White Sox’s lengthy rebuild didn’t deliver offensive depth

Here’s a rule of thumb about following the White Sox casually: If you’re hearing people talk about Danny Mendick, things probably aren’t going well.

This apparently even applies when Mendick himself is exceeding expectations. He’s hitting .290/.333/.484 over 34 plate appearances, so he’s one of two active White Sox with an OPS above .800 no matter the sample. He improved that line by going 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs from the ninth spot in Toronto on Tuesday night.

But he also committed the season’s costliest baserunning mistake to date, getting tagged out at second before the tying run crossed the plate on what had all the markings of a standard sac fly by Yasmani Grandal.

Tony La Russa said Mendick should’ve stopped

“[Mendick] came in and apologized,” manager Tony La Russa said. “First of all, it was a good play. But when you tag up and have the play in front of you and the throw goes there, you have to stop. You stop.”

… while Mendick sees himself as somebody who never stops never stopping:

Mendick wanted to put the tying run in scoring position with two outs for Vaughn.

“I’m an aggressive player,” Mendick said. “It might not have been the best situation to do that with the runner on third, but if I’m going to make a mistake, it’s going to be aggressive. I saw him going back. He made a perfect throw, a perfect play.”

He’s not lying. I’ve used the “mendick-tootblan” tag on eight different recaps since September 2019, which seems steep for an up-and-down bench player. Perhaps he might want to try making a different kind of mistake, just to see what happens.


Another issue is that Mendick’s playing time has been going in the wrong direction as the White Sox have advanced into what’s supposed to be the peak of their plans. He’s provided diminishing returns for the White Sox since an intriguing cup of coffee as a September call-up in 2019 while seeing more action:

  • 2019: 107 OPS+ over 40 PA
  • 2020: 81 OPS+ over 114 PA
  • 2021: 63 OPS+ over 186 PA

This season’s output breaks that trend thus far (135 OPS+), but Mendick has a history of starting strong before overexposure sets in. He hit .265/.405/.441 through his first 42 plate appearances of 2021, capped off by a grand slam in the same game Yermín Mercedes swung 3-0 against Willians Astudillo. While everybody pointed to Mercedes’ in-progress slide as a casualty of Tony La Russa’s doghouse, perhaps Mendick was the one who took it personally. He hit just .208/.273/.246 the rest of the season.

But even if Mendick figures out how to hold down a job this time around, it’s still weird that he’s getting a chance to do so, at least for this team. He has at least one MLB skill, but his overall game can be easily improved upon, which is why he gets optioned down to Charlotte at every opportunity.

But he finds his way back to Chicago at every opportunity simply by staying healthy and engaged while others can’t. Nick Madrigal went 2-for-2 in seasons with surgeries for the Sox. Tim Anderson is on track to miss about 30-40 games for the third consecutive 162-game schedule. By those standards, the perpetually pained Yoán Moncada was the endurance king, at least until an oblique strain and vague leg limited him to 15 games over the first two months, and one plate appearance over the last week.

With Madrigal gone and Moncada and Jiménez struggling to stay on the field, Andrew Vaughn is the only active bat the rebuild provided (Luis Robert could’ve been signed without all the excessive losing). And when viewing the struggles through that lens, it becomes more apparent why Grandal’s start to the season is crushing the team.


Once the Sox built what they thought was their cost-controlled core, Grandal was the only position player added to the team with the aim of elevating the offense. Just about everybody else* — Nomar Mazara, Edwin Encarnación, Adam Eaton, Josh Harrison — was basically brought aboard with the hopes that he wouldn’t suck, because “not sucking” would constitute a major improvement over the previous player, who was also acquired with modest intentions. James McCann is the only time this has ever worked.

(*A.J. Pollock is in between. He should be better than this, but was also the best Rick Hahn could do with Craig Kimbrel’s option. Were Hahn to have $16 million to spend however he pleased, would Pollock still be on his radar?)

Had Moncada and Jiménez entrenched themselves in the lineup as expected, the Sox could have gradually diminished Grandal’s responsibilities until his game comes back, if it does. This is what happened in the rotation, where Dallas Keuchel fell behind Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech over the course of eight baseball months, and then fell off the roster. It’s slightly embarrassing for everybody that it happened so fast, but the White Sox also produced depth and bolstered it with another ambitious addition, which hastened the decision in a positive way.

It’s the opposite for the lineup. Tony La Russa batted Grandal leadoff out of desperation on Tuesday, and it worked as well as it should have. He went 0-for-5 with five stranded. It could’ve been 0-for-4 with an RBI were it not for Mendick’s blunder, which shows how starved anybody is for good news.

