Yes, White Sox fans, this off season may be one of the most important ever, and here’s why. First, the White Sox are coming off of a 2016 season in which they failed to meet lofty expectations. For the third year in a row, the team built a roster with the intention of supplementing its talented core of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, and Adam Eaton, going “all-in” to try to win the American League Central. For the third season in a row, the plan was unsuccessful. The White Sox failed to make the playoffs for the 8th season in a row, their last appearance being 2008 (Remember the Blackout game? John Danks was dominant, Jim Thome hit the longest home run ever, Ken Griffey Jr. had an epic outfield assist, and Brian Anderson ran a mile to dive for the final out. Ah nostalgia…). Second, as you may or may not be aware, the Cubs – crosstown rival and public enemy number one for many Sox fans – won 103 games and won the World Series. The Lovable Losers have become Wonderful Winners, and for many fans that has worsened the sting of mediocre White Sox baseball. However, this sting may have been painful enough to cause, in part, a change in philosophy.
White Sox Executive Vice President and General Manager Rick Hahn has hinted that the White Sox have begun to think differently about their off season plans and player acquisition philosophy. As the yearly General Manager meetings have wrapped up, where frequently the early framework for potential trades are constructed, those in favor of a complete roster re-build are left with some intriguing fodder. With regard to past years and this current off season Hahn said,
“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 our targets and whatever we’re hoping to accomplish have a little more longer-term fits in nature.”
If Hahn is looking to acquire near Major League-ready prospects, or young controllable Major League talent, as is implied by seeking players who would fit a longer term benefit, then surely he is considering trading key players in a complete re-building effort. But let’s say, even with this new philosophy, that the goal is to “go for it” in 2017. Acquiring impact players to remedy current roster deficiencies – positions of need include CF, C, DH, SP, RP – would require significant free agent spending and/or trade acquisitions. However, White Sox historic free agent spending trends have shown that they choose not to be competitive for top flight, big bat free agents like OF Yoenis Cespedes or 1B Edwin Encarnacion, who will both likely command $100+ MM contracts. I will not even address the barren free agent market for starting pitchers. As far as trade acquisitions go, the White Sox do not have the minor league firepower to assemble a tempting package to acquire an impact player like CF Andrew McCutchen, let alone to address other areas of need. Complicating matters even further, there aren’t any major league ready bats at AAA Charlotte either. No, below replacement level OF Jason Coats does not count. There are too many roster deficiencies to improve upon and not enough resources to reverse the trend coined by Hahn of being “mired in mediocrity” by “going for it” in 2017. This leaves a re-build as the best option. Many fans have been clamoring for a re-build for years, and soon they may see just what that looks like.
It remains to be seen if a full re-build will take place this off season, at the 2017 trade deadline, or at all. However, in this their most important off season ever, the White Sox have indicated a significant change in player acquisition philosophy, and that is the most important takeaway. Surely teams are lining up to make a run at valuable players on the White Sox roster like Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, and Nate Jones. There will also be strong interest in veterans Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera and David Robertson as well. Should they be traded, the haul of young players will be staggeringly fantastic and should be such that the team will be set up for a new competitive window as soon as 2018. Cheers to you, Mr. Hahn. Make the White Sox great again. I, for one, am excited to see how this new philosophy plays out over the coming weeks and month leading up to the MLB Winter Meetings in December, and beyond. There surely will be many rumors and roster moves this hot stove season, and I am excited to share it with you here on Chicago Sports Nation. –DV
Do you think the White Sox should begin a re-build this off season? Comment below and let us know what you think!
Photo: Jason Foster/Sporting News