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At the risk of harshing everybody’s Opening Day mellow, welcome to what is supposed to be the most agonizing year of a rebuild.
The White Sox only won 67 games last year, but they excelled at maintaining interest throughout the entire season. You had “Ricky’s Boys Don’t Quit,” a Hawk Harrelson refrain stated loudly and frequently enough that I started hearing “Draw Your Own Conclusions About Robin’s Boys” in the subsequent silence. Inadvertently, the winter trade market went cold on Rick Hahn after the Chris Sale and Adam Eaton deals, and the league made him try to win the deadline like he won the winter meetings. The Sox retained Jose Quintana and David Robertson three extra months, giving some of the proceedings actual stakes.
The Sox can’t count on the same things working in their favor in 2018. Ricky’s Boys May Still Be Quit-Averse, but there’s some luck involved with translating effort into excitement on so routine a basis. Should their losses look more ordinary, Rick Renteria won’t benefit as much from being graded on Robin Ventura’s curve.
On the transaction front, it’s theoretically possible that Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu could be traded. I’d count on the former more than the latter, but it won’t have the same sense of inevitability as the Quintana deal, even if the Sox are dangling an All-Star(!) just the same. Garcia was so mediocre for so long that he shoulders the burden of proof that the new Avi is here to stay. If Abreu stumbles in terms of performance, he’ll still be expected to mentor Yoan Moncada and others. The will-they-when-will-they storyline isn’t so self-sustaining this time around.
The second year is when the boring administrative tasks come to the fore. Charting prospect progress. Trying to wrangle team control issues if a prospect progresses too well. Absorbing struggles if those prospects struggle in their first extended dose of MLB activity. It’s a year for taking inventory, and as Michael Scott said, “Inventory is boring. In the islands, they don’t make you do stuff like take inventory. Why do you think so many businesses move to the Caymans?”
The good news? The White Sox aren’t punting nearly as many positions at this point in comparison to other teams. They’ll have All-Stars at first base and right field and a credible veteran behind the plate. Among the unproven players, they have a former No. 1 prospect at second base and a first-round pick locked-in at short. More than half the diamond is occupied by guys who should be where they’re standing/squatting.
And even at the weaker positions, the starters didn’t necessarily win by default. Yolmer Sanchez is definitely a big-league bench player, but let’s see if he’s a placeholder starter. Nicky Delmonico could be a disciplined left-handed bat, so give him left field and hope he doesn’t run into anybody. Adam Engel might not hit, but he certainly did during the spring to win the job. He makes the pitchers’ job easier at the very least, and maybe Ryan Cordell and Leury Garcia can assist with offense if the bat still lags.
Matt Davidson is the only one who brings with him a sense of resignation to a position, but a disposable DH is somewhat of an asset if Eloy Jimenez takes to Guaranteed Rate Field like the Kool-Aid Man.
Lest this sound too rosy, it’s not a good offense. It doesn’t have the requisite number of hitters who are trained at keeping the line moving, so it’s prone to going cold for a week or two at a time. But it should be watchable, especially with the kind of defense we might see from certain positions. Welington Castillo was around the second year of the Cubs’ rebuild, and I don’t think he’s blowing smoke he when he says the Sox face a shorter waiting-it-out period.
‘‘In 2013, when I was with the Cubs, we weren’t even close to what we’ve got here,’’ Castillo said. ‘‘In 2014, [the Cubs] started changing; you started to see more about the big prospects. But they still weren’t really coming to the big leagues. The White Sox, our prospects are already here, and they’re building together. This organization is still a step ahead of the Cubs [in 2014].’’
Pitching is where the lack of activity shows. The front office is running out the clock on James Shields, and Miguel Gonzalez returned because he’s 1) a veteran pitcher who 2) signed for a negligible one-year salary and 3) knows the deal. Carson Fulmer didn’t exactly win the rotation spot he holds. That’s a lot hanging over Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, who have to weather their first full MLB seasons before they can start picking up others’ slack. It doesn’t help that the bullpen looks shallower than last year’s pool.
This picture can improve if Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodon can (re)claim a couple rotation spots during the season. Neither pitcher should be counted upon for instant success given the question marks tied to youth and health, but both pitchers will have a reason to occupy 25-man roster spots.
By and large, that’s the unsexy idea of the next couple years. It’d sure be great if just about every starter was determined to be deserving, whether through prospect progression or outside acquisition. It’d be even better if Kopech, Jimenez and even Rodon could keep the same pace of matriculation. This is a pretty sweet picture:
- 2017: Anderson goes through the six-month wringer.
- 2018: Moncada, Giolito and Lopez get their turns.
- 2019: Kopech and Jimenez.
That creates a cycle that cultivates stars at the same time the rest of the roster coagulates into a net positive. Maybe there’ll be one or two spots that require a patch from the outside, but the Sox will be able to focus on quality, rather than trying to apply a skim coat of adequacy across 20 percent of the roster.
See how easy it is to get talking about 2019 and 2020 when it’s only 2018? That’s why this is the tough year of the rebuild. We are here for it nevertheless.