The White Sox sure seem willing to spend on a premium free agent this winter. But here's another ingredient to throw into the discussion.
Several of the biggest free agents on this winter's market officially became free agents Monday when they declined a qualifying offer from their now-former teams. None of that was terribly unexpected - except, perhaps, for Hyun-Jin Ryu accepting his and sticking with the Los Angeles Dodgers - and now Bryce Harper, Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, A.J. Pollock and Yasmani Grandal are all free to sign anywhere they'd like and most likely for very big paydays.
White Sox fans are hoping the South Siders are in on some of those big names. They reportedly are interested in Harper, who's expected to receive one of the biggest contracts in baseball history, and they have a couple holes in their starting rotation, making Corbin and Keuchel options, albeit expensive ones.
But because those players declined qualifying offers, if the White Sox were to sign them they would have to forfeit a pick in next year's draft, as well as some international signing money.
Now it's a very reasonable thought to say, "If you sign someone like Harper or Corbin or Keuchel, who cares about losing a draft pick and international signing money?" The White Sox would be adding a great player, likely for many years. And it's also important to note that rule changes mean the draft pick is no longer a team's highest anymore. So even if the White Sox sign Harper or Corbin or Keuchel, they'd still own the No. 3 pick in next year's draft.
MLB.com's Mark Feinsand goes into great detail about which teams would lose what if they were to sign one of these guys, and best I can tell (these are baseball rules, so they're complicated) the White Sox would lose their second-highest pick in the 2019 draft and $500,000 of their international bonus pool. Let's say the White Sox really broke the bank and signed two of those players, then they'd additionally lose their third-highest pick and another $500,000 of their international bonus pool.
Circling back to the "who cares?" question, the White Sox are still rebuilding. And while adding one or two players of this caliber would certainly be worth it in both the short and long term, those would obviously be huge financial commitments. The rebuilding process has afforded the White Sox financial flexibility at this moment, allowing them to be in the discussion about Harper and others, but handing out one of the biggest contracts of all time would figure to make them significantly less flexible. The ability to add young, affordable, high-end talent to the minor league system would be important in such a situation, and it would go a long way toward keeping that contention window open longer.
For an insight into how important those picks and international signing money can be, look what the White Sox have done in building their loaded farm system. Of the organization's top 12 prospects, half were acquired via the draft or international signings: No. 4 Luis Robert, No. 5 Nick Madrigal, No. 8 Zack Collins, No. 10 Alec Hansen, No. 11 Micker Adolfo and No. 12 Steele Walker. Go further down the list, and that percentage gets bigger, with every prospect Nos. 13 through 18 acquired with draft picks: No. 13 Jake Burger, No. 14 Luis Gonzalez, No. 15 Gavin Sheets, No. 16 Ian Hamilton, No. 17 Zack Burdi and No. 18 Konnor Pilkington.
This is a case where the pros outweigh the cons - you'd add an All-Star caliber player to your major league roster for years to come - but that doesn't mean there's no downside. And for a team always thinking about the long term, this could be a significant one.