CARLSBAD, Calif. - Being willing to hand out a big contract and actually getting a player to sign on the dotted line are two very different things. But you can't have the second without the first, and the White Sox sure seem willing.
The GM Meetings this week in Southern California kicked off with a rumor that the White Sox were interested in the two biggest names on the free-agent market, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. That report has had White Sox fans buzzing for days.
And it might have added a little something to some of the things general manager Rick Hahn has been saying for a while during this rebuilding process.
Entering into a rebuild was a big change in approach for a team that spent years spending on free agents and in trades to try and assemble a contender on an annual basis. And on an annual basis from 2009 to 2016, it didn't work. That hard turn out of patchwork assembly and into a full-scale rebuild, according to Hahn, was something folks believed the White Sox would never do. But they did it.
At this moment in time, no move has more bearing on the future of this franchise than the trade made with the Cubs during the 2017 season, a Crosstown swap that sent Jose Quintana to the North Side and added Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease to the White Sox bevy of highly touted prospects. Jimenez now ranks as one of the top three prospects in the game, and Cease was MLB Pipeline's minor league pitcher of the year. That high-leverage trade with the Cubs, according to Hahn, was something folks believed the White Sox would never do. But they did it.
And so we reach this offseason, and while the White Sox might not be able to outbid some of baseball's biggest spenders or convince top players to believe in the planned success of the future over the ability to win a championship right now, they apparently have "a seat at the table." Spending big is something a lot of folks believe the White Sox will never do. But in line with the other smashing of preconceived notions - not to mention the incredible financial flexibility the rebuild has created - the White Sox sure seem willing to do that, too.
"One of the things we're looking to accomplish, in addition to creating a critical mass of potentially impact talent, is to create some economic flexibility so we would be in the position to add, whether it's via trade or free agency, other impact talent to continue the process that we started," Hahn said Tuesday. "We've gotten ourselves in a position now where we have minimal commitments going forward. We are able to enjoy that flexibility. Whether we use it now, in July or use it next offseason to augment this group remains to be seen. We've made no secret that having that flexibility and the ability to add impactful talent is part of what we set out to do."
It might turn out that this isn't the right time. Perhaps we'll be having these same conversations next year. But Hahn has talked so often about being opportunistic when the time comes, and it's hard to imagine bigger and better opportunities than adding Harper and Machado. He said this week that no one should be surprised to hear the White Sox linked to the game's best players, as much a declaration that the team is taking the necessary steps to get in the running as anything.
We'll see how it plays out, if the White Sox end up spending on the biggest-ticket items on the market or if their pitch isn't strong enough to win against some of baseball's powers. But the impression that's going around is that the South Siders aren't going to sit on the sidelines, that they sure seem willing to spend.