Building a winner in today's Major League Baseball involves painful construction followed by hopeful creation.
The Chicago White Sox aren't the only team giving it a shot. They're just doing it the best.
In tandem with the crosstown-rival Chicago Cubs, the White Sox pulled off the first blockbuster of the summer trade season last week. Steady lefty Jose Quintana has gone north to Wrigley Field. Coming south is a four-prospect package headlined by slugger Eloy Jimenez and fireballer Dylan Cease.
With a 38-49 record that put them in last place in the AL Central going into the All-Star break, the White Sox were already bad. They're sure to be even worse without their best starting pitcher.
That's the whole idea.
"There's a price to it, and no one in this organization from [owner] Jerry [Reinsdorf] up through this clubhouse wanted to see Jose Quintana walk out the door," general manager Rick Hahn said, per Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune. "That's part of the process that we're going through here, and with everything we know, it's the right thing."
Hahn would know. He's the architect of a future that looks brighter every day.
In All-Star right fielder Avisail Garcia (26 years old), shortstop Tim Anderson (24) and left-hander Carlos Rodon (24), the White Sox already have some young building blocks on their major league roster. But the real excitement is down on the farm.
That isn't even a question for Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.
"The White Sox now have the best farm system in baseball," he wrote last week. "This is inarguable."
The rankings at MLB.com indicate this isn't such a big leap. The White Sox's top nine prospects all feature prominently in the overall top 100:
But if there's a separating factor in Chicago, it's the sheer explosiveness of the talent the White Sox will soon be riding to perennial contention.
With his blend of power, speed and hitting ability, top prospect Yoan Moncada has the makings of a super-duper-star. Luis Robert is both a fellow Cuban and a fellow athletic dynamo. Michael Kopech has a bottomless supply of 100 mph fastballs. Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Carson Fulmer and Cease have power arms of their own. Zack Collins is a power-hitting catcher, a rare breed indeed.
Power is also Jimenez's calling card. His is Roy Hobbs-ian:
Chicago White Sox @whitesox
Off the light tower? We see you, @Lamantha21. 🔥 https://t.co/mSyD2XqbQd2017-7-13 15:57:17
It's a remarkable collection of names. But equally remarkable is how the bulk of them came to be in the White Sox organization.
Their farm system had been a wasteland in recent years, routinely failing to crack the top 20 in Baseball America's organizational rankings. In the meantime, they followed their 2005 World Series title with a whole lot of mediocrity. Between 2006 and 2016, they averaged 79 wins per season.
Their team-building philosophy during this period was to load up on veterans and use the draft to add older, more experienced talents who could contribute sooner rather than later.
It was good enough to keep them relevant, but not to push them ahead. As the division throne changed hands first from the Detroit Tigers to the Kansas City Royals and then to the Cleveland Indians, the White Sox couldn't blame the AL Central for rigging the game to be unwinnable.
Cue Hahn accepting it was time to pivot. As he said last November, per Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago:
"We've always been focused on putting ourselves in the best position to win. At the same time, I think we're veering away from the standpoint of looking for stopgaps. A lot of what we did in the last few years had been trying to enhance the short-term potential of the club to put ourselves in a position to win immediately. I feel the approach at this point is focusing on longer-term benefits."
A month later, the fire sale began.
Lefty ace Chris Sale went to the Boston Red Sox in a deal that brought back Moncada, Kopech and more. Speedy outfielder Adam Eaton went to the Washington Nationals for Giolito, Lopez and more. Even then, the White Sox's farm system had taken a drastic leap forward.
But it's not over. Chicago signed Robert in May, and now Quintana is out the door in July. According to Hahn, that door still remains open:
Dan Hayes @CSNHayes
Rick Hahn: "We are very much open for business." #WhiteSox2017-7-14 21:04:14
Closer David Robertson, third baseman Todd Frazier and left fielder Melky Cabrera are all but certain to be moved ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. If they are, whatever doubt there is about the White Sox having baseball's best farm system should be gone on August 1.
And they still won't be finished adding to it. They're going to be bad enough this year to secure a top-five pick in the 2018 draft. That's another place where blue-chip talents are found.
Even if that marks the end of the talent accumulation phase of the White Sox's rebuild, the damage will have been done. The next few years will see them graduate potential star after potential star. Success in the win column will almost be guaranteed.
The "almost" is necessary because the transition from rebuilding to contending isn't obligated to go smoothly.
However, the templates for what the White Sox hope to achieve are certainly visible.
To the north, the White Sox can see a Cubs team that started rebuilding in 2012 and was a 97-win team by 2015 and champions by 2016. Further to the south, there's a Houston Astros team that trudged through years of futility to become the American League's only powerhouse. Elsewhere in the AL Central, there's a Royals team that turned years of farm system buildup into back-to-back World Series runs.
The triumphs of these teams aren't the results of a cosmic coincidence.
Neil Payne of FiveThirtyEight observed in 2014 that baseball's star power was shifting younger. FanGraphs WAR has since rated 2015 and 2016 as the two best years ever for 25-and-under position players. Young pitchers had their own historic season just in 2013.
Young talent is where it's at in MLB, and there are no shortcuts to acquiring it. It takes determination, effort and, above all, patience.
The White Sox have acquired the determination and are making the effort. As a result, an already huge stockpile of young talent figures to get even bigger.
All they'll need is patience. If they wait long enough, the pretender they destroyed should give way to a contender they created.