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White Sox

White Sox can move on; Bryce Harper to join Phillies

The Nationals' Bryce Harper lays down a bunt single off White Sox starting pitcher James Shields during the first inning June 8, 2016, in Chicago. The Sox showed some interest in signing Harper this offseason, but he agreed to a deal with the Phillies on Thursday.
The Nationals' Bryce Harper lays down a bunt single off White Sox starting pitcher James Shields during the first inning June 8, 2016, in Chicago. The Sox showed some interest in signing Harper this offseason, but he agreed to a deal with the Phillies on Thursday.

Just when the wounds were beginning to heal, they were ripped back open Thursday by Bryce Harper’s deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

White Sox fans came out en masse last week when top free-agent target Manny Machado spurned the South Side and signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres.

The Sox thought they had Machado when they upped their offer to
$250 million over eight years, followed by two option years (2027 and 2028) at $35 million each that vested with 550 plate appearances the previous year.

Machado obviously preferred the guaranteed $300 million over the potential $320 million, and angry fans blasted the Sox and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf for failing to step up.

General manager Rick Hahn understood the uproar.

“There’s a number of ways the fan side of me is going to get past this, but like any other person who lives and dies with the White Sox out there, today is a tough day personally,” Hahn said shortly after the Machado deal was announced.

Thursday wasn’t as bad, but it still hurt after news broke that Harper signed a staggering 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies.

With plenty of payroll room and plenty of promising young talent in the pipeline, the Sox’s rebuild could have taken a massive step forward with either Machado or Harper in uniform.

The Sox actually met with Harper first during the offseason, traveling to his hometown of Las Vegas in November. But it was pretty clear they were out on the left-handed slugger after Machado signed with San Diego.

“San Diego stepped up to that level ($300 million guaranteed),” Sox vice president Ken Williams said. “That level wasn’t feasible to us because we still have to project putting together a total winning roster and keeping the young players that will ultimately earn into greater dollars themselves. When you look at the big picture without having to sacrifice some of them, we could not go to that level.”

With Machado and Harper finally off the board, the Sox are going back to the drawing board.

Since the original projection was having much of their young talent ready to go in 2020, spending big on free agents after the upcoming season made the most sense.

The Machado/Harper swings and misses aside, it still does.

“The money will be spent,” Hahn vowed. “This isn’t money sitting around waiting to just accumulate interest. It’s money trying to be deployed to put us in the best position to win some championships. There certainly was the argument at the start of the offseason that we were premature, that this was a year too soon. It’s probably why most people didn’t include us as a potential landing spot for the top of the free-agent market.

“I understand that argument because a year from now, we will be in a better position to know more about our own guys and know more about what’s available and where specific needs may lie and what specific needs we may have addressed. When we have that knowledge, that’s where this money is going to go.”

Looking ahead to next year’s free-agent market, the big prize already is gone. Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado signed an eight-year,
$260 million contract Tuesday, and he’s staying put in Colorado.

Potential star players such as Paul Goldschmidt, Xander Bogaerts, Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon could be available, and the Sox should be a more attractive team to play for with top young prospects such as Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease and Nick Madrigal in place.

“We are going to get by this,” Hahn said. “There are a lot of exciting things happening in this organization. This was never about one individual. Much like an injury setback, it hurts. But you try to build something deep enough and strong enough and sustainable enough that it can survive an injury or missing out here or there.

“We still have work to do. We know that. Just continue to put our nose down and put ourselves in the best position for the long term.”

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