White Sox Open Extension Talks with Outfielder Luis Robert

The Chicago White Sox have built a reputation of extending their own players earlier than was usual in previous cases. In the past, the front office has inked deals with Chis Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton and Nate Jones. Shortstop Tim Anderson signed an extension with the club in March 2017 after playing in 99 big league games. Anderson is guaranteed $26.5 million on a six-year contract that could pay him over $50 million. Anderson’s pact was the largest at the time for a player as inexperienced as the former first rounder was.

Sale, Quintana and Eaton possessed contracts that ultimately expedited the rebuild by bringing back attractive pieces in exchange for their cost certainty. Last March, Eloy Jimenez signed a six-year extension with the club before playing in a major league game. Jimenez’s six-year contract guarantees him $43 million and can be worth up to $78 million over eight years. The front office appears to be up to their old tricks and would like to lock up another member of their young core in anticipation of the 2020 season.

The White Sox’s front office has been very active this winter in attempting to turn a rebuilding club into a contender starting next season. Luis Robert could be a big part of that. Robert will likely spend the majority of the season as the starting center fielder in Chicago next year but when that starts is still a question mark. It’s very likely that the 22-year-old phenom would begin 2020 with the Charlotte Knights in the International League barring a contract extension being signed.

Because of that reason, the decision makers are attempting to strike a deal with their number one prospect. The deal would be structured in a similar fashion to the one that Eloy Jimenez signed with the club last off-season. One potential issue could be that Luis Robert’s financial situation is different than that of Jimenez, who was a more traditional teenage international signing.

Rust and injuries halted Luis Robert’s early audition in the White Sox’s system and the perception of his talent level and ability was clouded because of it. After tearing the cover off the ball during the Arizona Fall League in 2018, Robert torched three levels on the way to top-5 prospect in the sport status in 2019. In 19 games with the Winston-Salem Dash last year, the 6’3″ 185 pounder hit .453/.512/.920 with an absurd 305 wRC+ and .631 wOBA. Robert then went to the Southern League where pretenders go to die in most cases.

The ballparks are huge and the pitching is a step up. The Cuban proceeded to hit .314/.362/.518 in 56 games with a .398 wOBA and a 155 wRC+. The $26 million man forced his way to Charlotte to end his season in the International League and he didn’t disappoint there either. Robert hit 16 homers with the Knights, posted a 136 wRC+ with a .396 wOBA and slashed .297/.341/.634.

The most recent scouting report published by Baseball America gives a glimpse at the type of player Luis Robert can become in short order. The 22-year-old center fielder was the first hitter since 2009 to club 30 homers and  provide 10 or more triples in a minor league season. The publication also calls him the “most-tooled up” player the White Sox have had in their system in years.

They note that Robert’s pure hitting ability might be his weakest tool despite hitting .328 across three minor league levels in 2019. He does possess a swing heavy approach and he strikes out a fair amount. Robert chases and commits early on bad breaking stuff at times but he also hammers mistakes all over the field. Baseball America referenced his “strong hands, muscular frame and elite bat speed” as well.

He’s one of the very best prospects in the game based on his potential at the dish. The outfielder can also change games defensively as well though. Robert possesses “near elite speed in CF where he defends all four quadrants”. He has a double plus arm in addition to plus speed. Baseball America’s summation is that “Robert is likely to follow the typical path of the young, big league ready super prospect”.

The publication believes that he could be the franchise player in Chicago in spite of the presence of Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada already. BA put 70-grades on his power, run and arm while he was given a 60-grade for defense and a 55-grade hit tool. It’s high praise from a respected outlet but guys like Luis Robert don’t usually become big league flameouts.

Luis Robert signed with the White Sox out of Cuba back in 2017 and was given a bonus of $26 million. At the time, the international rules stated that clubs would pay a 100% overage tax on expenditures and the White Sox had spent over their bonus pool at signing time. The cost to the club ended up totaling $52 million despite what Robert actually received. He’s already been paid real money so there are some questions about whether he’s actually a candidate to sign a pre-arb extension similarly to other players in similar situations. It’s important to remember that Robert likely squandered much of the $26 million bonus in agent fees and paying off buscones in his quest to play baseball in the United States.

While the player may choose to bet on himself, play the arbitration system and take things year-to-year, signing the deal now has benefits as well. In exchange for one free agent year, Robert would likely be making over $1 million in year one in addition to guaranteeing himself over $40 million. Sources have told FutureSox that the structure of any deal would be similar to the contract signed by Eloy Jimenez last off-season.

The first six years of the contract would be guaranteed in the $40-$50 million range. Two team options would be tacked on to the end bringing the total into the ballpark of $80-$90 million. There is no indication at this time whether Luis Robert plans on signing the deal or how the front office feels about the deal’s likelihood. Barring a contract being signed, it’s likely that fans won’t see Luis Robert in the major leagues until the 2nd week in April. The White Sox are hoping that Luis Robert is in their lineup on March 26th vs Kansas City however.

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