Everybody’s waiting for the White Sox to make The Big Move. Naturally, when the White Sox make a small move, the inclination is to frame it as a precursor to something more thrilling.
The Sox made such an exercise easy when they traded for Yonder Alonso on Friday night. Alonso is Manny Machado’s brother-in-law, and everybody connected those dots:
And that left Rick Hahn attempting to shoot it down today on a conference call with reporters:
“Fundamentally this is a baseball deal,” Hahn said. “We feel this makes us better. We like how Yonder fits in between the lines and in the clubhouse and helps further what we’re trying to accomplish in 2019 and beyond. The potential ancillary benefits to it in terms of his relationships with others really can’t be part of pulling the trigger in making the decision to acquire a big league player, especially a veteran one with this type of contract commitment.”
I’m guessing Hahn is being forthright here, and that the White Sox did acquire Alonso for baseball reasons, both on the field and in the clubhouse. (Again, I cannot wait for leadership to take a back burner when it comes to additions. Can’t. Wait.)
However, there are a couple problems when trying to parse these quotes.
Let’s pretend the White Sox actually did acquire Alonso for the primary purpose of adding an unique angle to the pursuit of Manny Machado. It’d come off as exceptionally low-rent to say, “Other teams may be closer to contending and offer equal money for better chances, but his wife won’t have to watch two teams!”
But even if you can set that aside and truly make it all about baseball, the White Sox went out of their way to cordon off the DH position to an unremarkable bat who can only play first base, and for a non-negligible $9 million commitment. If that doesn’t remind you of Adam LaRoche, it’s probably because it reminds you of Adam Dunn.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve learned to cringe when the White Sox pick up somebody who had more homers than doubles the year before. It’s one thing when Dunn did it, because he averaged 40 homers from 2004-10. It’s less impressive when the homer total starts with a “2.” That caught my eye when the Sox signed LaRoche, and Alonso’s in the same situation:
- LaRoche, 2014: 26 homers, 19 doubles over 586 PA
- Alonso, 2018: 23 homers, 19 doubles over 574 PA
Basically, it seems unsound to save the DH job for a guy who has never topped 50 extra-base hits in a season, especially when it helps out a division rival’s payroll in the process.
Assuming the White Sox indeed have no desire to trade Abreu, then it basically forces Daniel Palka to try to make an outfielder of himself. Alonso is the better hitter of the two, but I doubt he’s $9-million-plus-watching-Palka-play-outfield-to-get-some-value-out-of-him better.
If the White Sox somehow land Machado or Bryce Harper, then perhaps you can point to this trade, the James McCann signing and the trades for Ivan Nova and Alex Colome as the White Sox giving their roster more credible names during negotiations. It’s “all’s well that ends well” with any scenario that results in the Sox acquiring a legit star.
But after weeks of the White Sox saying all the right things and generating all the right reports, here’s Buster Olney to throw some cold water on the hot stove:
The White Sox really like Harper as a player. They also really like Machado, a player they attempted to trade for before the 2018 season in the hope that a year with the team would help convince him to re-sign with them.
But a well-placed source says the franchise’s interest does not go so far that the team would sign either player to a record-setting contract, which is probably what will be required to land them. The interest of the White Sox is more measured and modest than frenzied, and within more conventional financial bounds.
This is a single report that runs counter to the rest of the narrative to date, which means it could be the start of the White Sox trying to establish upper bounds to their pursuit. A standard negotiation probably starts with an offer below Giancarlo Stanton’s record $325 million sum, and maybe that’s what this is.
But it harshes a mellow just the same. The Luis Robert pursuit — the closest thing to a predecessor when it comes to the White Sox breaking new financial ground — didn’t feature this kind of brake-pumping. I wouldn’t expect the timelines to match up perfectly, but there was some comfort in the White Sox taking the straightest possible lines to the signing, and now the paths have diverged.
It also generates a very natural question that’s very difficult to answer: What can the White Sox offer if they’re not offering the most money?
I’ll hang up and wait for your answer.
All in all, this has been a discouraging 24 hours for the offseason. Heading into Friday, the White Sox payroll increased nearly $17 million on Ivan Nova and Alex Colome. Both players aren’t thrilling, but at least they’re clear upgrades to their respective units at modest acquisition costs.
Now they’ve spent more than $10 million on guys who bring low ceilings to spots that could’ve been used for more dramatic upgrades or roster flexibility, and now everybody’s style is starting to cramp.
I wouldn’t expect the White Sox to pull off a transformational winter without the emotional wringer getting involved, so I’m trying to check for overreactions. Alonso could simply be the cost of doing business with bigger fish.
That said, if the White Sox pull up short on the major targets while acquiring a first baseman for a DH and a backup catcher who is subpar at most things and using “leadership” to paper over the deficiencies, then you’re left with the same front office making the exact same decisions and hoping this young, cost-controlled core is better at heavy lifting.