Major League Baseball just endured one of its slowest offseasons in recent memory. Nearly all of MLB’s 30 teams stayed quiet over the winter, and the “Hot Stove” stayed rather tepid, even during MLB’s Winter Meetings.
Well, except for the Chicago White Sox.
Having seen the writing on the wall after yet another failed attempt at contending in the AL Central — an impressive feat considering their talented, cost-controlled core — the White Sox finally chose to rebuild, trading ace Chris Sale and outfielder Adam Eaton to the Boston Red Sox and Washington Nationals, respectively. Those two trades helped restock a barren farm system, which vaulted from 23rd to fifth in Baseball America’s annual organizational rankings. One White Sox fan called it “an unprecedented [start to a] rebuild,” and it’s hard to argue.
However, the stars of the 2016-17 offseason are not done yet. The White Sox still have several tradeable assets on their roster, most (if not all) of which will not be around for the next contender on the South Side. A Jose Quintana trade could happen at any moment, with other dominoes like Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera likely soon to follow.
What does this mean? Better days are surely ahead for White Sox fans, but not quite yet. Their 2017 roster doesn’t have much talent behind the stars that remain — which is why they’re rebuilding in the first place — and could get much worse as the season rolls along. There are some rough years to come, but the Sox only need to search a few miles north to realize that it could all pay off one day.
Team at a Glance
2016 record: 78-84 | 2016 payroll: $114.5 million | 2016 pythag: 78-84
Key additions: 2B Yoan Moncada, RHP Lucas Giolito, RHP Reynaldo Lopez, LHP Derek Holland
Key subtractions: LHP Chris Sale, OF Adam Eaton, 2B Brett Lawrie, C Alex Avila
Prior to trading Sale and Eaton, the White Sox had as much top-end talent as anyone in baseball. They still have some star power today, with Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon atop the rotation. Rodon will likely begin the season on the disabled list, but is a promising young starter who will help ease the transition from Sale and Quintana to Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and any other pitching prospects that come through Chicago’s ranks.
On the other side of the ball, Jose Abreu still leads a lineup that also features dinger monster Todd Frazier and the occasionally brilliant Melky Cabrera. Shortstop Tim Anderson is another budding young star that I can’t bring myself to hate, even after he signed a patented White Sox early extension this offseason. Speedy center fielder Charlie Tilson is another interesting name, but hasn’t found a way to stay healthy as of yet.
The drop-off is steep after that, though. Derek Holland, James Shields, and Miguel Gonzalez will all likely begin the year in the starting rotation, and most of their below-average bullpen returns from last season. Their Opening Day roster also features Tyler Saladino, old friend Avisail Garcia, and something called a Yolmer Sanchez. While there are some interesting pieces here — and Yoan Moncada, destroyer of worlds, waiting in the wings — this lineup won’t strike fear into the hearts of many AL pitchers.
One could argue that the most important person in the White Sox organization is no longer a player, but rather general manager Rick Hahn. White Sox fans may scoff at how behind the times other fanbases are, but Hahn has quietly been making shrewd moves one after another since being promoted to the GM role a few years ago. Their drafting seems to have improved as well, with high-upside players like Carson Fulmer and Zack Collins now in the farm system. With the Sox tearing down and moving toward a rebuild of some sort, Hahn feels like the right man to lead the charge.
To their credit, Hahn and the rest of the White Sox front office have gotten their rebuild off to a great start. Yoan Moncada is arguably the best prospect in baseball, and Lucas Giolito was once considered the best pitching prospect in the game. Some scouts see Reynaldo Lopez as even better than Giolito, and Michael Kopech can throw a baseball through a brick wall. The Sox have also added a couple nice pieces through other avenues, such as 2016 first round pick Zack Collins. They should be able to add more prospects when the veterans are inevitably sold off, but already have one of the top farm systems in baseball with another high draft pick to come in 2017.
Fortunately for White Sox fans, their team still has enough offensive firepower to be an entertaining on-field product. Slugger Jose Abreu sorted out some issues in the second half of 2016, and looked as fearsome as he was through the first two years of his MLB career. Todd Frazier is no longer producing the .270-ish averages he managed for a couple seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, but hit 40 home runs in his first season with the Sox. He has hit 104 dingers in the past three season, and is a game-changing threat anytime he steps to the plate. Young players like Tyler Saladino and Omar Narvaez will get a chance to build on solid offensive production from 2016 as well.
For all of the good things the White Sox front office has done in the past six months, they are in this position because of their own doing. Hahn was promoted to the general manager’s role in 2012, and the Sox were unable to develop any more homegrown talent to supplement their star-laden core. South Side Sox’s Jim Margalus puts it far better than I possibly could:
After all, the Sox had smiles for miles early. Sale was the natural hood ornament of the White Sox, unless you required that title go to an everyday player, then which Jose Abreu would become the position-player envy of the bunch. If that wasn’t enough, Quintana challenged Sale’s supremacy, and Eaton surpassed Abreu’s. That’s four potential faces, even if one was allegedly a bit of a backpfeifengesicht.
And all they had to show for it?
Hahn and Co. seem to be heading in the right direction — four consecutive top 10 picks (and counting) will do that — but they need to find a hidden gem or two during this rebuild.
It’s far too early to be critical of Chicago’s rebuild, but their on-field product should draw plenty of skepticism this year. Outside of Quintana and Rodon, the starting rotation is a mess. James Shields and Derek Holland will be starting the other two games in their opening series against the Detroit Tigers, with Miguel Gonzalez and unheralded rookie Dylan Covey filling in as a spot starter after that. Shields was great in his heyday, but has fallen off quickly in his mid-30s. He posted a ghastly 6.77 ERA in 114 1⁄3 innings last year, along with the worst strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career. Holland is in the right place after only throwing 203 major league innings in the past three seasons combined — the White Sox training staff has excelled at keeping pitchers healthy for years — but he too is on the wrong side of 30. The Mat Latos experiment didn’t go so well for the Sox last year, and one (or both) of these reclamation projects could go the same way in 2017.
We may eventually come to fear the team that the White Sox are putting together, but that probably won’t happen for a few seasons. They still have enough pitching to give opponents fits from time to time, and could be an annoyance depending on how long Quintana sticks around. However, there could be a mass exodus of talent throughout the season, leaving the Sox with an inexperienced team short on talent and star power. The 2017 season won’t be rock bottom for them — even with their expedited rebuild, 2018 and 2019 will hurt — but it won’t be very memorable either.
Opening Day 2017 Preview!Posted by Bless You Boys: For Detroit Tigers Fans on Wednesday, March 29, 2017