The Chicago White Sox have been an interesting club as of late. Each of the last few seasons, they’ve added a player who is said to be the final piece of the puzzle, leading to sustained success. They never are. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2008 and haven’t won a playoff series since winning the World Series in 2005. It looks as if this mediocrity could be over now. Here’s a recent statement from White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn:
“We’ve always been focused on putting ourselves in the best position to win […] At the same time, I think we’re veering away from the standpoint of looking for stopgaps. A lot of what we did in the last few years had been trying to enhance the short-term potential of the club to put ourselves in a position to win immediately. I feel the approach at this point is focusing on longer-term benefits. It doesn’t mean we won’t necessarily be in a good position in 2017. It means that our targets and whatever we’re hoping to accomplish have a little more longer-term fits in nature.”
That’s basically the fancy way of saying that they need to rebuild.
The 2015 offseason made it look like the White Sox could be a contender in the upcoming season. They traded several prospects for a third base slugger in Todd Frazier and a decent second baseman in Brett Lawrie. They signed a couple of catchers in Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila, an experienced shortstop in Jimmy Rollins, and a 28-year-old center fielder in Austin Jackson.
At 23-10, with a six-game lead of the AL Central on May 9, it looked like the White Sox would have a shot at winning their division. It all went down from there. Four days later, they would release fifth starter John Danks; a month after that Mat Latos, leaving their rotation with a few guys you’ve probably never heard of. Then, in one of the most questionable deals of the season, they sent two prospects to the San Diego Padres for starting pitcher James Shields. Were they still in contention? Was this season going to be a success? No one really knew. They went on to release Rollins and sign 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau, who was recovering from an injury. The team was bouncing around the .500 mark, but their offense just wasn’t scoring enough runs for them to win games. After starting out 23-10, the White Sox went 55-74 the rest of the season on their way to winning 78 games and finishing in fourth place in the AL Central.
There were some things that White Sox fans were cheering for, though. First baseman Jose Abreu joined Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols as the only players in MLB history to hit 25 homers and drive in 100 runs in their first three seasons in the majors. Frazier became only the seventh player in franchise history to hit 40 home runs in a season. Adam Eaton quietly put up the best season by a White Sox player (in terms of bWAR) since Frank Thomas in 1998. His 6.2 WAR beat out Magglio Ordonez‘s 5.8 WAR in 1999 for the best WAR by a right fielder in White Sox history. Chris Sale and Jose Quintana became only the 37th pitching duo in MLB history to both have an ERA+ of 120 or better and a K/BB ratio of at least 3.5.
While the 2016 season did have several positives, overall it was highlighted by its negatives. It started off with Adam LaRoche‘s retirement because of a dugout issue. Then it was trading for Shields, who gave up 31 homers with a 6.77 ERA in 114.1 innings pitched with the Sox. Then it was Sale’s issue with the throwback uniforms. Then it was announcing that they’d be renaming their stadium to “Guaranteed Rate Field” from U.S. Cellular Field. The season was almost humorous for fans outside of the South Side. Despite all of the home runs, Frazier couldn’t make contact, hitting only .225 with 163 strikeouts on the year. Quintana only got 3.82 runs of support per game, and finished 13-12 despite a very impressive 3.20 ERA. They had five players age 30 or older with 150 plate appearances; among them, only Frazier and Melky Cabrera had a WAR upwards of 1.
The Sox appear to be rebuilding, and that is most definitely the right direction for them. If they can follow the points from the Wish List below, don’t be surprised seeing “CHICAGO – AL” at the top of the standings in a few years.
1. Fire Kenny Williams and Others in Charge
It’s difficult to have a successful offseason and a successful rebuild when the people in charge can’t measure talent. Since winning the World Series in 2005, Kenny Williams has had a free pass, immune from criticism by White Sox ownership despite numerous disappointing moves. Eventually, Williams must be held responsible for failures on and off the field.
Yes, he has made some successful decisions like drafting Chris Young in 2001, Gio Gonzalez in 2004, and Chris Sale in 2010. But that’s it. Since 2000, when Williams started as the White Sox general manager, those are their only draft picks to generate at least 10 WAR in their careers. Out of around 800 draft picks since being named GM, Williams and staff have only made three “successful” draft picks. That’s a success rate of less than 0.4 percent. Sure, there are prospects who haven’t made the big leagues yet who could still be a success; still, three good draft picks in a decade and a half is bad.
Is it the scouts who can’t measure the talent, or is it the staff who can’t develop the players properly? Whoever it is, how can they be trusted to turn this team around when they don’t have a good track record of producing good players? After all, young talent is the only thing that they should be targeting. They need new faces in charge before this team can make any deals.
