Jose Abreu stands as that early White Sox gift. The powerful, 26-year-old first baseman from Cuba officially was announced by the team Tuesday, with the two sides agreeing upon a six-year, $68 million deal. That move gave the South Siders another young and talented slugger to go with Avisail Garcia, Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo at the core of the White Sox lineup.
It also represents what most likely stands as the only major move within free agency for the White Sox.
Of course, major is in the eyes of the beholder and somewhat akin to that time running from Thanksgiving to Christmas. There are plenty of shopping days to improve the 2014 White Sox and beyond. The team certainly will explore a veteran catcher to go with the mix of Josh Phegley and Tyler Flowers, and could add another more seasoned arm to the bullpen mix.
Trades also become an avenue general manager Rick Hahn can travel during this upcoming Hot Stove period.
But in coming off of a dismal 99-loss campaign in 2013, with major offensive and defensive voids to fill, this is a team willing to go younger and take a step back. Yes, the goal remains to compete in 2014 -- with a solid-looking pitching staff from Chris Sale to the last man in the bullpen. The Sox will also be working with an increase in their bonus pool for the First-Year Player Draft -- where they select third in the first round -- and in the July international spending period, which are two of the top line items on this year's budget.
Getting better is a necessity in the short term. Building a foundation to sustain that success becomes general manager Rick Hahn's ultimate goal, with the Abreu deal fitting into both niches.
"There was going to have to be a new core here in 2015," said Hahn during a season-ending interview analyzing the White Sox present and future. "And as we sat here a year ago, the choice had to be made: Do we take a step back and focus all our attentions on solidifying the 2015 team and beyond, or do we do what we feel is in our best interest to contend in 2013-14, as we transition to that core?
"Obviously, it didn't work out the way we'd hoped or intended, and we got a chance to start focusing on the future sooner, given the way the 2013 season unfolded. Even the way 2012 ended, we owed it to the players in the clubhouse, we owed it to White Sox fans and it's just [White Sox executive vice president] Kenny [Williams] and [White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf's] nature -- and my own nature -- that when we had an opportunity to win, or what we thought was a chance to win, we had to do what we could do to try to maximize that opportunity.
"Again, partway through the season, the focus switched to the future."
Gone from that '13 equation are previous staples such as Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain. Their departure brought back young talent, along with some financial flexibility to add a potential impact free agent such as Abreu.
Paul Konerko and Gavin Floyd are the team's only two free agents, and each comes with a unique set of circumstances. Floyd had the ulnar collateral ligament and flexor muscle in his pitching arm surgically repaired in early May, and probably won't be ready to return until the season is underway. The White Sox know what they have in Floyd, though, and might take a look at bringing him back at some point during his rehab process.
Konerko, the White Sox captain, has been a franchise stalwart for the past 15 years. He will meet with White Sox brass in November to decide whether he comes back for one more year -- in what looks like a part-time role -- retires or possibly finishes with another team.
Arbitration eligible: Beckham, Alejandro De Aza, Brent Morel, Flowers and Viciedo.
Free agents: Konerko, Floyd.
Team options: Exercised $4 million option on right-hander Matt Lindstrom
Non-tender possibilities: Morel, Flowers.
Areas of Need
Catcher: The White Sox entered 2013 without much experience behind the plate, and won't travel that route again. Their addition doesn't have to be a starter, but certainly someone who can significantly supplement Phegley and/or Flowers.
Starting pitcher: Jose Quintana established himself as a quality No. 2 pitcher. But if the White Sox are relying on pitching to lead the way, they might want to add another more established veteran arm high up into the rotation mix.
Veteran reliever: Lindstrom helps solve part of the problem for the back end of the bullpen. Hector Santiago also could move back into relief if the White Sox found another starter.
Third base: In Conor Gillaspie and Jeff Keppinger, the White Sox appear to have, at the very least, a platoon on the corner. Marcus Semien will be pushing for playing time, coming off a standout 2013 campaign in the Minors and a strong September with the White Sox.
Last year's payroll started at $112 million but dropped significantly with the trades of Rios, Peavy, Crain and Thornton. The Sox have approximately $49 million committed to 2014 -- prior to the Abreu signing and arbitration cases -- so while their payroll will drop from '13, it might not be a wholesale drop.