CHICAGO – When it comes to the Chicago White Sox, next week’s annual baseball winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, might have more to do with who the team subtracts rather than adds.
Make no mistake, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn is trying to improve the product. And even if the result this offseason doesn’t scream "postseason contender" for 2016, the idea should be about building a core that can play competitive baseball for years to come, rather than make a quick rise and leave the organization with an uncertain future.
To accomplish the club’s goal, though, Hahn might trade left-handed starter Jose Quintana.
It’s not that either Hahn or the White Sox are itching to say farewell to Quintana, an exemplary free-agent signing in 2011 after the New York Yankees severed ties with the left-hander. Quintana has developed into an upper-half-of-the-rotation starter, even if he never really has received much run support in his four seasons as a White Sox starter.
It simply might be Hahn’s best hand to play over the next week-plus.
Hahn’s objectives at the winter meetings:
1. Find out Quintana’s trade value
Complicating matters when it comes to a Quintana trade is the glut of free-agent starting pitchers on the market. Seeing David Price come off the market could help speed up this process, but there are still right-handers such as Zack Greinke and Johnny Cueto that are available. For the White Sox, this is as simple as dealing from a strength: left-handed starting pitching. Chris Sale would remain the staff ace, and Carlos Rodon could potentially take over Quintana’s role as the club’s second-tier lefty. And the White Sox still have another left-handed starter in John Danks.
2. Explore the third-base market
There is no hole more glaring on the White Sox’s roster than at third base. The ideal scenario is the club does to third base what it did to center field two winters ago. Back then, the White Sox thinned out a glut of left-handed starters by turning Hector Santiago into Adam Eaton. Can they do the same at third with an even more valuable Quintana?
3. Find a right-handed starter
If the White Sox are being careful with their spending, this could be an area where they break out the checkbook for a middle-of-the-rotation talent. But if finding a No. 2 starter is their goal – essentially taking a do-over on the Jeff Samardzija deal from a year ago – then maybe a Quintana deal would have to be the White Sox’s left-handed No. 2 starter for somebody else’s right-handed No. 2 starter.
4. Get a stop-gap shortstop
It still isn’t out of the question that Alexei Ramirez returns on a deal that would pay far less a season than the one-year, $10 million extension the White Sox declined last month. Outside of that, the White Sox would be on the hunt for a two-year deal on a shortstop. They do have Tyler Saladino as a fallback plan, but the White Sox would no doubt prefer to have more experience at the most vital position on the diamond. The ultimate goal is to have the position manned capably until highly coveted prospect Tim Anderson is ready to take over, and that isn’t expected to happen until 2017 at the earliest.
5. Keep their eyes open for a second baseman
The White Sox didn’t get much out of their middle infield last season, particularly at second base. But this area is less of a concern because Carlos Sanchez and/or Micah Johnson are options there. No, neither took the major leagues by storm last season, but with so many other areas in need of attention, a guy like Sanchez figures to get another shot to see if he can deliver some offense to match that above-average glove of his.
6. Get some late-inning relief help
This is another area where they White Sox could spend, even if finances are a bit tight. The club is set at closer with David Robertson, but seventh-inning and eighth-inning help is always desired. Just ask the Kansas City Royals what a strong back end of the bullpen is worth. Zach Duke was an addition in this area last offseason, although his first year in a White Sox uniform was inconsistent.
7. Showing an offseason direction
Are the White Sox going to spend, save, go young or add to the payroll? The fan base would surely like to know, but so far Hahn & Co. have yet to tip their hand. That in itself could be a sign that the team is ready to build a young, sustainable base around stars Sale and Jose Abreu. It won’t be so simple, though, as Adam LaRoche and Danks are guaranteed nearly $29 million combined through 2016, Melky Cabrera is under contract for two more years and $29 million, and Robertson will get another $36 million on a deal that runs through 2018.