Why Sox haven't gone to top of free-agent market this winter


When the White Sox offseason needs were outlined at the start of the winter — general manager Rick Hahn said his team required improvements in the starting rotation, in right field and at designated hitter — fans went running to the free-agent rankings.

The White Sox needed a starting pitcher? Sign NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer. A right fielder? Bring on former World Series MVP George Springer. A DH? Stealing perennial thumper Nelson Cruz away from the Minnesota Twins would kill two birds with one stone.

What about Michael Brantley or Marcell Ozuna? What about adding the winter's top free-agent closer, Liam Hendriks?

RELATED: Sox welcome Eaton's edge, not concerned with clubhouse fit

Well, the White Sox addressed their two biggest needs this week, swinging a trade for Lance Lynn and bringing back Adam Eaton on a one-year free-agent deal.

In terms of 2021 salaries, it cost them all of $15 million.

For a team with World Series aspirations, that's not exactly a spending spree, and the White Sox should know. They're one offseason removed from a spending spree. Last winter, they signed Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, José Abreu, Yoán Moncada, Luis Robert and Aaron Bummer to multi-year contracts.

But championship expectations bring their own set of offseason expectations, too, and fans want to see their team land the best players each and every year. That the White Sox have not dumped a Scrooge McDuck-esque ocean of gold coins on anyone yet this winter has some fans irked.

Eaton might fill the need in right field; he's a productive hitter and a solid defender with a World Series ring on his finger. But while Springer, one of baseball's best players, remains unsigned? ESPN's Jeff Passan reported earlier this week that Springer was "extraordinarily unlikely" to sign with the White Sox, citing the outfielder's asking price. Brantley, too, has been reported as too expensive for the White Sox, though other reporting has indicated they aren't out on him just yet.

What gives?

"We try to look at sort of the offseason or the roster-building as a whole. It’s only natural to evaluate each and every move in isolation at the time they are announced. We completely get that. But really we need to look at the entirety of what we are able to accomplish," Hahn said Thursday.

"If we spend the entirety of what we have to spend on one position, obviously other needs aren’t addressed. Adam not only addresses a lot of what we were trying to do with upgrading our production in right field, we believe, but also allows us the flexibility to continue to add over the course of the offseason.

"In that regard, it’s not entirely different from the Lynn acquisition. Yes, we perhaps could have gone straight to the top of the free-agent market. However if we had done that, we would have wound up, perhaps, not being able to do other things important to rounding out a championship roster."

Fans likely won't be mollified by that explanation, wondering why the White Sox can't just hand out multiple huge contracts in the name of pursuing a World Series trophy.

In the wake of a pandemic-shortened 2020 season that kept paying customers out of the stands, teams across the game are expected to engage in money-saving measures, something that's already become apparent with certain decisions this offseason. Just look to the number of front-office staff across the game who have lost their jobs as an indicator of how significant team owners view the current economic conditions.

It might just be the reality that Hahn's budget has been restricted by the circumstances, and with multiple areas to address, this strategy might have been the only way to address all of them.

But they also just might simply not be done.

The White Sox certainly can't be criticized for lacking in aggressiveness. They've made two of the bigger moves of baseball's offseason to date, filling their two biggest needs in the process. There's a lot of offseason left, and Hahn's suggestion that adding lower-cost options so far allows the White Sox to chase a bigger fish certainly has merit.

Maybe there's an even bigger splash coming. Maybe there isn't. The former would indicate why these early moves were what they were. So, too, would the latter, though for a much different reason.

Stay tuned.

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