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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Winter Meetings are baseball’s biggest offseason show.
And sometimes, shows can be a little dull.
Dull wouldn’t be an entirely accurate way to describe this year’s edition, considering there was plenty of drama surrounding the Shohei Ohtani derby and Wednesday night — after just about everyone had long made their way to the Nashville airport — saw the Yankees pull off a monster trade for Juan Soto.
But there wasn’t the annual flurry of moves that’s come to be associated with this wintertime get together, disappointing those fans who hunger for roster change.
The White Sox actually did agree to a deal with a free agent, one of the biggest moves of the week, but there was no Dylan Cease trade or other blockbuster news for the South Siders.
Still, we learned a ton from first-year general manager Chris Getz about what the rest of his team’s offseason will look like. So let’s dive into the lessons learned in Music City.
There’s no urgency to trade Dylan Cease
The White Sox arrived in Nashville with one of baseball’s top trade chips and someone who’s consistently found his name in rumors this winter. A Cease deal was one of several potential moves that could have grabbed the biggest Winter Meetings headlines — before the sport decided to mostly hibernate this week.
Cease is looking more and more likely to wear another uniform in 2024, given the type of return he could generate with his two years of club control and relatively affordable salary to go along with the production that’s vaulted him into the upper echelon of starting pitchers. But that doesn’t mean a trade will happen soon, and the White Sox expressed repeatedly this week that they don’t feel a need to deal their staff ace quickly.
“I think we’re in a position of leverage right now because I don’t think we have to trade Cease,” assistant general manager Josh Barfield said Tuesday. “Two years of control, and he’s a really, really good pitcher. He definitely helps us next year. But at the same time, we’ve got to be smart. We’ve got to listen on everything.
“I don’t think we are affected as much, as far as (waiting for big-name free agents to start) signing. People are going to have interest in Cease. So if we make a move, if we don’t, we’re just going to be patient and wait for the right one.”
White Sox unlikely to trade Luis Robert Jr.
While Cease might be shipped out, further hammering home the idea that the White Sox are launching a rebuild-type effort, however brief they expect it to last, it doesn’t look like Robert will be part of any exodus of talent.
The MVP-type center fielder would also figure to net a gargantuan return package, with four years of club control remaining. But that package would have to, no pun intended, knock Getz’s socks off for him to pull the trigger.
“Luis Robert is a very difficult player to move and expect that your club is going to get better because of it,” Getz said Monday. “That being said, there might be a club out there that is willing to offer something that you feel can help you immediately and in the long term. But we’re talking about one of the best players in baseball, and we’re very fortunate to have him with the Chicago White Sox.
“I have a tough time seeing him wearing another uniform next year.”
Starting pitching was and remains a top priority
The White Sox made one of the bigger moves during a mostly sleepy Winter Meetings, agreeing to a two-year free-agent deal with Erick Fedde, who struggled with the Nationals before reinventing himself as the best pitcher in Korean baseball this year.
The $15 million pact adds an arm to a rotation that’s still taking shape, given the uncertainty with Cease and question marks with nearly every other pitcher vying for a spot. That includes Fedde, who will undoubtedly be part of the starting staff. But it remains unknown whether he’ll be the guy who won the equivalents of the MVP and Cy Young awards in Korea or the guy who posted 5.40-plus ERAs in his two most recent seasons pitching in the major leagues.
The White Sox can count Fedde, Michael Kopech and the recently acquired duo of Michael Soroka and Jared Shuster as those targeted for the rotation, and late-season auditioners Touki Toussaint and Jesse Scholtens are likely to be part of that mix, as well. But there’s still a lot of uncertainty there, and they figure to continue to pursue pitchers that can strengthen what was a mostly barren pitching staff.
“It remains a high priority,” Getz said Wednesday. “We’ve got some innings to cover, and we’re going to try to go out there to get the best pitchers we can within the means that we have.”
White Sox refuse to look at organizational overhaul as ‘rebuild’
Getz is intent on giving the White Sox’ organization a significant makeover, and the moves he’s made with the big league team sure strike as those that are made by rebuilding clubs. But the team remains adamant that it doesn’t want to label what Getz is doing as a rebuild, surely a cognizant reaction to how fans think of that word after Rick Hahn’s yearslong project failed to get off the ground.
“To really find the appropriate word at this point is premature,” Getz said Tuesday. “But I will say that, based on the upper-level talent we have on this ballclub, I don’t think it’s going to be a dramatic lift to get us where we need to be.”
That, not to mention the fact that their agreement with Fedde is for two years, signals that Getz & Co. could indeed be targeting a quick turnaround, with eyes on contending in 2025. That hasn’t been specifically expressed by anyone in the front office, of course, as they wait to see how everything plays out. But the word “rebuild” seems to be out of the vocabulary at 35th and Shields.
White Sox looking for veteran catcher
It’s unknown whether the White Sox would prefer Korey Lee to top their catching depth chart or to keep developing with the help of a No. 1 veteran, but the team is intent on improving the catching situation by adding an experienced, defensive-minded player behind the plate while waiting for Edgar Quero, the 20-year-old catching prospect acquired at the trade deadline, to develop in the minor leagues.
“You are looking for someone that can come in here and defensively handle the position, game-calling, and really have that presence that is needed at that position,” Getz said Monday. “We’ve got some talent behind the plate. We have some talent coming in our system, as well. So, we are certainly looking at ways to improve our present situation.
