The White Sox are three games up with 77 to go. For a team with a front office that’s usually shaded toward hyper-aggressive, the BP-calculated 79.9% chance that the Sox make the playoffs goes beyond being merely ‘enticing’, to being something has admitted feeling a moral obligation to chase.
While a chance at the playoffs pushes everything else to the backburner, the Sox did enter the season with some focus on objectives like reducing payroll obligations, building up the minor league system to some degree, and giving more thought to a sustainable future. How much of that remains a goal for the rest of this year?
Rebuilding while competing might have been the goal coming in, but the composition of the team would suggest a more go-for-broke response. 31 year-old Alex Rios is the youngest member of spots #2-#6 of the White Sox batting order. Costly option years loom for Kevin Youkilis, Gavin Floyd, and Jake Peavy, while A.J. Pierzynski is preparing to be a 36 year-old free agent catcher. Phillies fans think your notions of the competitive window being open past this season are quaint.
Contemplating the White Sox pursuing the AL Central title with less than full gusto is about as fun as, say, watching Sunday’s game started by Dylan Axelrod, but being in the nascent stages of building their organizational depth affects short-term moves as well.
1. The rookie bullpen is cute, but not necessarily good
The past week provided a good indication of the status quo for the pen until Crain returns–Addison Reed is the closer, Matt Thornton and Nate Jones are set-up men, and pretty much everyone else needs to be hidden.
Jesse Crain and the massive strikeout rate he was sporting makes that set-up look a lot better, but the pace of his rehab from a mysterious sore shoulder has been sluggish.
Since the Sox don’t need a “proven closer”, a reliable reliever to add to their late-inning depth is something they could easily afford even with their system. The futures of Eduardo Escobar, Jared Mitchell, or even Brent Morel probably only seem worth keeping to fans of an organization like this one.
2. The starting rotation has a hole
When Adam Dunn said that he and Alex Rios were the Sox two biggest off-season acquisitions, it sounded hokey and unconvincing. Now their performance is the fondation for the team’s success, and similar responses won’t be able to be properly skewered for years.
There will be no problems filling out a five-man rotation if John Danks recovers, and since he has a $65 million contract, he’ll get every opportunity to do that. You can find “White Sox” and “starting pitching” in the same sentence on MLB trade rumors, but they’re unlikely to have dismissed the in-house starting options by the end of the month.
3. More offense?
The White Sox plugged one of the four softs spots in their batting order with Kevin Youkilis, but it’s doubtful they have much of a mind to act on the other three. Alexei Ramirez is heating up and has a big contract, Dayan Viciedo is still in his first full year starting, and hasn’t even been that bad (96 wRC+).
Gordon Beckham has been right decent since the start of May (.270/.303/.416) for a plus-defense second basemen, but is still pretty poor at getting on base and doesn’t project to get a whole lot better at it.
Getting a substantial upgrade on him means getting someone older, and twisting out a lot of their resources to do it. The White Sox should focus on their obvious holes. Third base was one of them, a bullpen with currently five rookies–of which only three at most are capable–is another.
4. Will that be enough?
With the most runs scored and least runs allowed in the division, the Sox certainly look like the real deal heading out of the break, but Detroit–and perhaps the Indians too–won’t take this indignity lying down. Both teams have been mentioned to be in pursuit of an impact starter, and Cleveland is even looking for bats at positions where they are easy to find–1st base and left field.
So it’s easy to say the Sox should play conservative now when they’re in the driver’s seat, but the landscape of the AL Central is always subject to change. The White Sox being where they are is all the proof of that you’ll ever need.