CBM Editor’s Note
One third of the White Sox season has past and now in year two of the “Sox Rebuild” the team has the worst record in baseball with a 16-35 mark and is ten and half games out of first place.
Attendance at G-Rate Field is down. After 26 dates the White Sox have only drawn 415,654 fans or 15,987 per game, down from 20,244 a game a year ago. The Sox are trying to offer value with their 4 pack family offer ticket packages, that includes seats, hot dogs, and drink for around $50 in contrast to the Cubs that continue to raise their ticket prices, making attending a baseball game a once or twice a year event rather than a regular source of entertainment.
However, some long time Sox fans are starting to question whether this rebuild strategy will succeed with attendance now the third lowest in baseball in a city that is the number three market in America. Further hurting matters is that the Sox media coverage has been poor compared to the Cubs with no regular beat reporter covering the team at the Chicago Tribune, who are using a Cubs “College of Coaches” approach to cover them due to financial budget cuts.
To give a fan perspective on the “State of the Sox Rebuild”, the CBM welcomes guest editorialist Mark Liptak, who has contributed to our site in the past and who for 11 years was associated with White Sox Interactive for his thoughts.
White Sox Rebuild….But the Questions Remain
By Mark Liptak
For every franchise there comes a moment of truth. A period when decisions made or not made can reverberate for years or even decades. For the Chicago White Sox that time came after another disastrous season, 2016. The Sox lost 84 games after a 23-10 start. It marked their fourth straight losing season and seventh out of ten dating back to 2007.
It was then when General Manager Rick Hahn was finally able to convince owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Vice President Kenny Williams that the “go for it” or “stars and scrubs” approach simply wasn’t working. That unless the franchise was willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to lure the top free agents the only way to change the fortunes of the organization was with a total rebuild or “tanking” in popular parlance to get the needed young talent to give the franchise a shot for sustained success.To get Reinsdorf and Williams to give that approval after years of trying to win another title was very hard in Hahn’s own words.
But the path was decided upon and out the door over the next 18 months went players like Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Melky Cabrera, Zach Duke, Dan Jennings, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Tyler Clippard, Todd Frazier and Anthony Swarzak. In return the Sox got arguably the greatest collection of young, unproven, cost-controlled talent in baseball. It was hailed across the national media landscape as a job well done by Hahn. Most Sox fans and even some of the more caustic members of the mainstream media in Chicago approved of it.
Given the successes of teams like the Astros, Royals, and Cubs in recent years the general feeling was that with a little bit of luck, the Sox had a very good chance to completely turn around their fortunes. But… (you knew there had to be a “but” in there)
Not every Sox fan approved of the decision. Going around the various Sox web sites you still see a segment of the fan base that wondered why a major market franchise was acting like the Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres or the Cincinnati Reds.
They and others, including again, some in the media brought up valid, uncomfortable points that in their mind didn’t guarantee the Sox anything given their history.
Those generally break down into five areas, which we’ll examine. Then I’ll give you my take on the situation.
1.The Same Front Office:Meet the New Boss…the Same as the Old Boss
This is the one most often seen. The same people who ran the franchise into the ditch that it is currently in were being told to fix it….fix the issues that they themselves helped create. A lot of White Sox fans are nervous about this. They wanted the rebuild to include a new baseball side of the front office, staffed with successful people with fresh ideas and ways of looking at things. Jerry Reinsdorf, loyal to a fault, was simply not going to do that. So, it’s up to Williams, Hahn and the rest of the staff to try to turn around a franchise going through its worst stretch since the dismal time between 1968-1980.
Since 2007 the Sox have made the playoffs once, had only three winning seasons and haven’t had consecutive winning years since 2003-2006. It’s a tall order, tremendous young talent or not. The reason for some optimism here is because Rick Hahn is now firmly in charge (although Kenny Williams by his own admission still has a say in things). Hahn so far has shown that at least on paper, he’s gotten a significant return for the players traded away.
2.Can The Sox Draft Good Young Talent?
