Manny Machado is a San Diego Padre and will be for the next decade. Nolan Arenado is a Colorado Rockie and will be for at least the next three years and possibly for the next eight years. Bryce Harper is still jobless, but he likely won't be a Chicago White Sock. A San Francisco Giant? A Philadelphia Phillie? A Los Angeles Dodger? Maybe. But that No. 34 White Sox shirsey you've been thinking about purchasing better have "Kopech" written on the back of it.
The White Sox missed out on Machado, who they badly wanted, enough to commit to spending $350 million on his services over the next 10 years. They look likely to miss out on Harper, who they had interest in, reportedly meeting with him twice during the final months of 2018, even if they never made a formal offer. They never got the chance to pursue Arenado, who seemed like such a good fit to top off the rebuild that he was above the other two on plenty of fan wish lists.
And for a lot of fans, with news of Machado's deal with the Padres and Arenado's new contract with the Rockies coming within a week of each other, it seems like the free-agent boat has forever left the dock without the White Sox on board.
That's certainly not the case, even if the biggest names are going to be playing elsewhere. The White Sox don't seem likely to land a substantially sized fish before Opening Day (even with a couple of those still out there on the market), but that doesn't mean it's a complete dice roll on the prospects moving through the system and that's it. Rick Hahn has said all along that the White Sox positioning themselves to add impact talent from outside the organization has always been part of their rebuilding plan. Just because Machado picked the Padres and Arenado chose to stay with the Rockies before even hitting free agency doesn't mean that the opportunities to make that kind of an addition have dried up for all eternity.
In fact, as stacked as many viewed this offseason's free-agent class as being, next offseason's group is significantly more loaded. Hahn has pledged that the money set aside to land a premium free agent will be spent, and it wouldn't be at all surprising to see the White Sox be as aggressive or even more aggressive next winter than they were this winter. After all, they'll know more about their team after another rebuilding year, a year closer to making that transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode. That same truth could make the White Sox a more attractive destination, as well, if the team is on the cusp of contention.
And so the opportunities still exist. Will they be as exciting as the prospect of seeing Machado, Arenado or Harper in black pinstripes? Maybe not. Those are three of the best baseball players on the planet. But two more of those are set to hit free agency following the 2020 season in Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. Fans might argue that the events of the last week or so have cratered any expectation that a player like that could end up on the South Side. But Hahn has pledged continued aggressiveness in free-agent periods to come. Certainly, for those looking for an opportunity to add one of the best players in the game, that would qualify as an opportunity.
The same can be said of unpredictable trade possibilities. The White Sox deep farm system will allow them, one day, to deal prospects away in exchange for top talent. There's no way of projecting who that top talent might be right now, but that also counts as an opportunity to add someone big.
But let's just focus on next offseason, for now, and some of the best players slated to hit that free-agent market. Will all these guys be available? Maybe. Maybe not. Big contracts to stay with a player's current team, like the one Arenado got, might become a popular trend considering how excruciating free agency has been the last couple offseasons. But you could also make the argument that even Arenado might have gotten more on the open market than what he got from the Rockies. It's a gamble either way.
So for the White Sox, after a season of Eloy Jimenez and the expected major league arrival of Dylan Cease, the White Sox contention window will be a lot closer to opening. Perhaps one of these All-Star types could be the cherry on top that swings that window wide open.
How good is he? Really, really good. Cole had arguably the best season of his six-year major league career last season, finishing with a 2.88 ERA and a career-best 276 strikeouts in 200.1 innings of work. He's only 28 years old and once again in 2019 figures to be one of the best players on one of the best teams in baseball, the Houston Astros.
How well does he fit with the White Sox? Very, very well. You could say that for just about any team in baseball, of course. But the younger, the better for a White Sox team that's planning to set itself up for roughly a decade of perennial contention once all the prospects arrive. The White Sox starting-pitching depth, which once looked to be the strength of the organization, has taken some blows since this time last year. Lucas Giolito, Carlos Rodon and Reynaldo Lopez all had their ups and downs in 2018. Michael Kopech is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Dane Dunning is dealing with more arm issues. Alec Hansen is coming off a woeful 2018 and has been all but swept out of the rotation of the future by fans and observers. And so, perhaps, starting pitching is where the White Sox might look when it comes to adding a "premium talent." We've been focused on the best position players in the game. But a pitcher might be able to make as big a difference. Cole would be among the best pitching additions a team could make, and a contract like the one Patrick Corbin got this winter wouldn't be surprising.
