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Clearly no front office gets every move right every time. While we have much to celebrate, including two straight playoff appearances for the first time in team history, today’s team could have been so much more. This is my attempt to describe how strong the Sox would be today if eight decisions were made differently over the past eight years. That’s only one change per year on average. I’ll start with one of the most obvious moves we would like a do over on.
December 9, 2014: Not trading Marcus Semien, Chris Bassitt, Josh Phegley, and Rangel Ravelo for Jeff Samardzija and Michael Ynoa
We gave up two future All-Stars and a backup catcher for one year of Samardzija and a lottery ticket reliever. I think it’s fair to say that the 2014 team was not one starting pitcher away from contending. With a 73-89 record and a fourth-place finish, the front office was kidding themselves with this deal. Needless to say, Samardzija’s 2015 season was a disaster. Despite adding Samardzija as well as Melky Cabrera, David Robertson, and Adam LaRoche in free agency, the Sox only improved by three games to 76-86 in 2015.
2015 MLB Draft: Drafting Walker Buehler at 8 instead of Carson Fulmer
This one admittedly might be a bit of a stretch. Fulmer clearly was more dominant statistically at Vanderbilt than his rotation mate. However, there were concerns about his size and high-effort delivery which would have made Buehler the safer pick. Fulmer was rushed to the big leagues and was never given the chance to develop properly. Buehler is a two time all-star with the Dodgers who has a career ERA of 2.90.
June 4, 2016: Not trading Erik Johnson and Fernando Tatis Jr. for James Shields and cash
This is of course the worst trade in White Sox history. Our Brock for Broglio, our Kenny-always-gets-his-guy nightmare. Shields was bad in pitcher-friendly SD in 2015 (4.45 FIP). He was also bad with SD to start 2016 (4.44 FIP). Yet the front office decided that after an underwhelming 29-27 start that was only good for third place, they had to have Shields. He rewarded that faith by posting a 4-12 record with a 6.77 ERA with the Sox who went on to finish 78-84 and in 4th place. Tatis, while apparently injury prone, has had two top-five MVP seasons before his 23rd birthday.
2016 MLB Draft: Drafting Will Smith at 10 instead of Zack Collins
Let’s get this out of the way: Zack Collins is not a catcher. He’s not a catcher now, he was not a catcher when he was with the White Sox, he will never be a catcher. Wishing he would be a catcher does not make it so. Unfortunately, despite a hot start this year with Toronto, he doesn’t appear to be a hitter either. Will Smith, on the other hand, is both a catcher and a hitter. He has a career .880 OPS and destroys right handed pitching to the tune of a .935 career OPS. Sounds like someone we could use.
2016 MLB Draft: Drafting Dane Dunning at 26 instead of Zack Burdi
Watching my older son graduate from Downers Grove South High School last weekend reminded me that I was ecstatic to see fellow Mustang Zack Burdi get drafted by my favorite team. Then I saw that he was a reliever. Wait, what?!? Chosen only three picks later was Dane Dunning, who had at least started 20 games for Florida in his collegiate career. Of course, we still picked him up in the Adam Eaton trade, so what’s the difference? In this version of events, Washington picked Dakota Hudson at 29 (Hudson went to St. Louis at 34 in reality) and we ended up with Hudson as the third piece in the Eaton trade.
2018 MLB Draft: Drafting Jonathan India at 4 instead of Nick Madrigal
Like the Burdi selection, this is a move I loved at the time. We drafted a scrappy, contact oriented infielder who never strikes out. His game reminded me of how my younger son plays the game and I thought he would man second base on the South Side for the next 10 years. Oops. India was drafted by the Reds with the very next pick, and he went on to be named the 2021 NL Rookie of the Year. Oh, and he plays second base. Had the Sox made India the pick, there is no Madrigal injury and therefore no Craig Kimbrel trade. Of course that means that there would be no A.J. Pollock trade either, so who would be our right fielder today?
February 28, 2019: Signing Bryce Harper instead of allowing him to sign with Philadelphia
While the front office appeared to be desperate to sign Manny Machado using the friends-and-family approach, the real jewel of the 2018-2019 offseason was Harper. His signing fills the RF void definitively for the next 13 years. In the first four years of the contract, his OPS was no lower than .882. Last year he was the NL MVP with a league leading 1.044 OPS, and he drew 100 walks in 141 games.
October 29, 2020: Bruce Bochy named White Sox manager instead of Tony LaRussa
Bochy won three championships in five years with the Giants, and had only sat out the 2020 season, so he was not out of touch with today’s game. There was also rumored interest on both sides, but we’ll never know if he would have been the choice had JR not interfered. With Bochy at the helm, Leury Garcia doesn’t receive more plate appearances than Andrew Vaughn and inexplicable Sunday lineups aren’t a thing.
