It was February 21, 2019. I remember being in my office and seeing the push notification hit my phone sitting on my desk.
"Padres Sign Infielder Manny Machado to 10-Year Contract"
That's the only word that I could use to describe the empty feeling inside of me when I saw that notification hit my phone. For months--hell, even as far back as the winter of 2017-18--I was sure that the Chicago White Sox were serious about landing Manny Machado, signaling the end of "phase one" of the rebuild.
I spoke to Baltimore Orioles beat writers and even went on Baltimore sports talk radio shows, and the consensus out of Baltimore during the 2017-18 Winter Meetings was that Machado was as good as done in Baltimore and that Rick Hahn was making no bones about the perennial All-Star infielder being the apple of the White Sox's eye.
Then came the Welington Castillo signing, the first six-degrees-of-separation signing by the White Sox.
Last winter, the club traded for Yonder Alonso, Machado's brother-in-law, and then signed friend and Miami co-native, Jon Jay. These two acquisitions that seemingly meant nothing but leverage for an impending Machado deal.
The local media, the national media, and even the international media (Hector Gomez) were sure that Machado was going to land on the South Side.
But the 2018-19 offseason was like a slow, laborious game of musical chairs. One that stretched into the onset of Spring Training--before the music finally came to an end and the White Sox were once again left without a chair.
Bryce Harper went to Philly, and Machado balked at the incentive-laden back-end of Chicago's best offer, instead taking San Diego's guaranteed money to the bank.
A mentally taxing marathon of what-ifs ended with the Sox bringing Ivan Nova, Jon Jay, and Yonder Alonso into camp as their new additions for the 2019 season, a devastating blow to the White Sox fanbase that wouldn't subside until yesterday.
After the Machado debacle and the incredibly underwhelming 2019 free-agent class, fans (rightfully) wondered if the White Sox would ever deliver on their promise to supplement the necessary outside talent to make this rebuild work.
Then the White Sox dropped a bombshell on the fanbase by announcing on their own social media pages that they landed the best catcher on the open market before Thanksgiving turkeys were even in the oven. The four-year, $73 million deal for Yasmani Grandal is a massive victory for the White Sox both on and off the field.
White Sox Twitter was on cloud nine on Thursday. It was a mood rarely seen across the board these days.
By now, we know what the Grandal signing means for the White Sox on the field--and you should read more about it in David Wildman's debut story for On Tap Sports Net--but this signing signaled something much more important.
The Chicago White Sox will not be left without a chair when the music stops this time around.
Rick Hahn and co. identified a need, identified the best solution available, and aggressively pursued that solution as soon as the World Series ended.
The early signing of Grandal creates a clear path to contention in 2020 and has reaffirmed baseball super-agent Scott Boras' comments last week, in which he said that players now view the Sox has a legitimate destination.
Grandal said as much himself on Thursday.
“I don't care where I'm going as long as I see a future in the pitching staff,” Grandal said during Thursday’s conference call. “If I see that I can help that pitching staff, for me that's pretty much No. 1. So, their sales pitch was: Look at the young arms we have, look at the guys we have coming up. We have an opportunity here to win, and we think you can help them out.”
“Even if you just look at the team and the core, there’s a lot of young talent,” Grandal said during his Thursday conference call. “The way that I looked at it, this team could be a dark horse in the next year or so.”
Grandal saw a legitimate path to success in Chicago and took an early deal to be a part of it, and more importantly, a deal that will allow the White Sox to continue to add to the picture.
On Friday, Rick Hahn continued to keep his promises to White Sox fans (that he made last spring in an interview with Red Line Radio, that "the money will be spent," regarding the eventual additions of premium talent) when the club announced that they inked veteran first baseman Jose Abreu to a three-year extension worth $50 million.
In a matter of 24 hours, the White Sox dolled out the largest contract given to a free-agent in team history and extended their clubhouse leader and slugging first baseman. In doing so, the Sox have issued an early, loud message to the fans and to the rest of baseball — they're looking to turn this roster into a contender, now.
This train is leaving the station, and it's not stopping anywhere near here if Hahn has it his way. During the conference call regarding the Grandal signing on Thursday, Hahn indicated that there's plenty of work to be done and that Grandal was just the beginning.
"Our intention, similar as to what we did with Yas, is to state our case directly and obviously show them that our words are true in terms of what action we intend to take,” Hahn said. “At the end of the day, it comes down to converting on deals.
“So, we can certainly lay out a vision for free-agent players. There certainly is a level of excitement of what we had done even prior to this signing today, but until we actually convert on some of these targets, the words are just that.
“If, in fact, other free agents see this move today as reinforcement to some of the things they’ve heard from us over the past several weeks or even going back to last year, that’s great. Hopefully there will be further moves over the course of the next several months that will continue that positive narrative.”
So, where do the White Sox go from here?
Well, the resounding belief among media members is that the Grandal signing will parlay into an aggressive pursuit of former New York Mets' right-hander, Zack Wheeler.
After undergoing Tommy John surgery and battling nagging injuries throughout his first three years in the majors, Wheeler has come to form over the past two seasons, posting an 8.9 fWAR over his 377.2 innings of work in Queens.
Wheeler would immediately become the staff ace on the South Side and lead a pitching staff that features Lucas Giolito--an All-Star in 2019--and a handful of promising, but unproven pieces like Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, and Reynaldo Lopez.
We'll also see Carlos Rodon make his way back into the fold at some point during the 2020 season, creating rotational depth that will allow the White Sox to rest pitchers with skips in the rotation, or even flip a pitcher in a trade that could supplement their 2020 free-agent class if they happen to be in a position that would warrant such a move around the mid-season mark.
I have a strong feeling that Wheeler ends up with the White Sox, and if Hahn is set on staying aggressive, it could happen very soon.
If that happens, look for the White Sox to make a run at Nicholas Castellanos to fill the void in right field, and look for the White Sox to challenge the Twins in the American League Central in 2020.
Regardless of the specifics, Rick Hahn wants the fans to know that they've done a great job of being supportive and that there's plenty of reason to be excited moving forward.
“Our focus should just be on making this team better,” Hahn said. “We've said all along that the fans have been absolutely outstanding in terms of their support throughout this rebuild, and there's a level of excitement about not only next year, but the next several years.
“The Grandal addition should only reinforce that and make people feel even more excited about what's coming together here. At the same time, we know we have more work to do. I can say it sends this type of message out there, and it's, frankly, going to ring hollow if we don't reinforce that with further acquisitions.”
Buckle up, White Sox fans. It's going to be quite the dance this winter.
Featured Photo: USA Today