The White Sox minor league system has been a poor one for decades now and if you want to be a consistent contender you better be able to keep the system stocked with players who actually have a chance to not only make the big leagues but make a real contribution. Going back to 1998 the list of Sox #1 draft picks who have done so is abysmal. Aaron Rowand, Gio Gonzales, Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon are the only ones to have any type of measurable impact for the franchise (and Rodon is questionable because he’s always hurt). Part of it was because ownership refused to spend money on the minor league system, part of it was because the Sox, unlike other teams, adhered strictly to the letter of the law regarding draft slot money and part of it was because Williams’ philosophy of drafting “athletes” instead of “baseball players” took root.
Now that Nick Hostetler is in charge of the draft and because of the new draft rules in place which Reinsdorf had been fighting for, for years, the Sox seem to be in a better position to keep the pipeline going with young talent that can actually play. But the jury is still out. Consider the recent Sox #1 draft picks…Jake Burger (injured; torn Achilles tendon), Zach Burdi (injured; recovering from Tommy John surgery), Zach Collins (until receiving video from the University of Miami where he played in college, showing him the batting stance, he had at that time, he was struggling badly. Since getting that video he’s been on a tear), Carson Fulmer (recently demoted back to Triple A. Has been struggling badly at the major league level), Carlos Rodon (injured; recovering from shoulder surgery. Has basically only pitched a half season out of the last year and a half) and Tim Anderson (inconsistent at the big-league level and very erratic defensively at shortstop).
If you are placing your hopes for long term success, I go back to the basic fact that you’ve got to have the young, talented players develop successfully through the system to make that a reality. The Sox still have to prove they can do this. One encouraging sign was the fact that over the winter the Sox added some of the scouts from the Astros organization. Houston has drafted and acquired more real talent in the past few seasons than any other team including the Cubs. Having those people now involved can only help.
3.Can The Sox Develop That Young Talent?
It’s one thing to find the talent; it’s another to develop it into productive big-league players. One of the issues that have gotten the attention of many fans in 2018 is the terrible fundamentals exhibited by the White Sox. Granted the vast majority of the players currently on the roster won’t be around in 2020. But some of them may be, including shortstop Tim Anderson, considered a key part of the rebuild. Time after time, Sox players, including some who have come up through the system, are guilty of base running blunders, throwing to the wrong base, flubbing the easy play in the field or not be able to advance runners into scoring position. To say nothing of not being able to bunt, which is a tactic that manager Rick Renteria (who is going through his second rebuild team as a manager after one year with the Cubs in 2014) uses often. One of the faults of the powerful White Sox teams in the early part of the 21stcentury was the “station to station, home run or nothing” philosophy which resulted in some games where they scored 10 runs, then in the next two or three games maybe scoring three of them.
Even today in a game where strike outs are actually taking place more than hits or even putting the ball in play, the successful teams are going to find a way to score in different ways. The 2005 White Sox had balance…they could beat you with a blast into the seats, a bloop into short center field or a bunt down the third base line. Can the White Sox minor league development people teach the skills needed to produce wins? Not only offensively but defensively and on the bases? Little things add up to wins, playoff spots have been determined by slim margins to say nothing of championships.
4.The Free Agent Dilemma
One of the misconceptions about the Cubs rebuild is the notion that most of it was done by that organization drafting and developing an incredible amount of young talent. The Cubs did do that, but when the time came, they also spent millions and millions of dollars on international amateur talent and free agent acquisitions to fill holes and get them over the top. Approximately 400 million dollars’ worth to be more accurate. The White Sox are one of the handful of clubs that has never even given out a nine-figure deal. Their last major free agent acquisition which caused headlines across the major league landscape was when Albert Belle signed the richest deal in history in the off season before 1997 began.
That’s a long time ago.
Rick Hahn has stated publicly, many times, that the notion of the Sox not being willing to pay out the money needed to get top talent is wrong, that when the time comes the money will be there. It had better be because not every one of the top talented young players is going to succeed. The law of averages basically guarantees that. Right now, third base, catching and left-handed pitching could be areas the Sox are going to need to fill by going outside the organization. When the time comes will they? And perhaps more importantly, will any of the marquee talent want to take it given the state of the franchise the previous decade? Money talks but all things being relatively equal regarding contract offers, players also want to win. Promises…possibilities…potential are all well and good but the chance to actually win championships are also a powerful incentive for players choosing where they want to go.