What does this multiverse of madness style scenario result in? The short answer is that they would have had the kind of depth that they have never had in recent memory. Let’s take a quick look year by year.
Very similar results except with Semien at 3B instead of Gordon Beckham and Tyler Saladino. The team would have received similar or better results from Erik Johnson, Hector Noesi, and Chris Bassitt as they did from Samardzija.
Again, very similar results, but with Semien showing progress at 3B the Todd Frazier trade never happens, resulting in Frankie Montas continuing his development in the White Sox system instead of with the Dodgers. Semien rewards the team’s patience by breaking out to the tune of 27 HR and a .735 OPS. With the Shields trade also not happening, Mat Latos gets a longer leash and delivers results that are similar to those Shields gave us in real life. Since the rotation is a mess, taking Dunning over Burdi in the draft is even more logical.
Rebuild 2.0 goes according to real life, with the exception of the Eaton trade. Instead, the Nationals get their championship RF by trading us Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dakota Hudson. Otherwise, the team again has a similar record to their real life 67-95 result.
Things are starting to get interesting here. Walker Buehler starts 23 games with a 2.62 ERA and gets a top 5 finish in AL ROY voting. Dakota Hudson also has a strong callup pitching out of the bullpen, with a 2.63 ERA over 26 appearances. Chris Bassitt starts 7 games with a 3.02 ERA. Marcus Semien steps back a bit but still contributes a .706 OPS. Frankie Montas starts 11 games with a 3.88 ERA. The starts fill the void created by not having Shields, and Dylan Covey doesn’t have to start 21 games as well. Despite the budding progress, the win loss record doesn’t improve significantly due to a poor offense, causing the front office to make a bold move.
Signing Harper to the largest contract by far in White Sox history is controversial, but it pays immediate dividends as the Sox form a suddenly impressive batting order. Yoan Moncada flipped positions with Semien resulting in breakout years for both. A team which in real life had five players who exceeded 100 OPS+ now has eight. The lineup of Anderson, Moncada, Abreu, Harper, Tatis, Semien, Jimenez, McCann, and Engel becomes one of the most feared in MLB. On the pitching side, there is no need to trade for Ivan Nova, as the rotation now boasts Buehler, Giolito, Hudson, Bassitt, and Montas with Lopez and Cease as depth. I’d bet that this team surprises by getting into the playoffs and perhaps even making a deep run.
The money has already been spent, but that’s OK. With the pitching depth discussed above, there’s no need for Dallas Keuchel. Will Smith made his successful debut backing up James McCann and is ready to take over the starting job so Yasmani Grandal is also unnecessary. Luis Robert replaces Engel in CF. The Sox have arrived as a legitimate contender with World Series aspirations. Bassitt joins Buehler and Giolito as legit aces, and while Montas takes a step back Cease and Dane Dunning join the mix. Playoffs? Without a doubt. This team likely beats out the Rays to challenge the Dodgers for the best record in baseball and another deep playoff run seems inevitable, perhaps even a championship.
Adding the AL ROY in India to replace a disappointing Semien doesn’t seem fair to a lineup that’s flat-out ridiculous. There’s no need to sign Adam Eaton, or make a desperate trade for Craig Kimbrel because this team is absolutely stacked, both on offense and on the mound. Harper wins MVP and Tatis leads the league in HR. Walker has a top 5 Cy Young year, Giolito and Bassitt also get CY votes, and Montas rebounds. They run away with the division and would likely win it all.
The loss of Tatis due to injury is a big blow after also losing Semien and Leury Garcia to free agency, but Andrew Vaughn can take over the DH spot so the lineup is still Anderson, Moncada, Abreu, Harper, Robert, Jimenez, Vaughn, Smith, and India with Gavin Sheets able to step in as DH to allow Vaughn to replace Jimenez due to injury. The rotation of Buehler, Giolito, Bassitt, Montas, and Cease with Hudson and Kopech in reserve is an embarrassment of riches. With Bochy pulling all the right strings, another World Series title is expected.
2023 and beyond:
This is what sustained success truly looks like when the goal is a World Series trophy, not just being competitive in the division and hoping to catch fire at the right time. Getting lucky is not a valid plan for long term success. This team has an amazing amount of pitching so they can absorb the potential loss of Bassitt after 2022 and Giolito and Montas after 2023. The lineup is also solid 1-9 with younger starters at catcher and second base than we have today.
While I’ve used hindsight to highlight these 8 moves that the Sox got wrong, the front office has also made many good moves, notably the Sale, Eaton, and Quintana trades. However, with the team struggling to stay above .500 when they should be running away with the division tells me that our chance at another parade may have already been blown. I believe this shows how those eight wrong choices impacted the team’s chance for championships, not just playoff competitiveness. White Sox fans deserve the best front office in baseball. Failing that, I would settle for a competent and accountable front office where performance and not tenure dictates positions. Thanks for reading, and go Sox!