The decision makers of the Chicago White Sox told anyone who would listen that they were expecting a seat at the table. Even they weren’t expecting to be sitting at the head though. Major League Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings have concluded and while there wasn’t much tangible proof of action, the White Sox were mentioned regularly by insiders in conjunction with Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Their interest level was laughed at by fans and brushed off by media members as recently as weeks ago. Now many are singing a different tune. There is a fever pitch on social media with many fans and stakeholders finally starting to believe.
Even the most plugged in of baseball scribes are now taking the Pale Hose seriously. Jim Bowden of The Athletic and CBS Sports pegged the White Sox as the front-runners to sign Bryce Harper. Ken Rosenthal wrote an article citing its plausibility. Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports, often seen as the preferred industry source of all things Scott Boras, even chose the White Sox as the penultimate destination of Harper after writing that a rival suggested that, “they are going to do something big“. Longtime Chicago area writer Phil Rogers surmised that Rick Hahn and Jerry Reinsdorf have prepared for this moment by creating “unprecedented financial flexibility” in a detailed piece from Forbes Magazine.
Rogers and Rosenthal both cited Reinsdorf’s experience with big ticket items in free agency in a positive sense regardless of the well known fact that Jose Abreu‘s $68 million contract still holds as the largest in franchise history. The chairman signed Albert Belle to the largest contract in the history of the sport and stunned the baseball world in the mid-nineties. Rogers also compares the current chase to that of Alex Rodriguez 18 short years ago when Reinsdorf desperately wanted a seat at the table and was reportedly willing to offer a contract in excess of $200 million. He’s not a new kid on the block when it comes to negotiations of this magnitude.
The White Sox have plans to shock the baseball infrastructure and nobody that has been paying attention should be surprised. At SoxFest 2018, Rick Hahn said, ” Ultimately, competing for free agents and targeting big-ticket items and hopefully converting on them will be the next logical step when the time is right. Anyone who doubts that we will break from past perception or past process, I believe the evidence is there over the last year that those old standards are gone“. Then in November, after his club went 62-100 in a disappointing season on many levels, Hahn reiterated those same thoughts. The General Manager said, “If in fact, there is an opportunity to convert on unique talent when it comes available that fits that long-term plan, then yes we’re going to be aggressive and fully explore it“.
In regards to payroll and whether or not an exorbitant salary would be a hindrance, Hahn again told the assembled media that, “we have, as part of this process, purposely put ourselves in a position where we have a great deal of economic flexibility moving forward“. The White Sox have regularly carried team payrolls in excess of $110 million. They are in fantastic financial shape by design and they can afford to sign any player if they choose to do so. “It’s not unintentional having the flexibility we enjoy going forward” Hahn said at the General Manager’s Meetings in November. “That was a secondary goal of this rebuild, to make sure we had flexibility and economic strength when the time was right to spend and add on to what we’ve accumulated” he concluded.
In response to critics who think it may be too early for the organization to go after premium talent, Hahn emphatically stated that, “You can’t always control when certain players become available. You can say in 2020 or 2021 we expect to be this, and we know we are going to need X. You can’t look at the projected free agent and say that player will be a White Sox when the time comes“. The front office arrived in Las Vegas on Sunday Night in search of a big fish and Hahn didn’t say anything to lower the expectations that were self-imposed previously.
Hahn reiterated that, “We’re entering year three of a rebuild and although I think there’s some potential skepticism that it might be a year too soon, perhaps be pushing it, we’re very mindful of that,” Hahn said. “And we also want to balance the fact that there are some unique opportunities out there in the market and we wouldn’t be doing our job even if it is perhaps a year too early, not doing our job if we didn’t fully vet those opportunities. It doesn’t mean we’re going to just look for any way to make some sort of splash. It has to fit with the long-term vision of what we’re trying to accomplish. Traditionally the third year of a rebuild isn’t always the time where you push those chips in so to speak but when unique opportunities present themselves you have to respond.”
Can The White Sox Pull This Off?
Rick Hahn’s quotes are renowned and the aggressive bravado of Ken Williams is commendable. Jerry Reinsdorf will be negotiating this contract though. With deals of this magnitude, especially if Scott Boras is at the fulcrum of the discussions, they are executed at the ownership level. Reinsdorf has been in contact with Boras about Harper and it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear that he’ll be at Guaranteed Rate Field on Monday when Manny Machado will be in town on an official visit. The frugal natured owner that everyone loves to work for is in this to win it regardless of what is being reported in the media. The White Sox have minimal payroll commitments in the future and present for a market of their magnitude, a lump sum $50 million payment courtesy of MLB Advanced Media and a new television deal on the horizon.
The White Sox have the cash to pull this off. Reinsdorf is deathly afraid of being Tom Hicks though. During the Alex Rodriguez sweepstakes in 2000, the Texas Rangers who were owned by Hicks at the time, reportedly outbid themselves by a substantial margin to lap the field in negotiations. There is purposeful apprehension being reported in the media. This is what a public, prolonged contract negotiation that ends up being played out through the media looks like. There is no incentive for the White Sox to leak that they have the highest offer currently.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today and Buster Olney of ESPN have reported that the White Sox aren’t as serious as some of the other national media types have implied. Nightengale surmised that ownership has yet to offer a deal to either party. Olney states that the organization has limits to their interest. Bruce LeVine of 670 The Score has repeatedly said that the White Sox won’t be inserting opt-out clauses into their offers. To me, this isn’t the White Sox subliminally trying to lower the expectations of their fanbase. This is the front office pushing back against the narrative that they are the favorites. They don’t want to get into a bidding war with themselves. These leaks are coordinated attempts to try and control the message. If there is information out in the stratosphere about the White Sox, it’s likely done with a purpose.
Will the White Sox Succeed in Their Efforts?
Between snarky Cubs fans and media blowhards like Adam Schein, there is no reason to play for the Chicago White Sox. Some of that skepticism is warranted due to the White Sox being the 2nd team in the 2nd city on top of a ten year playoff drought. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper undoubtedly went into free agency with a plan. These guys more than likely had a preferred destination or destinations and it’s a safe assumption that Chicago’s southside wasn’t the island paradise of choice. With everything being equal, it’s a negotiation that the White Sox would struggle to win. Luckily for them, everything isn’t equal.
High tides raise all boats and the White Sox have mass amounts of payroll flexibility and the best summer city in the world to offer. They don’t have the storied history of the New York Yankees, glitz and glamour of Los Angeles or comfort of Washington, D.C. on their side. They do have money though and a franchise that is begging for a star. Either player would be a huge star in Chicago. It’s a city that turns professional athletes into deities because it lacks real celebrities. Either player would be the face of the new television deal. Los Angeles has famous actors, Mike Trout, LeBron James and fans that don’t really care anyway. New York already has their own stars and storied history. Manny Machado would be the guy instead of just a guy in New York. Bryce Harper could have a Michael Jordan like public impact.
The White Sox are not a household name. They aren’t a brand. The New England Patriots and Golden State Warriors weren’t brands without Tom Brady and Stephen Curry either though. The sports landscape can change on a dime and these two 26-year-old free agents could be part of it. And the White Sox know it. They are prepared for this and they will go down swinging if necessary. Manny and Bryce may choose to play in different markets. It could happen. But if they do, it won’t be because of some tired narrative that the White Sox weren’t willing to go above and beyond because they were and clearly are. Be prepared to hold onto your butts Sox fans. This is going to be a wild ride.
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