But both were adamant Thursday: The team didn’t sign Jay to a one-year, $4 million deal primarily to lure his friend and workout partner Manny Machado to the South Side.
“Manny’s going to do what’s best for him and his family,” Jay, 33, said in a conference call Thursday after the team made his signing official. “Obviously, we have a great friendship, and Yonder (Alonso) is his brother-in-law and all that, but Manny’s going to do what’s best for his family.
“I haven’t been involved in any of that. … Obviously, we’d love to have a Manny on the team. Absolutely. But that’s something ultimately that’s going to be on them and their family. Who knows what’s going to happen?”
Jay’s acquisition follows a December trade with the Indians for first baseman Alonso, fueling speculation that the Sox were padding the nest — beyond negotiations over Machado’s reported demands of at least $300 million — to entice the elite free-agent infielder to pick them over the Phillies, Yankees and other suitors.
Machado is also friends with Sox catcher and former Orioles teammate Welington Castillo.
At one point Jay seemed to bristle at being asked about Machado: “He’s a good friend of mine and I’m going to leave it at that. I’m here to talk about myself and signing with the Chicago White Sox. I’m not here to talk about Manny’s matters.”
General manager Rick Hahn said the Sox had been watching Jay in this and previous offseasons.
“Obviously much has been made about his relationships with other players and other potential free-agent targets,” Hahn said. “And I can certainly tell you we signed Jon Jay … for what he brings on and off the field, not because of his relationship with any other specific targets.
“These players (Jay and Alonso) are here because of what they bring specifically, both between the lines and in the clubhouse. We feel that they make us better in 2019 and have the potential to have a lasting impact on what we’re trying to build in the long term. I’m not going to get into the relationships they have with other players throughout the game. It’s certainly a positive but it’s by no means a reason to make a move to acquire either player.”
Hahn pointed to Jay’s left-handed bat — he’s a career .285 hitter with a .352 on-base percentage in nine major-league seasons with four teams — as well as his versatility — he can play all three outfield spots — and reputation as a vocal clubhouse leader.
“I just try to go out there and help out wherever I can,” Jay said. “I truly care about the game, about my teammates, and I just want to go out there and see everyone do well.”
The Sox had a carousel of outfielders last season as they tried to satisfy offensive and defensive needs and never really achieved an optimal mix on either front. The Sox would like get more pop from strong fielders such as Adam Engel, while power hitter Daniel Palka is a work in progress defensively, though it’s a point of focus this offseason.
“We’ve re-signed Leury Garcia, who has the versatility to play center as well as the infield,” Hahn said. “At some point over the course of the year, not at the start, but … we expect to have Eloy (Jimenez) join us as well. That adds to guys we had last year in Nicky (Delmonico) and Adam Engel and Palka.
“There’s going to be some different options for us and some choices that are going to have to be made.”
Jay, who played with the Cubs in 2017, hit .268 and scored 74 runs last season for the Royals and Diamondbacks. He said signed with the Sox because he admires the organization and the city and has a chance to compete for a starting spot.
“(Manager) Ricky (Renteria) and I, we spoke, but we didn’t really talk about a role,” Jay said. “That’s not important to me. I’m going to prepare every single day and I’m coming in to win a job. That’s what I’ve done my whole career, so I’m going to stick to that.”
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Sox designated outfielder and Wilmette native Charlie Tilson for assignment. Tilson, 26, a New Trier High alumnus, was a Cardinals second-round draft pick in 2011 and came to the Sox organization in a July 2016 trade.
Last summer, he hit .264 with 11 RBIs in 41 games with the Sox.