A Preview of the White Sox Rebuild

Although we’re at the All Star Break, we’re more than halfway through the season and the White Sox are a last place team. Rebuilding is awful. Recent decades have given us franchises that have been stuck – unable to draft or trade correctly, unable to sign the right free agents. Some franchises seem to have decided that pocketing revenue share money is about as productive as they can be as a major league franchise.

The Royals have had one season above .500 since 1994. In 2003, they won 83 games and finished third in the division. It probably helped that they got to play 19 games against the 2003 Tigers, one of the worst teams in modern memory, and went 14-5 in the process. The Royals had lost 100 games in 2002, and would snuff out any hope that 2003 was a step in the right direction, losing 100+ games from 2004-2006. When last we saw them they had decided that two years of James Shields was more valuable than 6 years of Wil Myers and are looking at another 3rd place finish to show for it.

The Pittsburgh Pirates would lose three straight NLCS from 1990-1992. After the last one, Barry Bonds would depart for San Francisco and the Pirates haven’t cracked .500 since. Although Pittsburgh looks poised to shatter that streak of futility, we saw them start strong last year as well before imploding and falling below 81 wins once more.

I do not think that the White Sox will share the fate of these organizations in their rebuild. Certainly, the organization is currently paying the long-overdue tab for having repeatedly emptied the farm for veterans, drafting poorly and cheaply, and having a con artist as the head of their Latin American scouting. The organization has been trending away from these things for several years now, but unlike football and basketball, the effects of MLB drafts may not be felt for years.

The Pirates and Royals have been victims of shockingly cheap ownership – and despite what their marketing people may tell you, they have been profiting tremendously off of revenue sharing that they have refused to reinvest in their teams. What’s more, that thriftiness lead to those teams frequently burning Top 5 picks on guys who would sign cheaply instead of the impact stars that can be found at the front of the draft. The White Sox just released Daniel Moskos from AAA. He was the Pirates’ #4 overall pick in 2007 ahead of Matt Wieters, Ross Detwiler, Madison Bumgarner, Jason Heyward, and Devin Mesoraco. Other examples are guys like Luke Hochevar, Brad Lincoln, and the famous Brian Bullington whom the Pirates – even at the time of the draft – said he looked like a #3 starter. These are abnormal, extreme examples of incompetence and while I’ve had my complaints about the White Sox over the years, I don’t think this is how they’d handle a top pick (such as they are likely to land this year).

While the White Sox don’t splash around money in free agency like the Yankees, Tigers, Red Sox, and Angels do, they are hardly running on a shoestring budget. Since the 2005 World Series, the White Sox payroll has fluctuated between $96-127 million. Clearly, not all of that money has been spent wisely, but the benefit of having big payrolls is that you can afford to make some mistakes. Unless Reinsdorf has been completely turned off by spending money on the team by the results in 2011 and 2013, the White Sox should continue to have plenty of money to compete at their disposal.

The second thing going for the White Sox is that the team is only a catastrophe on one side of the ball. Unlike the Houston Astros who just have nothing at the major league level, or the Marlins who have a couple of young superstars and then a wasteland at the major league level, the White Sox are in very good shape on the mound and are a disaster at the plate. It is not often that a team in rebuilding mode gets to enter the next season with the number of arms that the White Sox have.

Heading into 2014, if the White Sox trade Jake Peavy (which they don’t have to, but they should see what they can get), they’ll have a rotation that looks something like:

1)    Chris Sale

2)    John Danks

3)    Jose Quintana

4)    Hector Santiago

5)    Erik Johnson

There are absolutely question marks there, but there is also the realistic potential for an above-average rotation. Amusingly, if something were to happen to Erik Johnson, Charlie Leesman could potentially make for an All-Lefty starting rotation. I think it is more likely that Leesman slides into Santiago’s role of emergency spot starter who hangs around in the bullpen in the meantime. There are plenty of criticisms you can level at that rotation – Quintana’s limited track record, Santiago’s bizarre profile and high walk rate, John Danks‘ severe shoulder injury, etc. But having a guy like Chris Sale alone puts this rotation a cut above most rebuilding teams. And even if Danks, Quintana, and Santiago are nothing more than solid #4 types, you can succeed with that.

