Like a college student who crams for a test he knows he will fail, the Chicago White Sox have created some artificial hope this offseason with a few creative moves.
The team was almost obligated to double down on a disappointing 2015 season in which the organization thought itself equipped to make a World Series run. It finished the 2015 campaign with a paltry 76-86 record.
Well, that’s likely to look much the same. Only this time, the White Sox—who elected to push for the playoffs past the 2015 trade deadline—will act in an entirely different manner. Expect them to dump inventory like a department store gone out of business come this July.
Use any term you want. Fire sale. Rebuild. Tweak. Makeover.
That’s all semantics. But this team, as currently constituted, isn’t a playoff team. The White Sox are stuck in baseball purgatory—better than those rebuilding yet a distance behind those contending.
To understand why, we must first go back in time. Not too far. But just to the 2015 offseason, when the White Sox became paper champions with a slew of moves that made the team a sexy pick to win the American League Central.
Prior to the 2015 campaign, the White Sox addressed a big need on the left side of the plate by signing switch-hitter Melky Cabrera and the left-handed bat of Adam LaRoche, who had hit at least 20 home runs in each of the three previous seasons.
They also signed reliever Zach Duke and traded for Jeff Samardzija—an acquisition that, along with incumbent ace Chris Sale, appeared to give the team one of the best one-two pitching duos in baseball.
Then the team unexpectedly flatlined in 2015.
So it’s understandable that it would want to approach the 2016 season with similar hope. The White Sox added All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier and infielder Brett Lawrie this offseason, trying to put a Band-Aid on what ailed them in 2015.
There’s also the “Chris Sale effect” too, which is to say that having one of the best left-handed power arms in baseball has motivated the team to try to compete this season.
The White Sox’s front office has been in angst while the team wastes Sale’s prime years as it continually misses the playoffs. The thought is that if the team were to make the playoffs, Sale, 26, is so dominant that it could ride him to another World Series.
That’s true. But it has to get there first. In another division, that might be likely. But in the American League Central in 2016, it seems unfathomable.
The reigning World Series champion Kansas City Royals were able to keep their core intact by re-signing outfielder Alex Gordon. The Twins nearly made the playoffs last season with a young, less experienced group of players that will only get better.
Both are better candidates to win the division.
With the Red Sox much improved this offseason, the Astros returning a young playoff roster from 2015 and the Yankees prime to compete, the wild-card race will also be too competitive.
And when the White Sox finally realize that the team can’t ride this collection of players to October, it will surely reboot and attempt to reinvigorate its minor league system.
Consider some of the team’s assets to potentially trade this July (for White Sox contract figures, click here):
- Jose Quintana, SP—At only 26 years old, the lefty has seen his innings load increase in each of his four major league seasons. His strikeout-to-walk ratio continually gets better—it was 4.02 in 2015—and every contending team can always use left-handed pitching. He is signed through 2019 and will make an affordable $5.4 million in 2016, making him appealing to small-market teams that may compete this season.
- Avisail Garcia, OF—Shockingly, Garcia seems to have fallen out of favor in Chicago. When he came to Chicago in a three-team trade in 2013, Garcia was thought to be a building block for the future. He suffered a season-ending injury in 2014 and hit only .257 in 2015. Could the 24-year-old still be in the White Sox's future plans? Sure, but another subpar season could cause the team to shop him to a team that still values his vast potential.
- Todd Frazier, 3B—If the White Sox do find themselves out of contention by July, there’ll be no need for the proven Frazier. Any contending team could use Frazier, who has been an All-Star in the past two seasons and has two years of team control left on his deal.
By trading any or all of the aforementioned, the White Sox would still retain Sale (signed through 2019), first baseman Jose Abreu (signed through 2019) and center fielder Adam Eaton (signed through 2020)—all young players who would still be around even if the organization took a couple of seasons to restructure.
However, it should be noted that any player—even Sale—could be thrust into trade talks depending on how drastic a restructure the organization wants to undergo.
Would it be parting with young players? Certainly. But the value of players like Quintana and Garcia could net the White Sox a haul of prospects that would outweigh trying to compete for yet another season with this group.
The team’s issues are too great for a quick fix. We saw it in 2015. It's difficult to believe 2016 will be any different.
And for a team in a hurry to compete, a fire sale might be the fastest way to get there.
Seth Gruen covers baseball for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.