2. Go Big or Go Home
This point is easily the most important on the list. The White Sox front office must commit to a plan of action this offseason. As mentioned earlier, Hahn alluded to a Sox rebuild; if that’s what they decide to do, they need to act on it. In order for a rebuild to be successful, a team must be willing to deal nearly everyone, excluding prospects. If Hahn changes his mind for whatever reason, or they just don’t end up revamping their franchise, then stick to that decision. Don’t go out and trade an ace for a couple big name prospects if you’re not planning on doing anything else. If the White Sox decide that rebuilding is the best option for their future (it is), then commit to it. Don’t have anyone over the age of 25 be considered “untouchables” this winter, and consider every offer for every player on your roster.
Yes, in fact, this type of rebuild has been done before, and the White Sox don’t need to look far. That’s right, something similar happened a few years ago about 10 miles away on the North Side of Chicago. I bet all you White Sox fans hate hearing it, but the Sox should look at the Chicago Cubs’ rebuild as a model for their own. Not only did the Cubs draft talent with great picks, but also traded a majority of their talent away for younger players. They traded Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers for a soft-tossing starter named Kyle Hendricks. They also traded starters Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland Athletics for a 20-year-old shortstop named Addison Russell. To add to that, they sent relief pitcher Andrew Cashner to the San Diego Padres for first baseman Anthony Rizzo. The list goes on and on. Yes, the Cubs scored on their top picks, but a majority of their core was traded for before they became close to as valuable as they are today. That’s exactly what the White Sox need to do.
3. Trade Chris Sale and/or Jose Quintana
It’s going to be a tough process, and during that process, the White Sox front office is going to need to make big sacrifices. To be quite honest, I don’t think this project can be considered a rebuild until one, if not both of these aces are on other teams.
Sale, at age 27, is one of the most valuable pitchers currently in baseball. He’s in his prime, he’s had seven years of big league experience, and he has established himself as a dominant starter. In his career, Sale has maintained a K/BB ratio of 4.78. That’s astounding. For perspective, only one other pitcher in major league history has topped that. His name is Tommy Bond, and he pitched in a time where you needed to throw nine balls in one plate appearance for a walk to be issued. He was born 133 years before Sale, and once threw 57 complete games in three years in a row. I’m getting sidetracked. Anyway, that’s incredible company. Sale is one of four starting pitchers to strike out at least 10 batters per 9 innings pitched in his career, the others being Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood, and Pedro Martinez. Did I forget to mention that Sale isn’t a free agent until 2020? Considering the 2016 free agent market for starters, Sale will not go cheap. The Sox likely wouldn’t accept any deal not containing elite minor leaguers, or major-league-ready talent, as they need players they can build their organization around in the years to come.
Quintana, also 27 years old, is one of the most underrated starters in all of baseball. After looking past his mediocre record, you’ll notice that Quintana is actually a great starter. He is one of only two starters currently in their 20s to pitch at least 200 innings in each of the last four seasons, with Madison Bumgarner being the other. In that span, Quintana’s worst ERA in a season was 3.51 in 2013. Quintana has a club option in 2019, and is under team control through 2020. Whatever you think Sale will go for, don’t expect much less in return for Quintana, as he is able to pitch well on a consistent basis.
A few teams seem to be very interested in Sale, and even Quintana for that matter. The Atlanta Braves, with a surplus of prospects including Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, could look to make a big trade as an attempt to make the playoffs in the upcoming season. The Washington Nationals, looking to add to a rotation that includes Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, would have a scary playoff rotation if Sale were added to it. Prospects they could offer include Trea Turner, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Sheldon Neuse. The Los Angeles Dodgers, another prospect-loaded National League team, could look to send Alex Verdugo, Jose De Leon, or even Julio Urias to the South Side in exchange for Sale and/or Quintana.
Remember, Jeremy Hellickson is getting paid over $17 million in 2017. Imagine how much Sale and Quintana would be worth.
4. Look to Deal David Robertson
With free agent relief pitchers Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon, and Sergio Romo, teams are going to need to overpay if they want a top-notch reliever. Another option for these contenders, desperate for late-inning pitching, is to try trading for one. One of their options should be White Sox closer David Robertson, a decent eighth- and ninth-inning right hander. The 31-year-old veteran has put together a couple of average seasons since joining the White Sox, with an ERA+ of 115 in 125.2 innings pitched in the last two seasons. Robertson has struck out at least 10 batters per 9 innings pitched in nine consecutive seasons, something only Hall of Famer Randy Johnson has done before (minimum 30 IP in each season). However, he he did walk 4.6 batters per 9 innings pitched last season, a huge increase from his 1.6 mark the year before.
Robertson has a 2.97 career ERA in 524 games in relief, striking out 685 and walking 211. He will be 32 in the 2017 season and won’t be a free agent until 2019. He’ll make $25 million over the next two years, which isn’t a fortune compared to how much these free agents will earn this winter. Teams looking to avoid huge contracts of big name closers, but still looking for bullpen help, should at least talk with the White Sox as Robertson would be an ideal candidate for a trade.
2017 will be an important year in the South Side of Chicago. If the White Sox can execute a successful rebuild, starting this winter, the franchise will be back on its feet contending for the AL Central in only a few years to come.