How good is he? Yeah, you guys know the answer to this one. Sale is one of the best pitchers in White Sox history, and he's continuing to prove he might be one of the best pitchers in baseball history, period, with what he's doing for the Boston Red Sox. Sale has finished in the top six in Cy Young voting in each of the last seven seasons. He's baseball's all-time leader in K/9 (10.9) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.31). Since leaving the South Side for Beantown, he's posted a 2.56 ERA and struck out 545 batters in 372.1 innings. Quite simply, he's one of the two or three best pitchers in the game at 29 years old.
How well does he fit with the White Sox? Interesting question. From a baseball standpoint, he fits fantastically, for obvious reasons. He's one of the best pitchers in baseball, and adding him to any rotation would make that team significantly better. The White Sox know him, and he had tons of success on the South Side. But would he want to come back? This is the guy who beefed with the team enough to go on a shocking jersey-cutting spree, and he wasn't too happy about the outcome of the Drake LaRoche situation, either. Combine Sale's history with team brass and the fact that he's going to be expected to get one of the biggest pitching contracts ever, and it might not be in the cards for the White Sox. Sale is also being discussed as someone who could sign a new deal with his current team before even hitting free agency, as Arenado did.
How good is he? He's very good. He's not at that Machado/Arenado/Harper level of stardom, but he's a 26-year-old shortstop coming off a career season: a .288/.360/.522 slash line with 23 home runs, 103 RBIs and 45 doubles. The Red Sox are different from some other recent champions in that they've spent the money to supplement their homegrown players with numerous outside additions, but Bogaerts is one of the most important members of their homegrown core.
How well does he fit with the White Sox? That would seem to depend on what kind of season Tim Anderson has in 2019. It's not exactly a "make or break" year for Anderson, whose defensive improvement at shortstop was one of the brightest spots of last year's 100-loss season. But there's no doubt that questions still exist about what kind of hitter he can be over the long-term future on the South Side. Anderson slashed .240/.281/.406 in 2018. There were good numbers, too, like his 20 home runs and 26 stolen bases, and he will be given every opportunity to develop and improve on those numbers. Anderson also showed the kind of fire you want to see during the team's pursuit of Machado this winter, telling Our Chuck Garfien: "I would love to play with him, but shortstop is mine." The White Sox have full confidence in Anderson, and that alone might prevent them from pursuing a shortstop like Bogaerts. But if Bogaerts is coming off another big year and Anderson's offense doesn't improve enough to take away the questions, would they consider such an opportunity?
How good is he? Rendon is very good and deserves to be looked at as more than just a consolation prize now that Arenado won't be hitting the open market. Perhaps overshadowed because he played on the same team as Harper and Juan Soto and because that team disappointed (again) and missed the playoffs, Rendon was actually excellent in 2018. He finished with a .308/.374/.535 slash line, 24 homers, 92 RBIs and an NL-leading 44 doubles. In the last two seasons, he's slashed .305/.389/.534 with 49 homers and 192 RBIs. Those are some pretty terrific numbers for the 28-year-old - and he doesn't have Arenado's ugly road splits dragging him down, either.
How well does he fit with the White Sox? Like the discussion we just had about Bogaerts, Anderson and the shortstop position, the White Sox do suddenly have a third baseman of the future in Yoan Moncada, who has been moved from second base this spring. The White Sox believe Moncada will be better served in numerous facets of his game by the move to third, and if that's what happens during the 2019 season, maybe the need to add a third baseman goes out the window. The reason Machado and Arenado looked like such perfect fits was because of the lack of a slam-dunk long-term answer at the hot corner. Jake Burger suffered a pair of Achilles tears last year, throwing the long-term status of that position into question. Moncada can't claim to be a slam-dunk long-term solution just yet, but the White Sox are still so confident in his ceiling that they want a place for him long term. And with Nick Madrigal moving through the system at second base, third base is the logical spot. But Rendon is a mighty good player, and the opportunity to add him as an established third baseman might be hard to pass up, especially if Moncada has another year - offensively, defensively or both - like he did in 2018.
