Bryce Harper

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Hershkovich: With Patience, Harper Fits Sox's Window

The White Sox's window for serious contention appears to be 2021.

Eli Hershkovich
December 06, 2018 - 5:35 pm

(670 The Score) When White Sox general manager Rick Hahn appeared for his end-of-the-season press conference, he noted the organization’s top priority heading into the offseason.

"From a pitching standpoint, we are going to have some additions," Hahn said. "Talk about those three fellows at the front with (Reynaldo) Lopez and (Lucas) Giolito and (Carlos) Rodon, and while Dylan Covey has done a very fine job as an option for us going forward, we are going to need some alternatives in the rotation and the bullpen."

While those words were earnest, it has since become clear: Hahn and the White Sox are also intensely focused on their pursuit of star outfielder Bryce Harper in free agency. The White Sox pitched Harper in a Nov. 19 meeting, touting their up-and-coming core that includes talented young pitchers.

It remains unclear whether Harper, 26, has serious interest in the White Sox. But if he does, how would he fit amid their rebuilding timeline? It's a primary factor he must consider as he weighs where he wants to play in the prime of his career.

If the White Sox's top prospects pan out, Hahn and the rest of the front office are still likely looking at the 2021 season -- with an outside shot at 2020 -- for their first crack at contention.

As it sits now, the White Sox's lineup currently remains a project. It ranked 12th in runs per game in the American League in 2018. There are young building blocks who had their share of ups and downs.

Second baseman Yoan Moncada, 23, struggled in 2018, hitting .235 with a .714 OPS and striking out an MLB-high 217 times. His 33.4 percent strikeout rate was the third-highest in baseball, and he's still in the midst of adjusting at the plate. 

Moncada will likely evolve into a quality top-of-the-order bat in due time, but his 2018 season was a reminder that player development often isn't linear. And as great as White Sox top prospect Eloy Jimenez has played in the minor leagues, he too figures to have an adjustment period once he's called up to the big leagues early in the 2019 season.

Beyond Jimenez, fellow high-profile prospects Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal aren't expected to be imminent arrivals at the big league level. The White Sox could also deal All-Star first baseman Jose Abreu for more prospects, which would further point toward a mindset of building a contender for around 2021 or so.

Speaking Tuesday, Hahn wasn’t willing to commit to any direction with Abreu, who has been linked to the Dodgers on the trade market.

"Although he (Abreu) is going into the last year of his contract, that does by no means preclude him from being a part of our future here," he said.

While Hahn is optimistic about his team's pitching staff, it was dealt a blow when 22-year-old right-hander Michael Kopech, expected to be the ace of the future, underwent Tommy John surgery in September. He'll miss all of 2019 before returning in 2020. 

If Kopech can return to form when healthy and at least two of the Lopez/Giolito/Rodon trio pan out, it's an attractive starting rotation for Harper to jump on board with. But all of them still need time to develop.

As Harper assesses his options, much remains unclear. What is clear is that an elite talent like Harper fits the White Sox's rebuild, but for him to join it, he'd need to be willing to show patience and wait for a chance to contend at the highest level. 

Eli Hershkovich is a producer for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @EliHershkovich.