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Schrödinger’s winter meetings have or haven’t arrived, but they’re probably PRESENTED BY CAMPING WORLD either way.
Like most other organizations, Major League Baseball canceled its major Dallas plans in favor of a virtual affair which I assume will be a series of Zoom conferences with league officials, team officials and Scott Boras, concluded by the Rule 5 draft. Like every other virtual conference, it’s guaranteed to resemble every other online meeting too much to feel like an event.
The winter meetings these days are a bigger deal for reporters and their audiences, who are conditioned to getting blasts of baseball news in early December, whether rock-solid (daily interviews, Rule 5 draft, occasional transaction) or speculative (rumor overload). The next time the league puts fans in front of finances will be the first, so it’s natural to wonder whether the winter meetings will happen again, at least in their former glory. They just might not be necessary for the people running it.
Anyway, Jeff Passan tried to step up and fill the news gap with a summary of activity, and his initial note isn’t heartening:
1. As much as Chicago White Sox fans are frothing for George Springer to round out their dynamic lineup, he is extraordinarily unlikely to sign with Chicago for a number of reasons, sources told ESPN. Springer’s market isn’t lacking — not even with him valuing himself at center-field prices. The White Sox don’t need a center fielder, though, with the dynamic Luis Robert holding down the position; and paying center-field prices for a corner outfielder isn’t the White Sox’s style. Actually, paying nine figures for anyone isn’t how team owner Jerry Reinsdorf operates. And with the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets among a large group interested in Springer, Chicago is likelier to seek a left-handed bat — someone like Springer’s old Astros teammate Michael Brantley.
There are two failed pursuits from previous winters through which you might assess this particular rumor.
The Zack Wheeler prism: If last winter’s pursuit indeed unfolded in the generally accepted manner, the White Sox may have the stomach for a nine-figure contract, but they might lack the je ne sais quoi to close the deal. Wheeler said he wanted to stay by his wife’s family in New Jersey, and so he turned down the White Sox’s slightly higher offer and accepted the already surprisingly lucrative deal offered by the Phillies. Maybe the White Sox could and should have tried offering more, but if it’s way more than they anticipated, more than the other high bid, and still not enough to get the deal done, I can’t blame them for taking hints.
The Bryce Harper prism: When Harper hit free agency, the White Sox met with him at the United Center in November. They said nice things about each other immediately afterward, inspired reports of mutual admiration during the winter meetings, and then nothing happened until Harper signed with Philadelphia in late February for 13 years and $330 million.
Since the White Sox soft-played Harper, they’re looking for their third different right fielder in three years, having already wasted time and money on Jon Jay and Nomar Mazara, and Daniel Palka’s face-plant still leaving a dent. The poor man always pays twice, and here come the White Sox shopping for a left-handed outfielder for a third time.
It’s one thing to balk at a $330 million contract, because even if the White Sox might’ve made such an investment possible with their clear-cutting of their payroll, a minority of teams swim in that end of the pool, and a couple of ’em just haven’t been cut out for it.
But if you bypass a Harper contract for the superstar premium, figuring you can get a player who’s 90 percent as good for 70 percent of the commitment, this would seem to be where Springer comes in. And if the White Sox show no meaningful interest in Springer, it further undermines the purpose of the White Sox tanking as hard as they did. There’s no point in resetting the payroll, avoiding free agency at all meaningful levels and manipulating service time of prospects in order to lock them in to team-friendly deals, only to cut corners on outside help the way the team proved it couldn’t successfully spend in free agency before (with Edwin Encarnación and Steve Cishek being the latest reminders that they’re still bad at it).
If Springer wants to play center field and the Mets pay him above and beyond expectations to do so in Queens, then there’s a level where the White Sox stop making sense. But if the Sox are never in on a guy who gets paid only half of Harper’s commitment, it’s fair to question the big picture…
* * * * * * * * *
… unless Wheeler and Harper somehow become available?
There are mixed messages coming out of Philadelphia. Buster Olney reported that executives from other teams heard the Phillies were open to offers on Wheeler, who is coming off a great initial season as their prized free agent from the previous winter. Olney then got an angry call from Phillies managing general partner John Middleton, who probably protested too much in his denial:
“If they offered me Babe Ruth, I wouldn’t trade him,” John Middleton said angrily in a phone conversation, adding Ted Williams and Mike Schmidt to Ruth’s name for good measure. “I have authorized no one to have a conversation about trading him.”
Ken Rosenthal says the confusion probably stems more from a void in the Phillies’ decision-making ranks. The team demoted its general manager and hasn’t yet replaced him, leaving the interim GM and team president to discuss theoretical situations with other teams. If cost-cutting has been front of mind — and the Phillies laid off 80 front-office employees to save about $8 million — it makes sense to discuss everything.
The vehemence of Middleton’s denial is a hard one to walk back, so I’d assume that both Wheeler and Harper are staying put. If the latter were somehow to shake loose, here’s where I’ll point out that he’s left-handed, three years younger than Springer, and has no business playing center field. Might the White Sox be interested in an 11-year, $274 million deal?
Probably not. That’s why Josh scoped out the left-handed right fielders who might be available if and when Springer signs elsewhere.
(Photo by KeithAllisonPhoto.com)