The White Sox Are Caught In The Middle

The Chicago White Sox went into the trade deadline in the middle of a winning streak. Assuming that meant they didn’t need to sell was a mistake, leaving Chicago stuck in the middle.

Like much of the American League, the Chicago White Sox are a pretty average team. They’ve overcome a fairly disastrous start to the season to garner some respect at 50-55, but even a strong late-July winning streak wasn’t enough to truly propel Chicago into contention. They may not have been sellers at the trade deadline, but the White Sox are playing for the future–even if they haven’t acknowledged it yet.

In a shockingly even-matched American League, the Sox are just 4.5 games back of the second Wild Card spot. However, five teams sit between Chicago and a spot in the play-in game. According to the current FanGraphs Playoff Odds, the White Sox have just an 8.3 percent chance at making the playoffs. Toronto, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Texas all clock in higher.

Chicago’s recent bout of strong play–a seven game winning streak–was encouraging but far from the sustained effort necessary to truly contend in this year’s playoff race. It pulled the Sox up to 49-51, with little reason to consider their play sustainable. Further, that streak came at a particularly inopportune time. While other fringe American League teams like Toronto and Texas were big buyers at the trade deadline, Chicago neither bought nor sold.

24 July 2015:  Chicago White Sox Left field Melky Cabrera (53) [4981] takes the batting helmet off the head of Chicago White Sox First base Jose Abreu (79) [4333] as Abreu is greeted by teammates after hitting a home run during the sixth inning of the game between the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH.

I’ve already discussed why Jeff Samardzija was Chicago’s biggest deadline question mark. Given the Shark’s up-and-down season, it’s fair to assume the White Sox just didn’t receive any worthwhile offers for the workhorse. If they did have a chance to recoup some legitimate minor league potential and chose not to because they were fooled by a decent winning streak, that was a mistake. Samardzija could re-sign this winter, but there’s a strong chance he walks. Still, the Sox will get a helpful compensation pick for that, and it seems likely they weren’t going to do much better on the trade market.

Chicago has dropped five of six since that winning streak, including an uncharacteristic clunker from Chris Sale against the cellar-dwelling Red Sox. Now more than ever, it’s clear that the White Sox have work to do before finally contending once again. The rest of this season should be about evaluating which players are long-term fits.

Chris Sale, Jose Quintana (quietly one of MLB’s most consistently solid pitchers) and Carlos Rodon are all obvious franchise cornerstones right now. Combined with the strong talent in the farm system and the dominant-if-pricey David Robertson, the White Sox will have the makings of an elite pitching staff eventually – especially if Jeff Samardzija decides he’s sick of moving and re-signs in Chicago.

It’s the offense that’s destroyed the White Sox, as they’ve scored fewer runs than everyone but the Miami Marlins. Jose Abreu, though not having the MVP-caliber season he’s capable of, remains the foundation of Chicago’s lineup going forward. Past that, there’s plenty of work to do for Rick Hahn and Ken Williams.

Adam Eaton has been very solid and at 26 is a great long-term fit for the Sox. Avisail Garcia, only 24, is an obvious keeper, but he’s yet to produce at a league-average level. He’s only getting on base at a .310 clip while slugging a light .359. The Sox are certainly hoping to see more plate discipline out of him in the last chunk of the season; he’s struck out 99 times and walked only 19.

25 July 2015:  Chicago White Sox Center field Adam Eaton (1) [8426] singles to left during the first inning of the game between the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH.

Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche have both been highly disappointing but just signed contracts this winter and are pretty unlikely to be traded this offseason. Chicago has to bank on bounce-back seasons to pad out the rest of their deals, as more declines could get ugly at an Adam Dunn rate. Alexei Ramirez was never that strong of a hitter and has had his worst season yet at age 33.

It will be difficult, if not impossible, for Chicago to fill so many gaping holes in the space of one offseason. Last winter should prove the inherent risk in using free agency to entirely revamp a team. The White Sox made big splashes in acquiring or signing Samardzija, Robertson, Cabrera, LaRoche, and Zach Duke last year, but those moves haven’t even resulted in a .500 team.

They will have to respect the process of rebuilding a roster, even if a full teardown is far from necessary. A transition is overdue to bring in some young bats that can grow with the terrifying stable of dominant arms Chicago has accrued. This season has been a pretty big failure; there’s no two ways around it. Nonetheless, the White Sox can right the ship this winter if they’re willing to slow things down with an eye on the big picture.


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