In the first of a mini three-part series looking at how this offseason could have a big impact on the 2016 First Year Player Draft, the Chicago White Sox are one team that is firmly caught in the middle on which direction they want to move. The decisions made by Ken Williams and Rick Hahn this year will play a huge part in the future direction of this franchise. At the forefront of that, is that another failed season may very well mark the end of Chris Sale in a White Sox uniform.
For the second straight year, the White Sox have added free agent talent in the hope of getting back into the race for a playoff spot, as well as the race for relevancy in Chicago. Last winter, they added Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, and Melky Cabrera. This season, they have landed Alex Avila, Dioner Navarro, Brett Lawrie, and Todd Frazier (via trade).
Over the past several weeks, the White Sox have also been linked to rumors of potentially adding one of the big-name outfielders such as Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes. As of yesterday, Gordon chose to return to their AL Central Division rival Kansas City Royals, which in the long run, may actually be fine for Chicago. The risk of signing Gordon, Upton, or even a Dexter Fowler, would be absorbing the loss of a pick between the first and second round in June’s draft. While the Sox desperately need impact bats to help an offense that was last in the American League in runs and home runs, they can ill-afford to lose what are now becoming precious draft picks.
In the last two drafts, the White Sox, picking within the top 10, have landed high quality collegiate starters in Carlos Rodon and Carson Fulmer. That is not the issue, as both are expected to be impact rotation mates possibly as early as after the All-Star break this summer. The problem is that last year the White Sox went 104 picks before selecting their next player in the draft behind Fulmer. While the MLB draft has many more rounds in comparison to the NFL and NBA, the value of top talent cannot be discounted.
Come June, Chicago will have the number 10 overall pick and a defacto late first round pick in compensation for losing Samardzija to the San Francisco Giants. However, if the White Sox lose that pick due to a free agent signing, they will again wait approximately 50 picks before making their next selection. Already having a thin farm system, not having a 2nd or 3rd round pick last year, and moving three prospects to acquire Frazier, the team’s depth is very much lacking.
With the AL Central at an ultra-competitive high, the White Sox are truly stuck in the middle. With Gordon now back in Kansas City, if the Sox are committed to adding an outfielder, their only play is really to potentially overpay for Cespedes and protect their draft pick. But what if, at the deadline, the White Sox are in contention and need to make a move? What exactly would they have to offer to make that deal? They failed to capitalize on moving Samardzija last season when they could have done more to help themselves in the long term, and improve their limited depth. On the flip side, if all of these moves do not work out for the second straight year, where does that leave Chicago?
That can be answered by moving their prized ace – Sale. With a thin farm system, he is the one player that can instantly build that minor league depth back up. This winter, the rumored packages for Jose Fernandez were astounding. The haul to acquire Shelby Miller included a number one overall pick. With those as bench marks, the White Sox could easily get a huge return by moving Sale and heading in a definitive direction. Chicago has put themselves in a difficult spot. If another offseason of signing players leads to another failed season, the White Sox have only one option to rebuild and get out of the middle. That is to put Chris Sale up for sale and begin the rebuilding process.