Mendick’s presence reflects the absence of such positive developments. In a healthier White Sox world, everybody could chalk up his story as a player-development victory, even if he came up short of sticking. Instead, another long look has fallen into his lap, and not because there’s a particular reason to think he’s shored up the gaps in his game. He’s going to run with it, and the Sox have to hope that said running won’t continue to matter more than it should.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Qubort

The worst part is there is no hope until Jerry moves on from the team in some fashion. Until then, Hahn and TLR will be in place and the team will be horribly flawed. Holes from 5 years ago are the same holes today. The only reason the team has any relevance is because the rest of the division is terrible too.

BenwithVen

My thoughts exactly. Swap some names around and this article can look like it was written in 2009 or 2015.

MrStealYoBase

Here’s my biggest problem with the “if only Anderson, Moncada, Jimenez, Abreu, Robert, & Grandal were all healthy at the same time” line. All 6 of those players were healthy for the ALDS last year and appeared in all 4 games. The offense had a grand total of 6 extra base hits, and only one of those XBH was supplied by those 6 “core” guys. (Leury Garcia x2, Gavin Sheets x2, & Andrew Vaughn x1) They got spanked by the Astros and Lance McCullers made them look silly.

This team needed at least one major upgrade to the offense and Pollock isn’t it so far. But how could anyone have seen a 34-year-old outfielder taking a step back?

There is no such thing as having too many players for too few spots. Even if you were optimistic and thought you could squeeze 120 games each out of Eloy, Robert, and Pollock in the outfield, that still leaves another 126 games to cover. It the same logic that they seem to have applied to the Rodon qualifying offer: “why do we need 6 starting pitchers?”.

You can excuse this team not investing in the top of the depth chart if they at least would invest in the bottom. The only proactive depth signing they’ve had in the last few years is Leury Garcia, who can more accurately be filed as ‘Sox rewarding an employee for no discernable reason’ rather than ‘move to improve the major league roster’. They were fine letting Collins/Zavala play 115 games last year. They were fine having Andrew Vaughn, who had never played outfield before, be plan B in Left Field.

But at least they have the most expensive bullpen relative to overall payroll in history.

HallofFrank

Yeah but when you add Vaughn and a working Pollock, plus a Cease and a Kopech, things start to look a lot more formidable. Those six alone are a good, not great, offense. Those six plus Vaughn and Pollock—when all are around their 50% outcomes—is a very, very good offense.

soxygen

Based on Pollock’s career to date (or Grandal or Moncada) how reasonable is it to rely on that production? Add to the injury uncertainty that surrounds all of those guys the aging curve effects on Pollock and Grandal…and the Sox front office would have been wise to add an every day major leaguer at or near peak production to lock down a position somewhere. And also the FO should have cleared some of the DH logjam so that there would be less competition for at bats at the one position that can be used for guys who aren’t healthy enough to field their positions but aren’t hurt enough for the IL.

itaita

I know its unpopular but the bullpen spending is fine in theory. And it has paid off in that they’ve kept this team in many more games they had no chance of winning otherwise. Yes we all bemoaned the lack of spending on the offensive side but while most of us could see the time missed from injury for the Moncada/Anderson/Eloy/Robert quartet coming i dont think even the most pessimistic person here saw the level of regression for guys like Grandal and Abreu coming (although Jose has shown at least a little life lately). If those two had even below average seasons going right now this team might be within a game or two of the division lead in one way or another. I think it would’ve given us less Leury batting 3rd type games as well.

a-t

Abreu is up to a 120 wRC+ in this depressed offensive environment, so he’s fine. Grandal is clearly not healthy. The question is whether he can physically recover this season.

soxfan

I don’t disagree with your larger point, but I’m not sure the ALDS is telling the story you suggest.

The pitching staff allowed nearly 8 runs/game to the Astros, so pinning that series loss on the offense is misplaced in my opinion. Not that the offense couldn’t’ve been better (they could have been) but they arguably played well enough to force a game 5 at least while the staff was basically a no show the entire series.

670WMAQtheElder

Rodon and Lynn were hurt.

chipporter

“The offense had a grand total of 6 extra base hits, and only one of those XBH was supplied by those 6 “core” guys.” 

This is a great example of the…but expect a different result, insanity definition. For those with continued optimism, The Yankees, Jays, Rays and Astros etc, are still the brick walls we have done nothing to knock down…

Smoking Hopium.

Nice analysis.