“There’s different ways to go about it, and just like anything else, the pace in which that happens is a bit unknown. But we are certainly seeking to improve that area.”
“In terms of a veteran presence or someone who is a little more seasoned,” Getz added Tuesday, “that’s something we’re looking at.”
One potential target came off the board with the Astros signing free agent Victor Caratini. But that move closed the door on another potential target, Martín Maldonado, returning to Houston. Maldonado has championship success, a strong reputation when it comes to working with pitchers, experience working with Pedro Grifol in Kansas City and a history of mentoring Lee while with the Astros.
White Sox likely to go outside for defensive upgrade in right field
Getz has hammered home how important improving the White Sox’ defense is to him this offseason, and he’s delivered on that with the signing of Paul DeJong to play shortstop and adding Nicky Lopez to the infield mix. In the outfield, Robert and Andrew Benintendi aren’t going anywhere, but right field seems open, or at least ripe for an upgrade, particularly when talking about defense.
“We certainly have internal options. Just like other areas around the diamond, defense is certainly something that we’re focusing on,” Getz said Tuesday. “We’re having conversations, whether it be with other clubs or free agents, in finding ways to improve, just like other positions, as well. Certainly outfield is a priority, too.”
Oscar Colás was the team’s Opening Day right fielder last season but struggled mightily and is ticketed for the minors in 2024. Gavin Sheets has struggled at the plate and isn’t a natural outfielder, making it seem likely that Getz’s front office will search outside the organization for a replacement that can deliver defensively.
“You brought up Oscar,” Getz said, “and I think the best thing for him is to be at Charlotte. Do I see him being down there the whole season? Hopefully not. We know what he’s capable of doing.
“We’ve had Gavin Sheets out there, and he’s shown production, offensively. We’ve asked a lot of him to play outfield, and he looks to be capable. But it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to go out there and find ways to improve our defense as a whole.
“We’re fortunate to have Luis Robert. (Andrew) Benintendi is a sound defender, we think he can get even better out there. Just to find a team of outfielders is something we’re set out to do.”
White Sox open to pay salary to make trade happen
It was broached as a hypothetical, but Getz was asked Tuesday about the idea of the White Sox eating some salary to facilitate a trade that made sense.
Yoán Moncada and, to a lesser extent, Eloy Jiménez don’t seem the most logical trade candidates in part because of their salaries. Moncada is due nearly $25 million in 2024, with Jiménez’s salary jumping to nearly $14 million.
But if Getz could find a partner that would infuse some more talent into the organization, it seems the White Sox would at least not completely rule out paying down some money to complete a deal.
“We’re open-minded, we certainly are,” Getz said. “You might have to be creative with any acquisition. We’ve considered moves like that. Obviously, it’s got to make sense for both sides.”
White Sox want to play faster, more aggressive style in 2024
Both Grifol and Getz talked more about the style of play they want their team to play in 2024, and it sounds quite different from what White Sox fans saw in each of the last two disappointing seasons.
“One of the things I learned last year is that we played a game that doesn’t win in the big leagues,” Grifol said Monday. “We need to play faster. We need to be more athletic. We’ve got to catch a baseball. We have to do things a little better fundamentally.
“When we talk about getting more (well rounded), that’s what it’s about, being able to bring in Nicky Lopez and Paul DeJong and what those guys can do defensively. And obviously we’re not done. It’s the type of game that wins games at the major league level. You have to play fundamental baseball to be able to compete at that level, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
It makes plenty of sense following back-to-back mistake-filled campaigns, in the field and on the base paths, in particular. Grifol cited the NL-champion Diamondbacks as a team that did it the right way in 2023, comparing them to successful Royals teams he worked with in the past.
Whether or not the White Sox will have the personnel to do it remains to be seen. But it’s an expression of the vision that Getz has for this organization as he attempts to establish a new identity.
Gregory Santos expected to be ready for Opening Day
There hasn’t been a ton of talk about the bullpen so far this offseason, and there’s been an enormous amount of change since the beginning of last season, with nearly everyone who started the year in the relief corps gone by now. The Aaron Bummer trade sent another late-inning option out of town.
The White Sox believe it’s too early to name a closer just yet, but the guy who got the job in the final months of last season would figure to be a top candidate. Gregory Santos ended the year on the injured list. And while Getz was unsure whether the team would deem him completely full-go by the start of the spring, he eyed him as being ready for Opening Day.
“He’s doing really well,” Getz said Tuesday. “He just had a check-in with our doctors. He’s out in Arizona, he’s asymptomatic, and he’s just begun his throwing program. Feedback’s been really strong.
“We’re still going to be pretty measured. He’s just starting his throwing program. Time will tell. It’s a little early to know how we’ll handle him in spring training. … The goal is certainly for him to be on the Opening Day roster. That’s the expectation right now.”
White Sox open to reunion with Bryan Shaw
As for other bullpen arms, the White Sox got a pretty impressive contribution from veteran Bryan Shaw down the stretch last season. He was called upon often and answered the bell, posting a 3.00 ERA in August and September and allowing just two runs in 18 appearances in the season’s final month.
Indeed, the White Sox would welcome back such an effort from Shaw.
“Shaw did a really nice job down the stretch,” Getz said Tuesday, “took the ball regularly. And if you look at his numbers for the last month, that’s someone that can be very valuable to a bullpen.
“He’s a professional. We had success with him. We’re certainly open-minded to something like that.”
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