White Sox smart to think long term in rebuild

September 30th, 2017

CHICAGO -- has been in the United States for four seasons, and has done his part in every one of them for the White Sox. Yet, his teams have averaged only 73 wins and finished a combined 87 1/2 games out of first place.

You would think he'd wonder what he got himself into when he signed with the White Sox, instead of any of the other teams who aggressively recruited him after he'd left Cuba. Shouldn't a career .301 hitter who averages 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs get to experience the excitement of big games in September and the drama of win-or-go-home games in October?

Abreu is no different than any other player. He dreamed of the World Series when he was a boy. But when the 2017 season ends on Sunday in Cleveland, he'll go home to his family as contented as he was after his Rookie of the Year campaign. He's looking forward to some time to himself, but it won't take him long to get his motor running for '18.

Abreu loves his relationship with White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf -- who this week surprised him with a ring to commemorate his hitting for the cycle -- and how he's been treated by everyone with the team. He doesn't think it will take long for the Sox to begin to challenge the Indians and everyone else in the American League Central.

"We have all the tools to be a very good team next year," Abreu said.

That's an amazing outlook for a team that has traded Chris Sale, , , , , and pretty much an entire bullpen within the last year. But general manager Rick Hahn has done so well in the deals he's made -- bringing aboard polished newcomers like , Nicky Delmonico and -- that , the White Sox most experienced player, says they can compete next season.

You wonder if he might be right. If Chicago imported the right two or three veterans, it might be able to contend for the postseason next season. Three of this season's 10 postseason teams had losing campaigns in 2016 -- and the Twins claimed an AL Wild Card spot after going 59-103, the biggest turnaround ever.

So, Rick, could your guys be next season's Twins?

It never hurts to dream big.

"The notion people are even entertaining the concept we could contend one year into the process shows that people feel very optimistic and pleased at what we've been able to do so far," Hahn said. "Ultimately, our goal, as we've stated throughout, is to put ourselves in position to be a World Series contender and a World Series champion year in and year out. We want to build a club that has the level of talent where you're one of the elite teams in the postseason. We're not looking to build a club that will jump up one year and win a Wild Card and then regress. We're looking from a long-term point of view."

While the White Sox will have tremendous financial flexibility this winter -- their nine players who are either signed or eligible for arbitration figure to earn about $45 million, meaning they could have a payroll as low as $60 million. So there's no reason to rush what they're doing. This is the time to let the snowball get bigger as it rolls down the hill, not to start treating it like a finished product.

But there's a lot to like about the team the Sox will go to camp with next Spring Training -- like the middle-infield combination of and Moncada.

Anderson has rebounded from a difficult start to the season to hit 17 home runs and steal 15 bases (although his 13/160 walk-to-strikeout ratio is alarming). Moncada has flashed surprising plate discipline while showing bat speed that generates comparisons to and Joe Morgan.

There's the middle-of-the-lineup trio of Abreu, 2017 All-Star and Delmonico.

Yes, Delmonico. He's hit at every level he's played at since the White Sox signed him to a Minor League contract in 2015, including the Majors. He has nine homers and an .856 OPS in 43 games since being promoted from Triple-A Charlotte and is starting to look comfortable in left field, his likely spot next season.

"[Delmonico] has a talent, has a knack, has an 'it,'" manager Rick Renteria said. "There's a joy to him that is infectious."

There's a wealth of young arms that has either already arrived on the South Side or should at some point next season. The list includes Giolito, , and , considered by many the best pitching prospect in the Minors.

Oh, and don't forget about , the power-hitting right fielder acquired from the Cubs for Quintana. He's rated the No. 4 prospect overall by MLB Pipeline and seems likely to hit his way to Guaranteed Rate Field by July or August, even if Hahn is vowing to be as patient with him and Kopech as he was with Moncada and Giolito.

There's also the $50 million "Man of Mystery," Luis Robert. He has a similar skill set to Moncada, and you can argue who has the highest ceiling between Jimenez, Moncada and him.

The 20-year-old Cuban outfielder hasn't yet traveled out of the Dominican Republic, but Hahn says he'll be in Major League camp next February and then assigned to one of the team's two Class A teams. If he crushes it there, he could get bumped up a level or two, putting him on the threshold of the Major Leagues by the end of 2018.

"We may be entering a slightly more difficult phase of this rebuild," Hahn said. "That is the phase where we have to allow this talent the time and the patience to develop."

Hahn will look to add a starting pitcher or two this winter, while also restocking the bullpen. He won't feel the anxiety he felt at this time last year, when the priority was getting maximum value for his biggest assets, Sale and Quintana.

Maybe that'll give him time to work out a contract extension with Abreu, who is two years from free agency. The big guy would sure love to still be around when it's time to start winning.