The 80-game suspension handed down to Wellington Castillo for PED use on May 23rd raises another concern about the Sox rebuild. While Castillo, who signed a two-year, $15 million deal in the 2017 off-season, was expected to only keep the seat warm for catching prospect Zack Collins, this suspension seemed like once again the Sox were operating under a black cloud. One wonders what the front office missed in vetting the Castillo free agent signing.
Over the past 15 years or so the White Sox have set the standard for keeping players healthy and on the field. Since 2016 though that’s changed, and not for the better. Numerous injuries at the major and minor league level have hurt, especially with the organization thin from a depth standpoint. Last year for example the Sox were above the league average in times using the disabled list and games missed and that’s not counting the injuries in the minor leagues. This year the injuries have struck again and taken out some of the players at all levels that are expected to be or could be part of the rebuild. Carlos Rodon, Zach Burdi, Luis Robert, Micker Adolfo, Ryan Cordell, Nicky Delmonico, Alex Hansen, Matt Davidson and Jake Burger have all gone down and missed significant time or are going to have to have surgeries.
The easiest way to torpedo a rebuild is to not be able to keep the key pieces healthy and playing. Some of the injuries may just be “bad luck,” it may just be the “law of averages” evening out after the long run of health but for whatever reason or reasons it may be wise for the Sox to reevaluate all aspects of the training and conditioning program. You’ve got to have the horses to win and the number of top prospects going down recently is certainly eye opening.
While most Sox fans consider Herm Schneider ‘god’ for the fantastic job he has done taking care of the health of White Sox players, it may be time to look at the staff in total and see if some new faces and ideas need to be considered. That doesn’t mean firing anybody but getting ‘new blood’ involved to help. If nothing else, at the very least, it may be time for the organization to take a close, detailed look at the conditioning programs during the season and in the off season, just to be sure, something potentially overlooked isn’t contributing to the spate of injuries. It certainly can’t hurt can it?
Now, here’s my take.
Like most fans I was very happy that the Sox decided to pick a lane and appear to stick to a plan when the rebuild was announced. For too many seasons the “rebuilding while contending” approach wasn’t working…certainly not with the limitations both self-imposed and outside of the control of the organization that were being placed upon it. I would have been more comfortable had a new group of baseball operations people been brought in to oversee it but again, under the circumstances, this was the best, most logical course the franchise could have taken.
I truly believe the rebuild has a very good chance to succeed. My hope is that in 2019 after some quality additions are signed via free agency, since the Sox payroll commitments are ridiculously low (around $87 million this year or nearly $100 million below the Cubs), the team will sniff the .500 mark. In 2020, with many of the young prospects on the big league roster the hope is they can get over the .500 mark and perhaps contend for a wild card spot. In 2021, the balloon should go up and the Sox should have one of the better clubs in baseball. Now that doesn’t mean they are World Series bound, the Astros, Red Sox and Yankees aren’t going anywhere but given the state of the division, with at least two teams in Detroit and Kansas City rebuilding, the Sox should at least be able to accomplish something they’ve never done, which is to qualify for the post season in consecutive years. And the White Sox are the only one of the original 16 franchises to have never pulled this off, though they got robbed in 1994 when the strike ended the season when the White Sox were leading the Central Divison after winning that title in 1993.
Making the playoffs three years in a row or five out of eight years will solve a lot of the issues the team has been going through the last 10+ years regarding attendance and local / national media coverage.
At least that’s my hope but as always, you have to remember, these are the White Sox, where the unexpected happens quite frequently!
Category Chicago Baseball History Feature Tags Chicago Baseball History, Chicago White Sox, Guarenteed Rate Field, Jake Burger, Kenny Williams, Matt Davidson, Nick Hostetler, Rick Hahn, Sox Rebuild, Wellington Castillo