It’s been a busy winter for Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, but after a flurry of moves, it may be time for him to rest a bit.
“I think for the most part, the heavy lifting for the offseason is done,” Hahn said Monday on “Chicago Tonight.”
The team has been rebuilding in earnest since late 2016 when the Sox traded pitcher Chris Sale for a number of prospects including current Sox star Yoan Moncada and potential future star Michael Kopech, among others. Many of the players the team is expecting will lead them into the new decade spent much of the past few years in the minor leagues.
Perhaps the most hyped piece of the Sox puzzle is rookie center fielder Luis Robert. The 22-year-old Cuban signed with the Sox in 2017, a deal that included a $26 million signing bonus. Earlier this month, after fewer than two full seasons in the minor leagues, Robert signed a six-year, $50 million contract with the team, which includes options for two more years, which could bring the total value to $88 million.
That may seem like a lot of money for an unproven talent, but Hahn calls it a calculated risk.
“Obviously we think the world of Luis, who’s one of the most highly regarded prospects in baseball and one of the most highly regarded prospects we’ve seen around here in a long time,” said Hahn. At three levels in the minors in 2019, Robert had a .328 batting average with a .376 on base percentage and a slugging percentage of .624. The potential is certainly there.
As for expectations in 2020, when Robert is expected to be the starting center fielder on the South Side?
“For a 22 year old kid … the sky’s the limit, but I think we have to be reasonable and realize it’s going to be a little bit of an acclimation process,” Hahn said.
The South Siders haven’t had a winning record since 2012. Now, with much of that young talent seemingly ready to blossom in the major leagues, the organization seems ready to try and get the team to the next level. In its first big offseason move, the Sox signed catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million contract in November. While the team already has All-Star catcher James McCann on the roster, Hahn thought Grandal was too good to pass up.
“We saw a chance with Yaz to get a premium, premium performer at a premium position. The switch-hitting catcher who can beat you with his bat as well as with his ability to help the defense and help our young pitchers,” he said.
Other pieces started falling in place as well. The team wanted a new right fielder; in comes 24-year-old Nomar Mazara, a highly touted prospect in the Texas Rangers system who already has four years of major league experience. He’s been seen as somewhat of a disappointment in Texas, but the Sox hope a change of scenery will help Mazara fulfill his potential.
Another priority: pitching. The Sox signed free agent Dallas Keuchel, a former Cy Young Award winner with postseason experience. Also joining the pitching staff is Gio Gonzalez, the kind of veteran the Sox expect to provide a solid arm as the young pitchers find their footing. Those youngsters include 2019 All-Star Lucas Giolito, who had a break-out season last year and Kopech, the hard-throwing 23-year-old right hander who is coming off elbow surgery (known as Tommy John surgery), and is expected to join the team sometime this season.
“He (Kopech) is coming to spring training like any other pitcher to compete,” said Hahn. “We’re looking forward to seeing him in camp and we’re going to come up with a plan shortly thereafter about when he will be back in the big leagues, but we expect he’s gonna spend the bulk if not all the season there.”
Another addition to the offense is 37-year-old designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion. One of the most feared sluggers in the game, Encarnacion has hit 30-plus home runs for eight straight seasons. He’ll complement a lineup that boasts future MVP candidate Moncada and reigning AL RBI leader and team stalwart Jose Abreu. Add 2019 American League batting champion, shortstop Tim Anderson, emerging star Eloy Jimenez and perhaps another prized prospect, second baseman Nick Madrigal, and the Sox may be putting together the makings of a contender.
So three years into the rebuild, what should fans expectations be on the field? Hahn says the team is still in the “middle stage” of the plan.
“How long this middle stage takes, we’re all gonna find out together. It could come quickly, it could happen over the course of the summer,” Hahn said Monday. “What we’re looking for from the front office is signs that this young core continues to takes steps forward, continues to grow, and that we are finally in a position to win on an annual basis.”