I’m fine with the offseason not being a paint by numbers affair–Machado and Harper are themselves somewhat responsible for that. At least this move doesn’t require a visit to ancestry.com to figure out nor is it an obvious step backwards.
And in the same day, the White Sox acquired another player whose connection to Manny Machado overshadows his own track record. Yonder Alonso fielded more questions about his brother-in-law than himself during his introductory conference call, and I imagine one for Jon Jay would center more on his good friend and training partner.
James Fegan gave the Jay signing a little more credulity on its baseball merits than I did to cover the bases — the White Sox have an outfield problem and a strikeout problem, and Jay helps both for a minimal commitment. But some of that benefit of the doubt comes because we’ve never seen such blatant recruiting tactics before. Without any successes or failures to point to, it keeps Rick Hahn’s party line from completely floating away. I’m guessing what he said about Alonso also applies to Jay:
“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.
But there are some loose elements from other roster decisions that could apply to Alonso and Jay. We’ve seen some NBAfication of MLB rosters when it comes to swapping expiring contracts, so it’s fair to think an NBA-style buddy system might be next. We’ve also seen the White Sox set up a similar trust network with Cuban players, from signing Orlando Hernandez after trading for Jose Contreras to touting Jose Abreu as a mentor for Yoan Moncada. The culture shock experienced by defecting Cubans requires more attention than an American moving from Baltimore to Los Angeles to Chicago. All I’m saying is there’s evidence of the Sox prioritizing relationships and intangibles before.
If the White Sox acquired Jay without Alonso in the picture, it’d be easier to take them at their word. He’s not exciting, but they’re paying him appropriately to offer skills that are in short supply. It passes the smell test more easily than the Alonso trade, which walled off DH at-bats for $8 million while doing a divisional rival a solid.
In the unlikely event that these are baseball-only moves, the White Sox have already lost the battle between perception and reality, and they probably took that into account before signing the papers. They’re left to acknowledge that both moves improve the 25-man roster — even under the most cynical assessment — and then hope that their projections translate into performance.
The cynicism is a bigger concern if the Sox don’t land Machado. Imagine throwing a massive birthday party for somebody who made other plans. Then imagine that party lasting eight months. White Sox fans need little inspiration to smash the self-loathing button, and this would surely do it for them.
To me, it’ll come down to whether these acquisitions are truly part of a best effort to land Machado, or whether they’re a way to cut a corner on Machado’s offer. If “free agent had free will” is the only item on the failure report, then sure, it does reflect poorly on the White Sox’ reputation, but it also shows a willingness to repair one of the chief underlying flaws. The fear of rejection isn’t an argument for inaction or a lack of conviction.
Should the White Sox fall well short of the winning offer for Machado’s services, it’s a whole ‘nother story. Besides the inherent awkwardness from getting stood up, Alonso and Jay will then be walking symbols of the White Sox’ unwillingness to commit. Successful or not, a best offer for Machado ultimately keeps everybody’s dignity intact, even if it doesn’t feel like it.