One baseball source identified the White Sox and Philadelphia Phillies as the two most aggressive teams this offseason in pursuit of a third baseman.
Both are on hot on the trail of Kevin Youkilis, who is without question the class of a thin crop of free agents available at the hot corner.
General manager Rick Hahn made it clear early last month: he wants Youkilis back and has pursued him accordingly.
Meanwhile, other potential suitors -- a group that includes the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Oakland As and Baltimore Orioles -- all seem to have solved their vacancies internally, the source said.
But at what cost are the White Sox willing to bring Youkilis back?
Even though Youkilis had a lions share of magical moments on the South Side after a June 24 trade brought him over from Boston, the White Sox sound as if they are prepared for his possible departure. Hahn has noted that once a player hits free agency it lessens the chance of a return. What if the Los Angeles Dodgers were to get involved and a bidding war ensued?
With the team already near its projected 2013 payroll, Hahn would likely need to move another high salary to be able to afford to sign Youkilis. Though Youkilis is their top target, the White Sox have identified a number of potential options, both internal and external, in case Youkilis moves on.
Theres a lot of speculation about what were going to do at third base, Hahn said. Weve got some options lined up. Weve got a list prioritized and we have had some good conversations along different avenues. But there may well come a point where we decide, ultimately, the options that we have internally are superior to whats out there in the market via free agency or trade. While figuring out what were going to do at third base is a priority, its not necessarily one thats going to mandate an acquisition from outside the organization.
The White Sox have discussed a number of internal options. They seem to have no interest in moving Gordon Beckham to third from second base, or moving Dayan Viciedo back from the outfield, though both ideas were considered.
A middle infielder by trade, prospect Carlos Sanchezs name has come up, but the White Sox would prefer to keep him at second base or shortstop. They also would like to give Sanchez, who began last season in Single-A, more time in the minors.
Then theres Brent Morel, a wild card because the team isnt certain a bad back that bothered him for all of 2012 is healthy. As if that werent enough, assistant GM Buddy Bell said Morel will have to unlearn some of the bad habits he developed at the plate last season in order to play through his back pain.
Externally, one team source said he didnt see many everyday options aside from Youkilis in free agency.
But one potential option who could be high on the teams wish list is free agent Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger --- who earlier this week broke his fibula --- is a career .288 hitter. Last season, Keppinger had a .325.369.439 slash line with nine homers and 40 RBIs in 115 games for the Tampa Bay Rays. The infielder has a good reputation and several sources believe Keppingers injury shouldnt keep him from being ready by spring training.
Power-hitter Mark Reynolds, who has hit 181 homers in six seasons, was added to the potential pool on Friday night when the Baltimore Orioles didnt offer him a contract. But Reynolds has 114 errors in 655 games at third base and the Orioles moved him to first base last season.
The White Sox also think there are several other part-time options available that they could mix and match.
One such option might be left-handed hitting third baseman Eric Chavez, though a source said he has drawn significant interest in free agency. Chavez would be a good fit for the White Sox, who would be in need of another left-handed bat if A.J. Pierzynski departs via free agency.
I think there are some everyday options out there and there are some platoon opportunities out there as well, Hahn said. We might have to be creative if you wind up going down one of the more platoon routes, but sometimes thats not such a great obstacle and the sum is greater than the individual pieces when you piece them together correctly.
As for how Youkilis market will play out, Hahn surmises it still is coming together. Youkilis ability to play first base could lead to further interest in him. Hahn believes the next week will bring further clarity on Youkilis situation.
Theres no certainty as to exactly what the economic market or the package available to Kevin is going to be ultimately, Hahn said. We continue to monitor that and will check until it gets flushed out thoroughly.