Contingencies at catcher, third take priority
White Sox examining options for potential loss of Pierzynski, Youkilis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The White Sox would like to bring back free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski. The White Sox also would like to bring back free-agent third baseman Kevin Youkilis.
At the same time, they are exploring contingency plans at both positions in case deals can't be worked out with either veteran.
General manager Rick Hahn would prefer not to mess with the White Sox pitching depth, a strong suit for this team that has its sights set on contending in the American League Central. But players drawing the most interest as potential trade partners are situated in that pitching talent pool.
If these comments sound somewhat familiar, well, it's because Hahn has pretty much been talking about these topics of concern since he officially was promoted to the job on Oct. 26. The "cup half-full" crowd among the White Sox faithful would see this specific focus as a representation of a 2013 team pretty well set aside from at third base, catcher and maybe another veteran reliever.
Those on the "cup half-empty" side see two potential glaring vacancies in the lineup and an abundance of right-handed hitters if Tyler Flowers takes over behind the plate. But just as Hahn won't get into the handicapping business in regard to the return of Youkilis and Pierzynski, he wouldn't provide partial updates as to whether Monday's meetings with teams and agents during the first day of the Winter Meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Resort moved the White Sox close to any sort of a deal to fill these voids.
"You know what I compare it to? It's like with my wife. She doesn't care where I travel to. I'm either home or I'm not home," said Hahn during his Monday evening media session. "So either the deal is done or it's not done. It's not close or we're not on the doorstep or we're not on the cusp of announcing something. Right now, nothing is done."
Arthroscopic surgery on Alex Rodriguez's left hip, with Rodriguez needing four-to-six months to recover as announced by the Yankees on Monday, and Mike Napoli joining the Red Sox at three years, $39 million are moves that could directly affect the White Sox plans. The Rodriguez injury figures to put another player in the thin market for third basemen, although Hahn mentioned that teams certainly know about players' health at this time of the offseason so the Yankees might have been in play all along.
A possible left-handed-hitting third-base option such as Eric Chavez might end up back with the Yankees, with whom he played the last two years. As for the signing of Napoli, a player loosely grouped in with the catchers, it could help define the Pierzynski market to a greater extent.
"I would think Napoli and [Russell] Martin were both players that had to get signed to flesh out what the catchers market is going to be and who is going to be the perspective suitors in the end," Hahn said. "It wouldn't shock me if there was a little more activity around A.J. in the coming days or weeks."
Hahn feels comfortable with Flowers taking over behind the plate. He pointed out that the team doesn't think it will lose anything defensively in the transition and that Flowers is capable of consistent power and getting on base at a fairly healthy clip.
There was no indication from Hahn that a veteran catcher was needed to support Flowers in the wake of Pierzynski's departure, with the general manager showing support for switch-hitting reserve Hector Gimenez and his game-calling ability.
"You're now months ahead of where we are now in terms of what that roster is going to look like," Hahn said. "But if it wound up with Flowers and Gimenez, that's certainly a possibility we're comfortable with."
Of course, that possibility exists only if Pierzynski, a fan favorite, intense competitor and leader on the South Side for the past eight years, doesn't come back.
Having Flowers doesn't preclude the White Sox from having dialogue with Pierzynski, "given all he's done for us over the last eight years," as Hahn explained.
"We've made no secret about continuing to have dialogue with our own players," Hahn said. "But there are other players we are talking to as well who may well go off the board soon, which pressures us to make sure we don't lose out on any contingency plans waiting around for a different plan.
"It's always a balancing act, whether it's with a free-agent player or trade, whether it's in the offseason or at the Trade Deadline. You have to make sure you have contingency plans lined up, all of which you judge against the status quo. There's no insistence that we go out and sign Player X if we feel pretty comfortable with our internal options."
That statement brings Hahn back to another offseason theme: The White Sox feel fairly comfortable with in-house options even if they don't make a big signing. It could mean no moves at the Winter Meetings, something Hahn has previously mentioned, but it most certainly means the White Sox will try not to weaken one area to strengthen another.
"Is the sum of the parts weakened from just addressing this one need by taking from a strength and reallocating that resource a different way?" Hahn said. "When you add economics to it, yeah, it makes it a little more complicated because there's sort of a finite set of resources that you have to spend.
"Again, that's what the job is. It's a balancing act in terms of managing your on-field assets but also your cash."