Last edited 6 months ago by chipporter
HallofFrank

No it’s not. This is an extremely small sample size. What you’re saying would be a like a guy going on an 0-12 stretch then changing his batting stance.

a-t

I’m not sure that player dev is really to blame here. They converted top prospects to above-average *when healthy* major leaguers at a noticeably above average rate; prospects in general bust a lot more often than many of us realize.

I blame three factors for the depth problems. One is the training staff, because there have been chronic, constant injury issues since Herm Schneider retired after ‘18. The second two lie with the front office. The lack of mid-round (2 thru 10 or so) draft success stories is acute, and to me it is a failing of player archetype choice in those rounds. From 2015 through now, a huge proportion of those mid round picks have been college pitchers or college corner position players. This is just the wrong way to go about it. If you take position players there, aim for up the middle players, ESPECIALLY middle infielders.

Meanwhile I hate that college-heavy approach for pitching too. So many of these guys they took fairly high were clearly destined for relief work right away. There is zero reason to not take high school pitchers instead there; the college pitchers who might be MLB starters are going to completely gone after the first three rounds. A high school arm is less likely to make the bigs than say 5th rounder Tyler Johnson, but a 5th round HS talent has a much bigger upside than Johnson. Take them in bulk as lotto tickets, because just a couple of them becoming backend starters is still so much more valuable than anything other less than an excellent (regular league top-50) reliever.

Meanwhile, the other failing is from FO laziness. The Dodgers for instance have great depth because they constantly “tinker” around the edges, by bringing in marginal guys (ESPECIALLY pitchers!) who have not yet performed better than AAAA talent. That’s how they got Chris Taylor and Max Muncy, who are admittedly somewhat extreme success stories. Haseley is a good example of such a guy; even if he doesn’t work out, they should be bringing in several guys like him every year. This is particularly important for pitching— you can get pitchers of equal, often better, talent than those goddamn mid-round college relievers like this without using precious draft picks! They’re even closer to the bigs! Many are a mechanical adjustment or new pitch or whatnot away from being useable; sometimes relievers just click and explode out of nowhere.

To use a poker analogy, they’re constantly limping into hands. They’re rarely gambling on high school arms, they’re not getting college players who can conceivably bring value with glovework or versatility, and they’re not using AAA or the edges of the roster to gamble with house money.

Greg Nix

Player development is absolutely to blame, just not exclusively. Every single aspect of the organization deserves a share of blame for the team being an embarrassing failure when it should be peaking. They haven’t developed enough guys, they’ve acquired the wrong guys, they can’t sign cheap players, they won’t sign expensive players, they don’t scout well, they don’t spend efficiently, they self-evaluate poorly, and on and on.

The only guy who doesn’t have stink on him right now is Ethan Katz, and not coincidentally he’s basically the only fresh brain that came from outside the org.

Last edited 6 months ago by Greg Nix
a-t

Player development has done a considerably good job with the high-end talent the rebuild brought in; the hit rate on the top prospects is frankly a little absurd given how high-risk high-reward many of them were. The bigger problem is how rarely they get half-decent clay to work with in the low minors. No player dev department is going to generate sufficient depth if given only college corner OF/1B and college relievers, sorry.

soxygen

The Sox have missed some big opportunities to add depth to the system. For example, while teams like the Braves and Padres have been willing to take on salary during down years in exchange for an upgrade to the farm system, the Sox stood pat. Similarly, the Sox have not done a good job of identifying when to salvage a veteran’s contract to return some prospect value, opting instead to ride out the decline for as long as possible.

metasox

The Sox do bring in some guys every year. Aybar, Severino, Dolis, Smith, Payton, Neslony are a few examples this offseason. Maybe they are not the right guys, or the org doesn’t develop them or doesn’t know what it has. But there are guys

Last edited 6 months ago by metasox
a-t

I think they improved noticeably in that area this offseason, actually. I also liked this most recent draft quite a bit more than previous ones. It’s been previous years where this has been lacking sorely, thus depth issues crop up now.

soxygen

So, give them credit for not literally doing nothing?

670WMAQtheElder

You make good points.The Sox have not been great amateur drafters. Fulmer a bust; Collins a bust. Burger snake bit. Rodon, too, to some extent. Vaughn is the exception that proves the rule, but he was drafted where he was because of his hitting, not for the rest of his game, which needs work which he might have got in AAA but for Covid. The international signings seem to be where we had the most success, now and for the future.

