Rozner: There's logic to White Sox's pursuit of Machado, Harper

 
 
Updated 1/12/2019 6:57 PM
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  • It seemed impossible a few months ago that the White Sox would still be in a position to possibly land free-agent Bryce Harper, but here we are.

    It seemed impossible a few months ago that the White Sox would still be in a position to possibly land free-agent Bryce Harper, but here we are. Associated Press File Photo/Sept. 2018

  • Free-agent Manny Machado, seen here celebrating a 2-run home run against the Atlanta Braves last season, could still land with the White Sox.

    Free-agent Manny Machado, seen here celebrating a 2-run home run against the Atlanta Braves last season, could still land with the White Sox. Associated Press File Photo/Oct. 2018

Interesting spot these White Sox are in today.

It's well into January and two of the best free agents in MLB history are still flirting with them, mostly because the market has dwindled for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

Nevertheless, both are still on the dance floor and talking with the South Siders.

If it feels it too soon for such a move, just two years into a rebuild, there is logic behind what they're doing.

Some would point to the Cubs' signing of Jon Lester only three years in as proof that it makes sense, but the Cubs were willing to pay for years in which they didn't think they would compete in order to secure that player.

There's also that whole veteran guy with rings thing, and how that can advance a program.

The Cubs had no idea they would compete in 2015. In the fourth year of a rebuild, they were at least a year early. By Year 5, they were winning a World Series and it would have never happened without Lester.

So much for calendars.

The Sox might believe they are on a slightly faster track because of the number of prospects they were able to acquire in deals to start the rebuild, not to mention playing in a division with only one good team that is itself behaving in an odd manner this winter.

But there's more to it than that.

In Bryce Harper, who turned 26 in October, and Manny Machado, who turned 26 in July, you're talking about two of the best and youngest free agents in the history of the game.

These are generational talents on Hall of Fame tracks. If you're looking for free-agent comparisons, the list is very short.

Think in terms of Greg Maddux, a 26-year-old starter coming off a Cy Young, 20 wins and 268 innings.

Apologies as always, Cub fans, for the reminder.

There's Alex Rodriguez, a 25-year-old, Gold-Glove caliber shortstop coming off three straight seasons of 40 homers and 100 RBI.

And that's about it.

Carlos Beltran was a 27-year-old Gold-Glove quality center fielder coming off 38 homers, 104 RBI and 42 steals, and Barry Bonds was 28 when he left Pittsburgh.

In today's game, that's considered nearing the end of a player's prime.

In any case, Machado and Harper belong in the most elite category of free agents ever and it's easy to believe the next five years of their careers will be as good as the last five, making them worth the five years after that to the teams desperate to get them.

Are the White Sox one of those teams? Do they have to make this happen now? Are they truly desperate?

Certainly not an appropriate word to use in this case.

The Sox, as did the Cubs, probably figure they're at least a year away from competing, but also know players like this -- particularly at such a young age -- are rare to find in free agency, and it just so happens that teams are developing less of an appetite for 10-year contracts and luxury tax expenditures.

Considering their payroll commitments moving forward, which are obviously few and small, the Sox are in a position to take a shot.

That's why it's logical now, assuming length of term and annual value don't mess up a good thing.

If they fail to land either one, they also know who might be available next winter.

Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado -- 28 years old when the 2020 season begins -- is one of the best players in baseball and somehow still underrated. He's a monster, period, and in line for a huge deal next offseason.

Also unsigned are Nats third baseman Anthony Rendon (29 in 2020), Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett (29), Astros starter Gerrit Cole (29), Cards outfielder Marcell Ozuna (29), Giants starter Madison Bumgarner (30), Cards first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (32) and Oakland DH Khris Davis (32).

Justin Verlander will be 37, but shows no signs of slowing down and might be nice to have around for the postseason.

And, oh yeah, that Chris Sale guy will be a free agent next winter, 31 when the 2020 season opens.

"Given where we are, a lot of people had us as long shots entering this process. We'll see what happens over the coming days and weeks," GM Rick Hahn said Thursday. "But we understand that this isn't the last opportunity to add premium talent."

As of Saturday, it had the feeling of Harper waiting for Washington to sweeten the package and Machado trying to get a bit more from Philadelphia.

But the White Sox are still in the mix.

They could get lucky and land a big fish, thus speeding up the process again. Not a bad place to be considering no one thought this was possible a few months ago.

Well, maybe no one but the White Sox themselves.

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