Even if the White Sox have the hundreds of millions to spend on the highest-priced free agents on the market, it takes two to tango.
Cash is king, but superstars like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will likely want a little more than just dollars. What about the Sox would make them want to choose them?
The Sox are, after all, owners of the eighth-longest postseason drought in American professional sports (nine years), haven’t enjoyed a winning season in six years and are coming off a 100-loss season in which they ranked 25th among 30 major-league teams in attendance.
What the Sox are selling, though, is one of the biggest markets in sports — where a Harper can enhance his brand. And they’re selling a clear, mapped-out vision for the future that promises better days ahead with a highly rated farm system featuring outfielders Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, minor league pitcher of the year Dylan Cease and more.
Guys like Harper already know what’s coming for the Sox, general manager Rick Hahn said.
“I chuckle a little bit because you have to understand these guys are professionals, and they understand deep nuances about each individual franchise and from a macro standpoint,” Hahn said. “The idea of potentially being part of a winner in Chicago has very broad appeal.
“From a nuanced standpoint, the chance to be part of the White Sox organization based upon what our future looks like — futures that these players are familiar with and understand, having seen personally some of these young players play or video or talked to other players about them — it’s something that they buy into.’’
Those rooting for Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to buy into Harper and splurge like he never has before had to be encouraged by Nationals owner Mark Lerner saying his reported 10-year, $300 million offer to Harper and agent Scott Boras during the season was as high as he’d go. Ten or so teams might still be in the mix, including the Phillies, who’ve declared themselves ready to “spend stupid money,” but the Nats were viewed among the favorites until Lerner said, “I really don’t expect [Harper] to come back at this point. I think they’ve decided to move on.”
But to where? The Sox are trying to sell free agents on being part of something “that’s potentially sustainable and potentially great” in a world-class city, as Hahn says.
Educated guesses as to when Harper will sign vary from next week at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas to perhaps next month. The Sox remain off the favorites list, but as willing spenders, they can’t be counted out.
“I do think they want to make a splash,” said an American League Central source who viewed the cash savings from non-tendering outfielder Avisail Garcia as a sign of the Sox’ intentions. “I get the feeling the Sox are very anxious to get some fan attention — help get people in the seats.”
Hahn has steadfastly maintained the Sox won’t do anything that doesn’t have the long term in mind. But he does have immediate, less splashy, short-term needs to address, including adding a veteran starting pitcher, perhaps more bullpen help, a catcher to complement Welington Castillo and possibly a third baseman.
“We don’t want to do anything short-sighted at this point — anything that’s [going to be] a short-term Band-Aid, so to speak, and potentially put us in a difficult situation for the long term when, in fact, we are then in a position to contend on an annual basis,” Hahn said. “In other words, yes, there are top-of-the-market, premium players that we’ve made no secret about potentially fitting our long-term vision for this organization. However, if for whatever reason anyone along those lines doesn’t wind up in the White Sox organization, that doesn’t mean then we are going to scurry around and look for short-term fixes to get modest improvements.”