Do you remember John Hart who was GM of the Indians back in their glory days? He was constantly tinkering with his good roster to find better guys than the pretty good guys he already had. I think he should be the model for any GM in any pro sport. Constant evaluation. Keep looking to get better. No sentiment.

calcetinesblancos

I almost hope Vaughn gets traded just so he doesn’t have to keep suffering on this team.

Papa Giorgio

Huh. A lineup where the players are in an order that seems reasonable.

GrinnellSteve

I have this fear that Timmy’s injury will give the team cover to say, “That was too many injuries to overcome,” and give the entire management team a free pass. At this point I almost hope this team wins 69 games and they clean house, revamping the organization from Kenny on down. Think of it as amputating a leg before gangrene kills the body.

Watching this team is almost as entertaining as watching gangrene rot a limb.

a-t

Why do you think the FO replacements would be more competent if Jerry is the one doing the hiring?

Anyways, it’s still highly unlikely that level of collapse would happen. Timmy is out for three weeks, not three months, so that fear is out the window. The offense has been as bad as could be possible, and they’re still hovering around .500 because they still have most of what was by fWAR the best pitching staff in baseball last year, and they may end up . The injuries won’t be an excuse, because they were injury ravaged last year too and still coasted to a division crown.

Joliet Orange Sox

I think I may be alone in this but I’m hoping this year’s team turns it around. I’m not overly optimistic but I haven’t given up all hope. If they were winning based on a bunch of guys performing far above their career numbers, I would hesitate before believing that those guys weren’t going to revert back to their lesser selves. I have the same hesitation in believing many of the Sox position players aren’t going to hit better than they have so far this year.

I’m fully aware that often a team that looks mediocre for the first two months of the season is actually mediocre and nothing gets better. But I am also aware there are exceptions. Last year the Braves didn’t reach .500 for good until August 5.

I think hoping for this team to perk up offensively and ride a hot rotation into the postseason is the best option for me right now.

There’s no need to reply with arguments about how it isn’t the likely outcome (I’m aware) unless you can also provide a plan to change things in a way that is more likely to bring post-season success sooner that can actually happen with Jerry Reinsdorf setting the parameters the team must operate within.

Last edited 6 months ago by Joliet Orange Sox
asinwreck

Don’t worry. Rick will get it right during his next rebuild.

lifelongjd

Unless you’re the Dodgers, MLB rosters cannot deal with losing multiple core players every year. Eloy, Robert Anderson, Moncada, Engel, and Yas all seem to be either seriously injured or limited. Sure I wish the player development was better and there were solid replacements available in AAA, but that’s a tough ask over multiple positions for long stretches of time.
I know Hahn hates the term, but injuries just seem to find these guys on a consistent basis. Besides trading for less injury prone replacements, it’s just something they’ll have to plan for.

670WMAQtheElder

Two thoughts. Some players in their mid 30s lose it suddenly. Grandal may be one of those. Alexi Ramirez, also Cuban, lost it all in just one year.

Second thought about injuries. They expose every team’s lack of depth because no team can replace starters who go down with the equivalent replacement value. Replacements are going to be AAA players or maybe MLB bench guys. They are on the bench for a reason or are in AAA for a reason: they aren’t good enough to start.

Everyday if you read MLB TradeRumors there are guys injured due to hammies or obliques and what have you. My allegation is that a lot of MLB players took the off season off from the gym, perhaps thinking there would be no 2022. ST was too short and the lock out meant that the team training staff couldn’t keep tabs on the players’ work out schedule or maybe even setting the schedule was disallowed.

All that said, the Sox are extremely frustrating, and boring, too. We had high hopes and the injuries plus key guys failing put us here. How long is TLR going to put Grandal out there to fail? How long before TLR/Hahn make some moves to replace the guys who aren’t working out with other players? Is there a 2022 version of Julio Cruz out there?

soxygen

One of the problems that the Sox have (and Jim has written about in the past) is building an offense that works in April and May.

Related point, the org seems to fall into a trap some years where the front office (and fan base) assumes that the offense will come around when the weather warms up…but then also assumes that the Sox pitching staff will be unaffected by the change in the weather.

My expectation this year, as in many past seasons, is that if healthy we will start hitting soon…and our young and relatively thin pitching staff will start giving up a lot more runs.

Watching last night’s game I kept wondering whether we were seeing an off night for Kopech…or whether what we were seeing was a young, high effort strikeout pitcher facing a good team in atmospheric/weather conditions that favor hitting. In the first scenario we might reasonably expect him to bounce back and resume dominating opponents. In the second scenario we can expect some real growing pains for a good chunk of what will be his first full season in the rotation.

Last edited 6 months ago by soxygen