How good is he? Well, last year, he was one of the best hitters in baseball. So good, in fact, that he won two Silver Sluggers (because he logged 57 games in the Red Sox outfield in addition to the 93 he played as their DH). He posted career highs with a .330 batting average and a .402 on-base percentage and eclipsed the 40-homer mark for the second straight season. While he's emerged as a star pretty much in the last two years, thanks to his home-run barrage with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2017 (29 homers in 62 games following a midseason trade from the Detroit Tigers), Martinez has a better track record than you might think. In the past five seasons, he's slashed .307/.371/.586 with an average of more than 34 homers a year - and that's with playing only around 120 games in three of those five seasons. He's 31 years old right now and with another big campaign in 2019 will likely exercise the opt-out clause in his deal with the Red Sox.
How well does he fit with the White Sox? He fits well, but with some caveats. Martinez is older than the two position players discussed to this point, meaning he doesn't align quite as well with the Eloy Jimenezes and Michael Kopechs and Luis Roberts as some other players might. But being 32 come Opening Day 2020 doesn't kill his chances at being a part of a contending White Sox team over the next few years. Heck, we've had that same debate about Jose Abreu, and he's a year older. The bigger question mark when it comes to Martinez's fit is perhaps Abreu himself. If the White Sox elect to keep Abreu around past 2019 and envision him spending a lot of time at DH, what position does that leave for Martinez? If Jimenez and Robert and someone like Micker Adolfo or Luis Basabe speak for the three outfield positions, that leaves even fewer options on where to put him. But, again, 40-plus homers is a nice argument in favor of moving some things around.
How good is he? Six straight All-Star appearances. Four top-six MVP finishes in the last six seasons. Three Gold Gloves. Four Silver Sluggers. Yeah, Goldschmidt's really, really good. He's swung one of the National League's best bats over the last half decade, a guy with a .947 OPS over the past six seasons. He's launched 181 homers in that span, too. He's 31 years old right now and a new member of the St. Louis Cardinals.
How well does he fit with the White Sox? Better than Martinez. So Goldschmidt is also being discussed as a candidate to sign a long-term deal with his current team - you'd have to imagine the Cards would be begging for that after trading for him with just one year left on his contract - meaning the White Sox (and 28 other teams) might not even get a crack at him. But he fits in a little better than Martinez, even though Martinez plays more positions. The White Sox outfield figures to be crowded for a long time, currently the area with the most depth in the farm system. Meanwhile, even if the White Sox bring back Abreu, they could be doing so with an eye on using him mostly as a DH as his age continues to increase. Goldschmidt, a Gold Glove first baseman, could fill Abreu's vacated everyday first base job. That might be reserved in case Zack Collins' defense leaves too much to be desired at catcher. But Goldschmidt would be a perfect fit there and in the middle of the White Sox batting order.
How good is he? He just turned 36, but that hasn't stopped him from remaining one of the game's elite pitchers. Verlander is a lock to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and that case has only grown stronger since being traded to the Houston Astros, with whom he's posted a 2.32 ERA with 333 strikeouts in 248 innings. That includes a 2.52 ERA and an AL-leading 290 strikeouts in 214 innings last season, good enough to place him second in AL Cy Young voting and 10th in AL MVP voting. White Sox fans watched him terrorize their team for years as a Detroit Tiger. Well, he'll be available next winter.
How well does he fit with the White Sox? Depending on how well the team's young starting pitchers perform this season, a veteran starter could be the perfect kind of addition for a team ready to vault into contention mode. Just like Jon Lester did for the Cubs, Verlander (or another similar player, more on that in a second) could be the accomplished leader with a winning background this team and this rotation needs. In that regard, someone like Verlander could make even more sense than someone like Cole if - and it's a big if - there's an already solid rotation around him. If Kopech and Cease are seen to be future ace types. If Rodon and Giolito and Lopez answer some of the outstanding question surrounding them in a positive fashion. Of course, Lester wasn't 36 when he signed with the Cubs, he was 30. Verlander's already played that role for the Astros. Does he have another rebuild to turn into a winner in him?
