Happy Thursday White Sox fans! Did you enjoy Yoán Moncada Day? I certainly did.
This article, for many reasons, is for my uncle. He is the biggest White Sox fan I know, and I absolutely love talking baseball with him. However, he has not come to terms with the rebuild for the White Sox. He was irate after the Chris Sale trade, wondering why we would trade “a top 3 pitcher. THOSE are the type of players you build around, my friend (as he likes to call me)!” But, he isn’t the only one. I was on the way home from a family trip to St. Louis this weekend, and I found myself reading the comments on a Facebook article about the White Sox. Here are some of the negative ones:
“We’ve been rebuilding for 12 seasons, when are we going to compete?”
“Why do they get rid of pitchers when clearly that’s what they need?”
“Yeah yeah the future, so what.”
“We’ve had prospects before only for them to choke. Stop the hype and start winning games.”
And my personal favorite: “Oh hey guys! We have now become what the Cubs have always been: touting our farm system! Yay us! How about let’s not be the worst team in the AL at the end of the year? I love looking ahead but winning is what matters, every year. Not when the prospects come up (if they ever do).”
Tough crowd, right Rick Hahn? The frustration amongst some White Sox fans is palpable, but like it or not, the White Sox have picked the direction of a full rebuild. As a fan base, it is now in our best interest to understand and embrace rebuilding. So, here you go Uncle John, here’s why this rebuild was necessary, and also why you – and all White Sox fans – should believe in the rebuild:
Why Was the Rebuild Necessary?
First, let’s take a look at the White Sox’s record, payroll, and attendance since 2011 (which was the “We’re All In” year when they signed Adam Dunn):
2011: 79-83 (3rd in AL Central), Payroll: $128M, Attendance: 2M
2012: 85-77 (2nd in AL Central), Payroll: $98M, Attendance: 1.97M
2013: 63-99 (5th in AL Central), Payroll: $119M, Attendance: 1.77M
2014: 73-89 (4th in AL Central), Payroll: $90M, Attendance: 1.65M
2015: 76-86 (4th in AL Central), Payroll: $119M, Attendance: 1.78M
2016: 78-84 (4th in AL Central), Payroll: $115M, Attendance: 1.75M
The White Sox, for the past 6 seasons (or, basically since 2006), have formed their roster on the concept of “retooling,” which means taking the team that you had from the previous season and filling a few holes to form a team that you believe can compete for the playoffs. Therefore, we’ve seen signings and trades for players like Adam Dunn, Adam LaRoche, James Shields, Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie, Jimmy Rollins, Dioner Navarro, Alex Avila, Jeff Samardzija, and many others. The common theme among these seasons? “Retooling” resulted in seasons full of spending, hype, and high expectations that all came crashing down to a subpar finish. The most exciting season was 2012, and even then, we were left without a playoff berth. As Albert Einstein said: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” While Chris Sale, José Quintana, and Adam Eaton were all valuable pieces to have on the team, there were simply too many inconsistent players at too many important positions (DH, 2B, CF, C) to form a team that could compete with the Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, or Astros. More importantly, the White Sox were unable to fill these holes with their limited payroll and limited minor league talent that had consistently been traded away (before the 2016 season, the White Sox had a bottom 5 farm system, and after Rodon and Anderson, their next top prospect was Spencer Adams). While Dunn, LaRoche, Rollins, and others would’ve been great signings while they were in their prime, the timing was not right for their deals with the White Sox. It was like patching a hole on a sinking ship with a piece of Scotch Tape: you put something there, but you never really fixed the problem.
With Rick Hahn being appointed as the new GM, the foundation was put in place to change the direction of the White Sox and how they approached the future. Hahn and new director of scouting Nick Hostetler placed a new emphasis on the draft to create talent from within the organization instead of having to go out and sign it from every other team. As a result, we saw the drafting of players such as Zack Collins, Zach Burdi, Carson Fulmer, and most recently, Jake Burger and Gavin Sheets. Hahn moved away from “toolsy” players towards talent the Sox knew had the necessary baseball skills to develop into MLB ballplayers, giving the White Sox the ability to build from within.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the potential impact the Cubs’ World Series run had on the White Sox’s choice to rebuild starting this season. Like it or not (I certainly don’t), the White Sox are considered by many to be the “second team” in this city. The fan base for the Cubs is constantly growing, which I believe pushed the White Sox to make a choice. Was I in Jerry Reinsdorf’s office when he gave Hahn the okay to start the rebuild? No, but I do believe that the long-time owner of the White Sox didn’t like seeing the success on the North Side, while the South Side was “mired in mediocrity.” I mean, look at the attendance numbers: they have been declining since 2011, which was when they were last at 2 million fans in a season. Fans were getting tired of watching a team who wasn’t putting everything they had towards picking a solid direction for the future.
