White Sox fans' attention seems squarely focused on Manny Machado as they wait for baseball's free-agent freeze to break. But it's important to remember they're still in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes, too.
Who knows to what extent, as there's been no report of an offer like there has been with their pursuit of Machado. But the White Sox reportedly twice met with Harper in Las Vegas in the final months of 2018: once in November, with Hall of Famer Jim Thome reportedly present, and once in December, when baseball descended on Harper's hometown of Las Vegas for the Winter Meetings.
The White Sox seemingly face little competition in their pursuit of Machado, with only the Philadelphia Phillies a consistent presence and the San Diego Padres a more recently interested party. But the chase for Harper seems to be heating up, if not in how soon a decision might come down, at least in the number of teams involved.
According to multiple reports, the San Francisco Giants recently met with Harper. This after the Padres reportedly met with the biggest name on the free-agent market. The Phillies have been chasing Harper all winter and have been described throughout as the most likely landing spot. The Washington Nationals, Harper's team for the last seven seasons, reportedly made an early offer that got rejected, only to reportedly follow that up with a lengthy meeting and at least one more offer later in the offseason.
That brings the total to five suitors, with those always-present "mystery teams" lingering about, as well.
Again, it's been all quiet on the Harper front for the White Sox in recent weeks (months, even), and all the attention has been on Machado's decision. But that doesn't mean they're out of the running, with general manager Rick Hahn lumping the two 26-year-old superstars together when discussing the team's pursuit of "premium talent" during SoxFest last month.
The White Sox have confidence in their future-focused pitch, one that presents Harper or Machado - the idea of them signing both guys was dismissed during SoxFest - as the centerpiece of the final phase of the rebuild, with the organization's immense amount of minor league talent arriving in the majors and growing up around them to form a perennial contender. Throw in the ability and seeming willingness to make a big-money contract offer, and the White Sox seem to be an intriguing destination.
Of course, other teams can pitch similar things. The Padres have an even higher-ranked farm system and an equally bright future, not to mention the draw of playing in the city with the best weather in the country. The Phillies have vowed to "maybe be a little stupid" with their offseason spending and figure to be talking huge sums with both free agents, though no details of any offers out of Philly have been reported. Harper and agent Scott Boras know the Nationals well, but they've already reportedly rejected a contract offer.
The Giants? The newcomers to the Harper conversation could certainly use an outfielder and a new franchise centerpiece as a new regime takes over by the Bay. The Giants have lost a combined 187 games over the last two seasons, including finishing 40 games out of first place in 2017, so they're not in a real position to pitch instant championship contention. They have just two prospects ranked in the top 100 by MLB Pipeline, as opposed to the six the White Sox have and the 10 the Padres claim. But the Giants have rarely been shy about spending on free agents or making trades to bring in big names. In the always-competitive NL West, there's nothing saying that a Harper-led team couldn't be back in contention soon.
The longer this process goes on, the easier it would be for new teams to find themselves in contention for Harper's (or Machado's) services than they perhaps ever imagined at the outset of the offseason.
But there's still no decision. And still the White Sox wait.