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“It’s not a hard and fast rule, but we generally tend to handle most of that business in the offseason. We try not to have any off-the-field distractions over the course of the six-month season. There’s been exceptions. … So it’s not hard and fast, but in general, we tend to limit that to the offseason.”
That was Rick Hahn talking about contract extensions way back in April 2019. Those comments followed Eloy Jimenez getting a long-term deal before making his major league debut, and the following offseason, both Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada would get their own long-term deals, ones that established the notion of a lengthy contention window for the White Sox.
Fast forward to now, and contract extensions for young, core players of this South Side rebuilding effort remain a hot topic, certain fans going as far to limit that window to the time before Lucas Giolito and Tim Anderson hit free agency.
We’ll stick to Giolito for the purposes of this discussion, as Anderson’s already got one team-friendly long-term contract under his belt – one that doesn’t expire till after the 2024 season – and would seem likely, however much he’d want to remain on the South Side, to check the open-market value of his budding national stardom. Giolito is slated to hit the free-agent market one year sooner, after the 2023 season, otherwise known as next year.
Whether that makes an extension more pressing is up for debate, but certainly the White Sox would like to keep their ace on staff.
Just one problem.
The lockout is throwing an obvious wrench into everything these days, and when it comes to the work Hahn needs to get done before the 2022 season begins, it means a ridiculously condensed period in which to make every signing, trade and move left on his to-do list.
Consider the White Sox’ standard operating procedure when it comes to contract extensions, as the GM laid out those many years ago, and you can add a hypothetical Giolito extension to that offseason to-do list. Jimenez, Robert, Moncada and even Aaron Bummer got their long-term deals before Opening Day, like the White Sox prefer. So if talking a new contract with Giolito was on Hahn’s to-do list for this offseason, he’s just lost a large portion of the time in which to cross that item off.
This isn’t even to mention the league-wide appetite, among players, for such deals in the midst of a labor battle, but we’ll stick to what we know for now.
Certainly Giolito has said all the right things about wanting to remain with his current employer past 2023.
“I’m open to it,” he said in November, before informing that there were no talks with the front office at that time. “I’m always interested in a long-term contract, something (that will), essentially, make me a White Sox player for life.
“But the business of baseball is the business of baseball. A lot of that’s out of my hands, so for the time being, I’m just going to focus on what I focus on. … The other stuff, it is what it is.”
On Hahn’s end, he was also complimentary of the other side in the equation. And his argument for at least pursuing a long-term deal with the right-hander made perfect sense, as he leaned on his club’s recent history of accomplishing this exact kind of thing.
“I’ve got nothing but great things to say about Lucas in a White Sox uniform,” Hahn said in November, “from his performance to his leadership in the clubhouse, to the way he represents himself and the club off the field, it’s exemplary.
“We’ve got a pretty long history of being aggressive in trying to sign young guys to long-term deals that extend their stay in a White Sox uniform. Obviously it takes two to tango. There’s got to be mutual interest in that. We haven’t necessarily converted on every one of our targets over the last couple of decades of working under that approach. But I think it’s safe to assume we’ll continue to work that way going forward.”
The lockout, though, could limit how aggressive the White Sox are able to be in this specific instance, not because they don’t want to lock up Giolito but because Hahn will have, presumably, just a few days between the end of the lockout and the start of spring training. During that time, he’ll need to check other items off his to-do list with the hopes of putting the White Sox in the best position to achieve their championship-level goals.
Hahn’s got to go find a second baseman, make a beneficial trade of Craig Kimbrel, search for an offensive upgrade to stick in right field or at DH, add another bullpen arm and assess what moves to make to assure sufficient starting-pitching depth. And he’s got to do it all in lightning-quick fashion.
Will there be time to hammer out a Giolito extension, too?
Of course, as the quote at the top indicates, it’s not a doomsday clock ticking toward Opening Day, and the White Sox’ most recent contract extension of note, with Giolito’s rotation-mate Lance Lynn, came last July, during the season. So never say never.
But for a team that would vastly prefer to get a deal done outside of the regular season, this time crunch is something to think about.
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