Now that the Sox finally have chosen a direction, let’s talk about why you should believe in it.
Why Should You Believe in the Rebuild?
This part of the article is much more exciting for me to write. First off, you should believe in the rebuild simply because this has been done before. Look at teams like the 2017 Houston Astros, 2016 Chicago Cubs, and 2014/2015 Kansas City Royals, all of whom have experienced or are experiencing success. Currently rebuilding are teams like the Phillies, Padres, and Braves (who have the top farm system in the majors). Even the Yankees are infused with young and exciting talent, such as Aaron Judge, Clint Frazier, and Gary Sanchez. This rebuilding path, if executed correctly, can lead to much success in the future.
One of the biggest complaints from anyone – especially my uncle – involves the uncertainty surrounding prospects. Certainly, the risk is in the name, as these are only prospective future stars. Let’s take a look at the top 10 draft picks from 2009-2015 (since players drafted in 2016 haven’t even had a year of development yet) and see how many have made the majors:
2010: 8/8 (2 did not sign)
2012: 7/9 (1 did not sign)
2013: 5/9 (1 did not sign)
2014: 6/9 (1 did not sign)
TOTAL: 48/65 (73.8%)
Of the 48 players that have made the majors, 10 have been named to an All-Star Game roster. What these numbers say is that you have a very good chance of signing a young, talented player in a draft who will make an impact for your team in the majors, if you have a top 10 draft pick (which necessitated the “tanking” mentality). However, the White Sox can’t have all these first round prospects; most players for the Sox will end up being drafted in later rounds or have already been acquired from other teams. So, what Rick Hahn has done is stockpile all of these prospects. Currently, the White Sox have 10 of the top 100 prospects in baseball. The more prospects you have, the greater chance you have of having several of these players working out. As an example, let’s say I give you one lottery card and tell you 1 in every 10 cards wins some amount of money. You don’t feel overly confident about your chances. But what if I gave you 7 cards and the exact same odds? You’d feel a lot better about your chances of at least one or two of the cards resulting in a cash payout. This is the same mentality on the South Side. No one can possibly expect every single one of the White Sox prospects to make their way to the big leagues, but we can expect that many of them – Jiménez, Robert, Kopech, Giolito, Lopez, Collins, and others – will eventually find their way onto our roster and experience some level of success. I mean, just take a look at the difference in these names from just under a year ago (pictures courtesy of @CSNHayes):
On the left, we see this year’s midseason top 10 prospects for the White Sox, and on the left is the White Sox’s top 10 prospect last November. The high quality of talent compiled by Rick Hahn and staff increases the Sox’s chance of seeing success in future seasons. These aren’t players that just the White Sox find valuable – these prospects are ranked and scouted by those outside of the organization as well. In other words, their talent is well-known.
Finally, you can believe in the rebuild because this entire rebuilding process won’t only be done only with prospects. As Rick Hahn has said, the White Sox will be looking to complete the rebuild by signing big name free agents “when the time is right.” Here’s why you can get really excited about that. The offseason after the 2018 season is arguably one of the best potential free agent pools in recent history, with Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Clayton Kershaw all names that could be up for grabs before the 2019 season. At that time, the White Sox will have a payroll of approximately $5M (as shown in the graph below). Yup, that’s it. Now, am I saying the Sox will sign one of these three big names? No, but I’m saying the White Sox could sign one of these top free agents in order to solidify their roster without the worry of reaching the salary cap. This is the key difference between “retooling” and “rebuilding”: having young, controllable talent with minimal salaries makes it easier to sign top free agents at top dollar. Even if the White Sox are unable to sign one of the above three names, there is plenty of money on the table to sign high-quality talent in a stacked free agent class.
Source: Baseball Prospectus
So, to review, the White Sox chose this direction out of necessity. Their old plans were not working, and the fan base was upset. So, we’ve said goodbye to Chris Sale, José Quintana, Adam Eaton, David Robertson, Todd Frazier, and Tommy Kahnle, and there could be others. But because of these goodbyes, yesterday we got to say hello to Yoán Moncada and Brad Goldberg, and got our first look at the future ahead. It was incredible to see the buzz surrounding Frazier’s absence from the lineup on Tuesday and the hype surrounding Moncada’s debut. The ovation for him last night was deafening. It is an exciting time to be a White Sox fan.
Is there plenty of risk involved with this rebuild? Of course, every decision a GM makes involves risk. But is this a risk you can believe in? Absolutely. Rick Hahn has proven he is not only capable of handling this rebuild, but can excel given the support of the organization. Look at the trades he’s completed if you need proof.
I know these next few seasons will be have difficult moments (last night’s 9-1 defeat was certainly one of those moments), but good times are just around the corner. Just think, wouldn’t it be great to be sitting in your family room, or at a bar, in October 2020 celebrating a White Sox World Series championship? Would you really remember 2017 all that much any way?