How good is he? Bumgarner might be the best postseason pitcher in baseball history. Seriously. He's won three World Series rings with the San Francisco Giants and has a spectacular 2.11 career ERA in 102.1 postseason innings. Shockingly, because it seems like he's been around forever, Bumgarner isn't even 30 years old yet. There's been a lot of mileage on his arm, though, and he's battled injuries the last two seasons, making just 38 starts since his Giants were eliminated from the playoffs by the Cubs in 2016. This year will be a big one to prove that his best days - a combined 2.86 ERA and 903 strikeouts between 2013 and 2016 - aren't behind him.
How well does he fit with the White Sox? Ding ding ding. We have a winner. Well, in this writer's opinion, at least. If Bumgarner can prove himself Bumgarner again in 2019, there might not be a better fit on this list to help push the White Sox from rebuilding mode into contending mode. This is the Lester/Verlander model exactly. Bumgarner is a proven winner to the point where it's hard to think of an active player that's a more proven winner than him. He's not old and could be inked to a long-term deal. He could help make the question marks in the starting rotation of the future less of a concern. And he's got the status where if he were to buy into what Hahn and his front office are doing, he could make the White Sox a more attractive destination for other players down the road. Bumgarner has work to do after two injury-filled seasons to show he'd be worth the investment. But if he does that, he could be the exact kind of player a transitioning team like the White Sox could use and right at the right time.
How good is he? Donaldson is very good, or at least he was. Like Bumgarner, he's got work to do to show that injuries haven't decreased the kind of dominant player he's been when healthy. During a crazy four-year stretch with the Oakland Athletics and Toronto Blue Jays, he slashed .284/.375/.518 with 131 home runs and 413 RBIs. He finished in the top 10 in AL MVP voting during each season, the top four during three of them and won the award in 2015. Since, things have not gone as well. He was limited to 113 games in 2017 and only 52 last season, split between the Jays and the Cleveland Indians. At 33, he's got a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves (the richest one-year deal ever, to be precise) and will spend a year with a contender trying to show why he deserves a bigger, multi-year deal next offseason.
How well does he fit with the White Sox? Many of the same things talked about with Rendon apply here, but with the fact that Donaldson is four years older. The health concerns are more important because of his age, and you wonder when the getting-older factor catches up to his production, if it hasn't already. He doesn't line up with all the young players nearly as well. A third baseman who will be 34 on Opening Day 2020 is worth how much to a team still transitioning out of a rebuild? It's not to say he couldn't be of use, though, especially if the team makes big strides in 2019, with Jimenez and Cease doing more to turn the White Sox into a contender than any free-agent addition could. In that case, a Donaldson deal on the South Side could be as useful as the Donaldson deal down in Atlanta this season.
How good is he? Grandal is good, especially as catchers go, and it's more than a little surprising that the 30-year-old ended up taking a one-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers instead of inking a multi-year contract this offseason. Grandal doesn't have a high batting average (a career .240 hitter) but his on-base percentage is a solid .341 in his career and he's launched 73 homers over the last three years. Despite some defensive issues during the postseason, Grandal has a reputation as a pretty good defender.
How well does he fit with the White Sox? Grandal's age and production at a position that might eventually need an upgrade would seem to make him a great fit. But he reportedly turned down a multi-year offer from the White Sox this offseason. If that's the case, the two might not have a future together, considering Grandal apparently preferred one year in Milwaukee to multiple years on the South Side. The question mark here is Collins and whether his defense is good enough to allow him to be an everyday catcher in the major leagues. If it is, the White Sox have their catcher of the future. If it isn't, and his valuable bat sends him to a different position, then the White Sox might feel the need to go shopping for a backstop.
How good is he? Well, if you're just going off what he did to the White Sox last season, then he's the second coming of Babe Ruth. In 19 games, he slashed .363/.414/.625 with five homers, six doubles and 20 RBIs. Mercy. His numbers were very good on the whole, too, in 2018, and he finished with a .298/.354/.500 slash line in a career year. He's about to turn 27, and though his defense leaves plenty to be desired, he swings a hell of a bat.
