South Siders' rebuild enters contending phase
CHICAGO -- The White Sox have done an outstanding job of executing their rebuild plan since it began at the 2016 Winter Meetings.
Here’s a look at key overall maneuvers the club made to get to this point full of high expectations as the 2020 season approaches.
Making the tough decisions
Chris Sale is probably the best pitcher in White Sox history, and if not, he’s certainly in the top two or three. He wanted to stay in Chicago, and he wanted to win with the White Sox. But the White Sox weren’t winning with Sale as the roster and system were constructed so they had to make a move. The same goes for José Quintana, a Minor League free agent they developed into a front-line starter, and Adam Eaton, a multi-talented outfielder.
All were working under contract extensions, adding important team control to the talent they possessed. Sale won a World Series title with the Red Sox. Eaton won a championship with the Nationals, and Quintana was part of an NL Central crown with the Cubs. But this group brought back Michael Kopech, Yoán Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo López, Dane Dunning, Eloy Jiménez and Dylan Cease. Not a bad haul at the start of the process.
Let them play
This core was strengthened as trades and the Draft brought in players such as second baseman Nick Madrigal, first baseman Andrew Vaughn and pitchers Codi Heuer and Jonathan Stiever, to name a few. Even Steele Walker, the team’s second-round pick from the 2018 MLB Draft, produced right fielder Nomar Mazara in a trade with the Rangers. But the key was giving them a chance to develop at the Minor League level. There was no rushing of any top prospect based on injury or need. The White Sox final move was set by being as ready as possible and having true staying power at the big league level.
Development worked at the Major League level, as well, while the White Sox pushed their way through 284 losses from 2017-19. Giolito was allowed to struggle in ’18, as an example, producing offseason adjustments in delivery and mindset, and leading to a Cy Young caliber season in ’19.
Do the names Manny Machado and Zack Wheeler ring a bell for White Sox fans? The team was in pursuit of both high-end free agents, with Machado being last offseason and Wheeler during the current one, only to have Machado choose the Padres and Wheeler work out a deal with the Phillies. Quite a bit of consternation permeated the fan base, but the White Sox pivoted and eventually spent some of the money earmarked for these two. Their course was reinforced by the development of Tim Anderson, Giolito, Moncada, Jiménez and Luis Robert at the Minor League level and the return to excellence of José Abreu. It was a much different outlook at the end of ’19 compared to the end of ’18.
Locking down key figures
Take a look at this list of future White Sox control among key players.
Dallas Keuchel: 2023
Yasmani Grandal: 2023
Yoán Moncada: 2023
Lucas Giolito: 2023
Michael Kopech: 2024
Tim Anderson: 2024
Dylan Cease: 2025
Eloy Jiménez: 2026
Luis Robert: 2027
The rebuild put the White Sox in position to spend, and they have done so wisely by building this core and keeping it together.
Bring in veterans
General manager Rick Hahn always spoke of adding key outside pieces when the time was right to complete the rebuild. Grandal, Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Encarnación (not yet official) have joined the team this offseason, providing important clubhouse presences who have experienced playoff baseball. And the White Sox don’t appear to be finished, with a bullpen enhancement on the agenda.
What’s left? Win
Meaningful baseball should be played by the White Sox during September this season, even if they should fall short of reaching the playoffs coming off a 72-win effort in ‘19. The 2021 season looks to be the true open of a prime contending window, but Hahn doesn’t want to dampen fans’ expectations in the present.
“If people want to get excited about this, if they want to have high expectations and high hopes, that’s fantastic,” Hahn said. “All we can do is be transparent about this process and what we are trying to do.
“All we can do is put players in the best position to succeed and augment the roster appropriately as needed. But what it’s really going to be about is it puts us in the position to get to that final goal of contending and winning multiple championships. That’s where I think the excitement should be about what this means for the long term.”