Free agent Shohei Ohtani is the center of attention as baseball’s Winter Meetings approach in Nashville starting Sunday. But not in the White Sox’ corner of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.
“Look, we’re not going to be in the Ohtani race, I’ll tell you that right now,” chairman Jerry Reinsdorf made clear on Aug. 31, the day he hired new general manager Chris Getz.
Half a billion dollar players are not in the plans, not for a rebuilding outfit like the Sox whose biggest contract ever was for left fielder Andrew Benintendi’s $75 million, five-year deal signed last offseason.
At the general managers meetings in early November, Getz smiled when asked if he would do like maverick owner Bill Veeck at the 1975 winter meetings in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he put up an “open for business” sign in the hotel lobby, then made six trades. Getz is leaving his cardboard and markers home, but he is very much open to trading right-hander Dylan Cease for multiple pieces that would help restore a roster that produced a 61-101 record.
“Yeah, we’re open for business,” Getz said. “I’ll be walking through that lobby. I’ll grab a coffee in that lobby.”
Or maybe trade Cease, if he doesn’t before the meetings, which conclude Wednesday with the Rule 5 Draft, conclude. It’s a possibility more exciting for contending teams like the Dodgers, Orioles and Braves than the Sox.
So it goes when there are massive improvements to be made. Designated hitter Eloy Jimenez doesn’t have the trade value Cease would bring, but he could go as Getz covets a faster, more athletic team.
So far, Getz has traded reliever Aaron Bummer to the Braves for five players and signed shortstop Paul DeJong to an inexpensive $1.75 million one-year contract. There is more work to do.
Here are the Sox’ most pressing needs entering the meetings:
The rotation would look thin and iffy even with Cease at the top, but with two years left of controllable salary and the Sox not in contention mode in 2024, chances are greater than not that Cease gets traded. Look for the Sox to pursue a starting rotation candidate or young major league ready position player, and at least two top prospects. A starter such as Michael Lorenzen, Hyun Jin Ryu, Sean Manaea or Wade Miley, on one- or two-year deals, would afford needed veteran presence.
The Blake Snell, Eduardo Rodriguez, Jordan Montgomery, Yoshinobu Yamamoto shopping aisle is off limits for Getz.
“And we’re not going to sign pitchers to 10-year deals,” Reinsdorf said after ruling out Ohtani.
Not that the above will get 10 years. But you get the point.
Cease’s absence would leave Michael Kopech, Touki Toussaint and Jesse Scholtens as holdovers from last season, none of whom are front-end material. Mike Soroka and lefty Jared Shuster, acquired from the Braves in a November trade for Bummer, have open doors to rotation spots but Soroka, an All-Star his first full season in 2019, is a large question mark as he tries to come back from a twice-ruptured Achilles. Shuster, 25, posted a 5.81 ERA in 11 starts for the Braves after making the Opening Day roster as the Braves’ No. 1 prospect.
Prospects Nick Nastrini, Cristian Mena and Jake Eder, and Davis Martin (who missed 2023) following Tommy John surgery, may also be in the mix.
The Sox have spent lavishly on free-agent relievers, an objectionable tact, in recent years, with mostly unfavorable results. The bullpen is thin with Liam Hendriks and Bummer out of the picture and holders Gregory Santos and lefty Garrett Crochet needing to show they’re healthy. Bryan Shaw ate up innings at age 38 last season but is a free agent, and Jimmy Lambert is recovering from ankle surgery.
Gavin Sheets, bless him, worked at his defense in right field but positioning a first baseman in the outfield was an unfair ask, just as it was for Andrew Vaughn two years ago. With a welcome emphasis on defense from Getz and Grifol, expect a more athletic option at a position the Sox have failed to fill for years.
Rookie Oscar Colas was given the job in spring training last season but wasn’t fundamentally sound. Grifol strongly encouraged Colas to play winter ball but Colas, who batted .216/.257/.314 with 14 extra-base hits in 75 games in 2023, had other ideas. It was a curious decision for one who, despite his struggles, showed a willingness to improve.
Left and center field are set with Benintendi and All-Star Luis Robert Jr., who while not untouchable in the trade market, Getz said, seems likely to stay. Robert is under club contract control for four more seasons.
Eight-time All-Star Salvador Perez keeps surfacing in trade rumors because of his leadership value and Kansas City Royals tie to Grifol, who loves him. But Perez is 33 and owed $42 million over the next two seasons, plus a $2 million buyout for 2026. Korey Lee, acquired from the Astros for Kendall Graveman at the trade deadline, was a much better catcher than the defensively and health-challenged Yasmani Grandal, whose four-year, $73 million contract is finally off the books. But Lee was 5-for-65 with two extra-base hits in 25 games. Carlos Perez is the other catcher on the 40-man roster. Switch-hitter Edgar Quero, 21, acquired from the Angels in the Lucas Giolito/Reynaldo Lopez trade, is the Sox’ third-ranked prospect per MLB.com and had a good year at Double-A Birmingham but needs more seasoning.