Losing Thornton, Crain, and Lindstrom represents a large percentage of the bullpen, but the White Sox are actually well positioned to replace them. The group of Andre Rienzo, Simon Castro, Jhan MarinezJake Petricka, and even a guy like Daniel Webb give them promising internal options. Of course, as I mentioned, the White Sox could simply try to reload for next year and hang onto Jake Peavy, which makes the rotation look that much better. Not to mention, if you’re selling off as many pieces as the White Sox theoretically could, you’re going to be getting some stuff in return – and minor leaguers who can be competent relievers aren’t too hard to find.

The offense, on the other hand, is a much more problematic fix.

You could argue that the White Sox have put together the worst offense in the majors, seeing as they have Adam Dunn as their DH instead of the Marlins who have to run the pitcher out to hit every 9th batter. The sources of optimism this season have come in the form of Gordon Beckham, and Josh Phegley’s AAA breakout and exciting first few games in the majors. Conor Gillaspie: Competent Third Baseman has been a pleasant surprise as well. It’s also looking like Adam Dunn may have enough left in the tank to serve the last year of his contract as someone who won’t kill the team. You can imagine a team making the playoffs with Alejandro de Aza as their center fielder.

That’s about it.

There aren’t really any other position players in the minors ready to step in and contribute next year, either. Sure, Brent Morel could be a bench piece, although unless the White Sox trade Alexei Ramirez, there isn’t a ton of room in the infield given the presence of Jeff Keppinger. I still think Jordan Danks can be a solid 4th outfielder, although it appears that the organization disagrees and they have more information than I do. Any other bats that might help the team moving forward – Carlos Sanchez, Trayce Thompson, Keenyn Walker, Keon Barnum, Courtney Hawkins, etc. – wont’ be ready for the start of 2014.

Like Jake Peavy, Alex Rios is affordable for 2014, which means that the White Sox don’t have to trade him, but also that he could fetch a very nice return on the trade market. Whether Rios stays or goes will have a big impact on what the White Sox will be able to do in 2014 and beyond.

Regardless of what happens, the White Sox have a lot of money coming off the books after this year, as can be seen in this chart, courtesy of the spectacular http://www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/.

If the White Sox deal Peavy, Rios, and Alexei Ramirez as has been rumored, they could be as low as $41 million or so committed to 2014 prior to arbitration raises and depending on how much money they wind up taking on to get better returns on those trades. If they retain those players, their payroll will still be as low as $77 million (again, pre-arbitration players). They’re going to have a lot of money available.

Josh Phegley has been a pleasant surprise, and at worst looks like a very nice backup catcher. (Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports)

They don’t have to spend it all right away for 2014, and it may be worth hanging onto Rios simply because there isn’t anything better to spend the money on this offseason for next year. The most interesting free agents, as it currently stands, are Robinson Cano, Chase Utley, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Curtis Granderson, and Shin-Soo Choo. Guys like Utley and Cano are strong candidates to be extended with their current teams. .

It would be interesting to see if the White Sox could land either Beltran or Utley on deals similar to what Beltran is currently on – short years, high dollars, 2 years $26 million or so. A player like Choo is intriguing, due to his on-base heavy, well-rounded skill set and having just had his 31st birthday this past week. Then again, Choo is a Boras client and doesn’t have the prettiest platoon splits (seriously, this year he is OPSing over 1.000 against RHP and about .500 against LHP). Still, an upgrade from Viciedo to Choo or Tyler Flowers to Brian McCann would be absolutely gigantic

Beyond those guys – all of whom may be extremely dangerous at the price tags they could command – you’re looking more for bargains among the lesser names. Mike Morse, Kendrys Morales, Mike Napoli, and Justin Morneau are worth investigating. If they can be had for low years and low dollars, they could be helpful to have around post-Paul Konerko. Brian Roberts could have value, particularly if the White Sox move Alexei Ramirez and slide Gordon Beckham to shortstop, and given that Carlos Sanchez is almost certainly going to have to start next season in AAA. Matthew Hoeppner correctly points out that Jacoby Ellsbury will be available this offseason, but I don’t think he will be worth the salary he will command.

There are a lot of variables, and Rick Hahn is going to have a massive impact on the long-term future of the team in the coming weeks. It’s conceivable that the White Sox can reload quickly with the right moves to cobble together an acceptable offense to go with what should already be an effective pitching staff.

As much as 2013 has been a disappointment, I’m excited to see what the White Sox can get. I don’t think the rebuild has to take very long if the team plays their cards right.

Topics: Carlos Beltran, Chicago White Sox, Shin-soo Choo

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