Baseball / MLB

White Sox, outfielder Luis Robert finalize $50 million, six-year deal

AP

Luis Robert is locked in with the Chicago White Sox — for the next six years at least, and possibly for the opening day lineup, too.

The White Sox and their prized young outfielder agreed Thursday to a $50 million, six-year contract, clearing the way for Robert to start the season in the majors.

The deal, which includes club options for 2026 and 2027, removes the incentive for the White Sox to keep the 22-year-old Cuban off their opening-day roster to limit his service time and delay his eventual free agency.

“People are understandably focused on what, potentially, this means for our opening day roster,” Hahn said. “I understand the focus on the 2020 season. But it’s really just much more about the long term and having Luis Robert patrolling center field for hopefully at least the next eight years in a White Sox uniform.”

Robert said through an interpreter he is “100 percent convinced” he will start the season in the majors and is relieved he won’t have to worry about beginning the year in the minors.

“I’m going to do my best to help this team win multiple championships,” he said. “And I know that we’re going to be able to do that because we have some very good, talented players.”

Robert combined to hit .328 with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs, 108 runs and 36 stolen bases last season at Class A, Double-A and Triple-A. He was the first minor leaguer since Joc Pederson in 2014 with at least 30 homers and 30 steals and the first White Sox prospect to do it since at least 1988. Robert ranked among the minor league leaders in hits (fourth), extra-base hits (fourth), runs (fifth) and triples (tied for sixth).

Robert has hit .312 over three minor league seasons. Chicago signed him as an international free agent on May 27, 2017, for a $26 million signing bonus — the White Sox incurred a tax of $25,243,200 to complete the deal.

Robert is due $1.5 million in 2020, $3.5 million in 2021, $6 million in 2022, $9.5 million in 2023, $12.5 million in 2024 and $15 million in 2025. The White Sox hold $20-million options for 2026 and 2027, with $2 million buyouts for each season. Hahn said contract talks with agent Barry Praver started late last season and picked up at the winter meetings last month.

The deal is similar to the $43 million, six-year contract the White Sox signed with then-prospect Eloy Jimenez last March. Jimenez made Chicago’s opening day roster and was in the big leagues all season.

“I think it was fairly clear not just to those of us in the White Sox’s organization or in player development or in scouting, but throughout the industry, that he has a chance to be a very special talent at the big league level for a long time,” Hahn said.

Without the long-term deal, the White Sox could have delayed Robert’s free agency by a year if they kept him in the minors for 15 days this season. That sort of apparent manipulation of a young player’s service time has become a regular practice and is the subject of an unresolved union grievance against the Chicago Cubs regarding Kris Bryant.

The deal is just the latest big money move by a team hoping to challenge in the AL Central after seven straight losing seasons. The White Sox have added catcher Yasmani Grandal ($73 million, four years), slugger Edwin Encarnacion ($12 million, one year) and pitchers Dallas Keuchel ($55.5 million, three years) and Gio Gonzalez ($5 million, one year). They also brought back slugger Jose Abreu on a $50 million, three-year deal and acquired outfielder Nomar Mazara from the Texas Rangers.

Robert figures to join a young core of hitters in the majors that includes Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson and Jimenez. Keuchel and Gonzalez will join a rotation led by All-Star Lucas Giolito that also features Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease. Promising young right-hander Michael Kopech is also expected to return following Tommy John surgery.

“If people want to get excited about this, if people want to have high expectations and high hopes, that’s fantastic,” Hahn said. “I think all we can do is be transparent about this process and what we’re trying to do. We were clear at the end of the season that thanks to the progress some of our young guys made as well as the flexibility we enjoyed from a payroll standpoint that we felt it was going to be time to move to that next stage.”

The White Sox also designated right-handed pitcher Tayron Guerrero for assignment.