As spring training starts for the Chicago White Sox, the direction of the team’s future is in the hands of the league’s premier free agents.
Both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado remain free agents and are not expected to sign any time soon. With the White Sox currently in a rebuild, they will have the direction of their young talent affected if they sign either free-agent or neither.
General manager Rick Hahn has done a tremendous job the last several seasons revamping the team’s minor league system. The White Sox saw their farm system improve from one of the worse to one of the best in all of baseball within one year’s time because of Hahn.
Many of those prospects whether acquired via trade or draft will be making their way to the big leagues soon, but a log jam may ensue if either Machado or Harper are signed.
A Harper signing would create a massive block for the White Sox young outfielder prospects given the large depth they have at the position. With Eloy Jimenez expected to be called up in mid-April and the team still high on Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, signing Harper would give the team their starting outfield for several seasons. This would leave outfield prospects like Micker Adolfo, Luis Basabe, Luis Gonzalez, and Blake Rutherford with little playing time and expendable for trades.
Signing Machado wouldn’t affect the farm system as much as it would affect the roles of those on the current 25 man roster.
Machado has been adamant about playing shortstop which is already occupied by Tim Anderson. Anderson has improved significantly defensively at the position in the last two seasons. The rise of 2018 first round pick Nick Madrigal who can play either shortstop or second base further amplifies the issue. Although he can play both positions, he is better suited at second base due to his size. Playing second base would create an issue for Yoan Moncada and Carlos Sanchez in regards to playing time. If Machado plays at third and Madrigal is called up, it would leave someone without playing time at second.
The wait for Machado is the most costly situation for the team heading into spring training. If sign he would have to determine where he wants to play forcing either Anderson or Moncada to learn a new position. The longer it takes for Machado to sign, the less time each player has to learn a new position.
From a long-term standpoint, signing either free agent will allow the White Sox flexibility to trade their young talent for other needs. Players like 2017 first round pick Jake Burger and the other position prospects could be more expendable with Harper or Machado on the team long-term.
It’s a good issue to have as the 1990s Cleveland Indians had the same issue. The Indians were a perennial World Series contender each season because of their deep roster built by a quality farm system. They had so much talent on the roster that they traded players such as Ritchie Sexson, Jeremey Burnitz, and Brian Giles away to fill immediate needs on the roster. That is Hahn’s main goal for the White Sox farm system, but signing top-tier free agents do have an effect on that.
Spring training exhibition games will begin in one week which will be invaluable for all the White Sox young talent. If Machado and Harper remain unsigned, but with the team, at a later time it will create playing-time issues. Until either player potentially signs with the White Sox or someone else, the team can’t choose a direction either short-term or long-term.