How well does he fit with the White Sox? Well, we know he likes hitting at Guaranteed Rate Field. Castellanos' age lines up pretty perfectly with the rest of these young guys, and he brings some good on-base skills that would be a benefit to this lineup. He might soon be relegated to DH, which could be complicated depending on what the White Sox do with Abreu, and his other spot in the outfield could clash with all those prospects on the way. Still, that's an interesting name to keep in mind.
How good is he? It looked like the Cardinals were getting away with robbery when they got Ozuna at one of the Miami Marlins' upsettingly regular fire sales. But Ozuna's numbers nosedived a bit in his first season in St. Louis. It's not to say he wouldn't be worth a look next offseason, but going from an All-Star appearance, a top-15 NL MVP finish, a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger thanks to a .312/.376/.548 slash line with 37 homers and 124 RBIs in 2017 to none of that and a .280/.325/.433 slash line with 23 homers and 88 RBIs in 2018 was not great. He'll need a bounce-back season in 2019 to be in the conversation with the rest of the aforementioned guys for next winter.
How well does he fit with the White Sox? Ozuna is only 28, which is a point in his favor when it comes to his fit with a bunch of youngsters looking to be part of a perennial contender. But he plays outfield, and as we've discussed, that might be a tough group to crack as the White Sox rebuild advances. Jimenez and Robert figure to have spots locked down, and Adolfo, Basabe, Blake Rutherford, Luis Gonzalez and others are right there behind them. Ozuna is good, but is he good enough that he should demand a hefty contract and take away a spot from one of these guys?
And the rest
Those were 12 names. There are obviously more than a dozen players scheduled to hit the market next offseason. Here are some of the others, guys who might be second-tier additions to a roster but ones who could strengthen a roster nonetheless.
Didi Gregorius. He might have been good enough to keep the New York Yankees out of the Machado sweepstakes this offseason, and he's been mentioned as a possible candidate to sign a deal with his current team before reaching free agency. He's a very good shortstop who hit 27 home runs last season for a 100-win team. He's recovering from Tommy John right now, but he should be back this summer. As mentioned with Bogaerts, Anderson's 2019 season will go a long way in determining whether the White Sox need to be looking at shortstops next offseason.
Rick Porcello. The 30-year-old Porcello might not be the rebuild-boosting addition someone like Cole or Bumgarner could be, but he's only three years removed from winning the AL Cy Young in 2016. That being said, his ERA hasn't been below 4.25 since. But depending on what that 2020 rotation looks like after the results are in from 2019, an addition to the rotation might be an attractive option.
Yasiel Puig. One of the newest Cincinnati Reds is only 27 years old, but he's got some red flags in his game. Since combining to hit .305 with a .386 on-base percentage in his first two big league seasons, he put up a .263 average and a .331 on-base percentage in the four years that followed, a stretch during which he averaged only 115 games played per season. The power numbers have gone up, with 51 homers over the last two years, and the energy he brings makes for a fun watch. But he also plays outfield, a spot that figures to be a traffic jam for the White Sox in the coming years.
Khris Davis. If Hahn and his front office are looking to add pop to the lineup a year from now, there would be few more ideal options than Davis, who led baseball with 48 dingers in 2018. He's mashed 133 home runs in the last three seasons while playing in a football stadium. Of course, he's batted just .247 the last three seasons (an identical .247 in each of the past three seasons, to be exact). He's a DH/outfielder, so the positional fit that went with Martinez applies here. David, like Martinez, is also 31 years old.
Dellin Betances. He's been one of the best relievers in baseball since he regularly started pitching with the Yankees, the owner of a 2.36 ERA and the whiffer of 619 batters in his career. He's a four-time All Star (though he wasn't one last year, even though he finished with a 2.70 ERA) and would be a heck of an addition to whatever bullpen he joins. Think of teaming him with Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera. Betances turns 31 next month but would make perfect sense if the White Sox are ready to start winning in 2020.