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Nightengale: After Going Got Weird at Winter Meetings, White Sox Emerge as Big Winners

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Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, departing baseball’s winter meetings Thursday morning, suddenly was overcome with a peculiar mix of emotions, unsure now just how he’d feel on that flight home.

He was ecstatic, but saddened.

He was thrilled, but distraught.

Inspired, yet discouraged.

By the time the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center was cleared out of baseball folks, there were a whole of teams sharing the same sentiment.
It was a winter meeting like no other.

The White Sox, at long last, were dumping players.

The Colorado Rockies, for the first time since the days of Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle, were spending.

High-powered agent Scott Boras didn’t have a single client receive more than $13 million in a contract, but was still ridiculed, when the Washington Nationals accused him of seeking at least $400 million for Bryce Harper.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, the richest team in baseball, signed 36-year-old starter Rich Hill for $48 million, but continued to balk at bringing back free agent closer Kenley Jansen or third baseman Justin Turner at their asking prices.

The New York Yankees signed former Chicago Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman. Photo: Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune
The New York Yankees signed former Chicago Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman. Photo: Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

The New York Yankees, who aren’t expected to contend again until 2018, spent a record $86 million on a closer, Aroldis Chapman, who can opt out of his contract after 2019.

The Kansas City Royals, who won the 2014 American League pennant and 2015 World Series with closer Wade Davis the centerpiece of the finest bullpen in baseball, traded him for 24-year-old-outfielder Jorge Soler.

The Pittsburgh Pirates shouted to the world that they were going to trade Andrew McCutchen, the face of their franchise, only to keep him, trying to convince us that it won’t be absolutely awkward if he shows up to Pirate City next spring.

“It is weird,’’ Hahn says. “I feel like we’ve walked out of previous winter meetings when we addressed a number of holes at the big league level, and you get that excitement about wanting to see it all come together.

“Now, with what we’re doing, we’re making some painful decisions. The first phase is going to involve some hardships and take some time.

“There is a sense of excitement, but it’s going to be delayed satisfaction.’’

Considering the White Sox pulled down an impressive array of seven prospects, overhauling their organization and changing their philosophy in one fell swoop, they easily were crowned champions of the winter meetings.

The White Sox will stink in 2017, and probably 2018, too, but then they could become a force, knowing that they could be hauling in a dozen more prospects once they unload Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, David Robertson and Todd Frazier.

“They did an excellent job,’’ says Detroit Tigers GM Al Avila. “They had the right players, and they made the right moves. When you have Chris Sale, one of the best pitchers in baseball with one of the best contracts and team control, it’s the right guy to have if you want a good return.

“And they had a great return.’’

The White Sox’s return for Sale and Adam Eaton left the Tigers envious. They don’t want to go into a full rebuilding mode like the Sox, but their plan was to move a few players at the meetings, while trying to stay at least competitive next season.

Yet, outfielder J.D. Martinez is still a Tiger. So is second baseman Ian Kinsler. Oh, and all of those juicy trade proposals the Tigers were supposed to receive on former MVPs Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander? Didn’t happen. The Tigers, in fact, didn’t receive a single call on Cabrera, letting them know that his contract may make him untradeable, with $220 million left over the next seven years. Verlander attracted interest, but the Tigers let teams know they wanted prized prospects, besides taking on $106 million over the next four years.

“Our situation obviously is different than the White Sox situation,’’ Avila said. “We have big contracts, and others guys who are just a year away from free agency. You’re not going to be able to wheel and deal in the same manner.

“It’s going to be a slower process, trying to find the right fit. This is not a fire sale. We’re not dumping anybody. We’re not eating millions of dollars and assuming salary.

“But we’re not going to be chasing the big-time free agents like we have been, either.’’

No, they’re leaving that to the Rockies, who have had six consecutive losing seasons, and haven’t been to the playoffs since 2009.

The Rockies not only signed Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million contract, even sacrificing the No. 11 pick in the draft next year, but they’re now courting free-agent slugger Mark Trumbo. If they land Trumbo, they’ll be able to turn around and trade center fielder Charlie Blackmon or left fielder Carlos Gonzalez for pitching help.

Yes, you heard right, the Rockies are going for it.

“We said from the get-go that there were plans in place to have some increases in payroll,’’ Rockies GM Jeff Bridich says, “and that should come with an increase in aggressiveness. You don’t make decisions to spend more money just because you have more money. You do it when you feel like that’s the right thing to do for the team.

“We don’t intend to do something out of control and crazy, but we have a very pragmatic and structured process how we’re going to add to the team.’’

And, of course, there are those Yankees, who one day are acting like they’re the Rockies, and then another, when they’re going old-school on us.

“We’re trying to be as careful as possible in our decision-making process as we possibly can be,’’ GM Brian Cashman says, “as we straddle that line of trying to be as good as we can be in ’17 and hopefully even better than that in ’18 and going forward.

“We really don’t have that much to play with financially, but we still have more needs.’’

Indeed, but it didn’t stop the Yankees from dishing out a record contract to a closer, who’ll have fewer games to save and can walk away one season after it figures the Yankees’ young players and new spending coalesce.

“At the end of the day, I know the competition were giving opt-outs in Years 1 and 2,’’ Yankees GM Brian Cashman says, “so at least we didn’t have to do it until Year 3.’’

Who was the competition?

Would you believe the Miami Marlins?

Yep, it was that kind of week.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook

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