Could the White Sox actually be a player for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado?

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Jon Morosi has a column over at MLB.com today in which he examines the market for baseball’s top-2 free agents, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. The usual suspects, as we discussed last week, include clubs like the Yankees, Phillies, Nationals and the other high-dollar, win-now teams you might expect.

Morosi spends some time, however, talking about a team no one to my knowledge has linked to Harper and Machado:

After the Phillies, the White Sox are perhaps the best candidate to pursue both Machado and Harper — although there’s no guarantee they will land either. At present, the White Sox have the second-lowest payroll commitment of any MLB team for 2019. With Jose Abreu entering his final season before free agency, the White Sox need a new face of the franchise. Chicago’s affinity for Machado is well-established, as it pursued him via the trade market last offseason

That seems pretty far-fetched at first blush. If you made me bet on the proposition that the White Sox would sign either of them, I’d be hesitant to put as much as a sawbuck on the idea. It just doesn’t seem likely to me at all.

But a person could talk themselves into the notion. Let’s try!

First, some observations:

  • The White Sox deserve just as much if not more scorn for tanking than most of the teams who tend to get scorn for tanking. Heck, I will say more given how big their market is. They may play second-fiddle to the Cubs in that city, but there is a lot of money on the ledger of the Chisox and they’ve reduced their payroll to the bottom of the league.
  • Their tanking may or may not lead to an Astros-style resurgence. We don’t know yet. They have made a lot of trades that, objectively speaking, were good baseball trades for them. On the other hand, they still lost 100 games in 2018 and have not given any indication that they’re ready to take a big leap yet.
  • Big time free agents like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado almost always make winning a top priority, and thus do not tend to sign with teams like the Chicago White Sox.
  • Even if they didn’t, big time free agents like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado unquestionably prioritize money, and teams in the position of the White Sox almost never spend big money.

But what if they did spend money? Or at least offer it? What if, realizing that the tank-and-build approach does not guarantee any team an Astros-type situation, the White Sox decided to goose the process? What if that decision is also bolstered by pressure from Major League baseball and/or the MLBPA for teams to rein-in tanking? In the past teams have signed a relatively mid-priced tomato can veteran to avoid grievances and complaints, but what if the White Sox decide that they can actually spend money on a useful player and accomplish the same thing and more?

If that happened, the ball would be in Harper or Machado’s court and, as noted above, big time free agents prefer to sign with winners. But what if no winners are super into the bidding? What if reports we’ve heard about the Yankees being cool on both Harper and Machado are more than just early-offseason posturing? What if other big time teams are likewise lukewarm and the slow-to-develop markets we’ve seen over the past couple of offseasons continue here? If that were the case and if a change-of-heart White Sox front office made a silly offer to either Harper or Machado, they’d have to take it seriously, right?

Again, I don’t think it’s likely that either of those two sign with the White Sox. I also suspect that the thing about the White Sox being seriously interested is more speculation on Morosi’s part than actual news. But I can squint a little and see it all making sense. OK, squint a lot, but I squint a lot anyway. I’m in front of a computer screen all day.

Anyway, it’s silly season. No harm in entertaining a silly thought until some actual signings happen.