walks issued over 103 2/3 innings to go with a 5.47 ERA between stops at Double-A Birmingham and Class A Advanced Winston-Salem. It would be a risk taken for another team based on the right-hander’s projected high ceiling.
The White Sox have plenty of room to maneuver. Their payroll presently sits at around $51 million, not counting arbitration-eligible players, but they have purposely aligned themselves to be able to spend in each of the next four seasons. The White Sox, as a rule, don’t talk about set payroll per season, but they figure to have a target of somewhere around $120-130 million in ’20.
Who is the next target for a top-of-the-rotation starter? There’s really not a specific need for the White Sox to find a pitcher to insert as their quote-unquote ace hurler; even Wheeler wouldn’t have been viewed completely in that way. Free-agent starters such as Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel would fit well among the White Sox starting five, but the White Sox need to sell them on their vision as they did with Grandal. This is a team on the rise, one that could surprise in 2020, but it is also a team without a winning season since '12 and without a playoff appearance since ’08.