Why future-focused White Sox decision on Luis Robert should come as no surprise

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It should be no surprise that Luis Robert is not getting a September call-up.

After all, these are the rebuilding White Sox, whose general manager has told us over and over again that his sights are squarely on the long-term success of the organization.

The folks involved with this team on a daily basis — be they fans or players or even the very front-office staff who made this decision — are understandably biased. They have seen the fortunes of this team over the past five months and know that those fortunes would be improved with the addition of a five-tool threat like Robert, the organization’s top-ranked prospect and a guy who was perhaps the best hitter in the minor leagues this season.

But how many times does Rick Hahn have to say that he’s not going to make moves to simply better the team in the short term? Or that his focus is making the White Sox a perennial contender for years to come?

I know what the counter argument is to that, so I’ll lay it out. The White Sox, thanks to a 2019 season that while heading for another sub-.500 finish has been chock full of positive signs, could have the ingredients to make the transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode in 2020. And if 2020 is a year where the White Sox plan to be a contender — a very real possibility, depending on exactly how the offseason plays out — why not give yourself the best chance to contend? And that means allowing Robert to reap the benefits that even a few weeks of major league exposure could provide, be it against some of the game’s best pitchers or just being among his big league teammates, figuring out where things are at Guaranteed Rate Field and the like.

After seeing how long it took Yoan Moncada to find his footing, after seeing Eloy Jimenez struggle — albeit it with plenty of flashes of his potential — during his rookie season, it makes sense that Robert would need an adjustment period of some kind, as well. Why not start that early and give him a head start on figuring things out so he’s not experiencing the same kinds of struggles once the games start meaning a lot more?

It’s a good argument.

But remember where the eyes of Hahn and the organization are focused: the long term.

So there’s a better argument to be made.

As anyone who followed this same drama in regards to Jimenez last year knows, service time is a thing. For the uninitiated, if the White Sox would have promoted Robert at the end of this season, he would have accrued a full year of big league service time by the end of next season. By delaying his promotion a few weeks into next season, he will not be able to accrue a full year of major league service time in 2020. That means his arbitration years start later, and the White Sox would have an additional year of team control on a guy who’s expected to be a phenomenal baseball player and a very important member of contending rosters.

And that sounds pretty good.

Now, it's important to note that the White Sox would never say that’s why they’re making the decisions they’re making.

It might not be fair to the players, but they aren’t breaking any rules by taking advantage of this, nor are they alone in the practice. Remember how the Cubs handled Kris Bryant? That worked out all right for them.

Anyone who is surprised that Robert wasn’t promoted has a short memory, as this is exactly what the White Sox did last season with Jimenez, when he was one of the highest rated prospects in baseball and coming off a dominant year swinging the bat in the minor leagues. Again, Hahn never mentioned service time as a factor in the team's decision with Jimenez. And eventually, the service-time thing was swept away completely when Jimenez signed his multi-year contract before the start of the 2019 season, but if he hadn’t done that, it’s likely we would have seen him begin this season at Triple-A Charlotte.

Robert might wind up with that fate. Though it’s purely speculation, he wouldn’t seem to have the same kind of incentive to sign the same kind of contract Jimenez did, considering the many millions he received when the White Sox signed him as an international free agent. But the team has a good track record of extending their own players, so who knows.

Still, it would be no shock to see Robert spend the first few weeks of the 2020 season in the minor leagues, which will likely spark another round of fan furor.

And if you’re one of the ones experiencing that emotion come March, that’s fine. You can be irritated. Just don’t be surprised.

Hahn is trying to build a team that will contend many years into the future. Keeping Robert in a White Sox uniform for as many of those years as possible would seem to go a long way toward accomplishing such a goal.

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