Given the way they approach roster-building, when the White Sox claim in a letter to season-ticker holders that the 99-loss campaign of 2013 was embarrassing and unacceptable, it carries some believable weight to it. Especially when VP of Marketing Brooks Boyer gives an honest assessment of how things got to this point.
“You have to pay the piper on having the attitude of going for it [every year], and sometimes that is your reality.”
This statement leaves out the international signing scandal and a self-defeating draft approach coming home to roost as well, but that could have been expected. Such problems have been addressed and will provide returns in slow motion, so it would have been an opportunity to cite help that’s on the way and preach patience, but criticizing the draft policy would involve criticizing people still employed (or still signing checks) and I doubt anyone working in White Sox public relations thinks bringing up David Wilder is a good idea.
But Boyer’s actual letter again trots out the same curious balance between promising immediate improvement while dismissing notions of a quick fix. Short-term and long-term improvement is a promise they can technically fulfill, since even a rebuilding club could do better than 63 wins, but to achieve in a way that the fans actually recognize will require meaningful production from their long-term pieces.
Abreu and Garcia are fun to dream on, but that’s where visions of leaps forward in production die. It is extremely likely that Sale and Quintana both hit their ceilings last season. Quintana, because he’s generally believed to have already exceeded any reasonable projections for his production, and Sale, because his performance level is already unfathomably high. He could get a few breaks and have a career-year better than a 3.07 ERA in a homer happy ballpark, but banking on it would be silly.
Then there’s Viciedo, who is an odd fit on this list even if I understand completely why Merkin would include him. If Viciedo, who will be just 25 by Opening Day, has a full-time role going into next season, it will be because the White Sox still believe he has potential to become an above-average hitter. But at this point, his offensive contribution has been below average through over 1200 career MLB plate appearances, and he takes runs off the table on defense. He’s less a cornerstone than a former prospect getting one last chance.
With that said, the hope for the remainder of the offseason would be for the Sox to carve out more places for long-term improvement in addition to Garcia and Abreu, whether that’s trading for more players in their arbitration period, trading for near-ready prospects, or clearing a path for someone seemingly ready like Marcus Semien to start, and at least offer the possibility of above-average production going forward. An offense consisting of Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, Jeff Keppinger, Alejandro De Aza, Dayan Viciedo, Adam Dunn and yes, Paul Konerko, offers a lot of the same ingredients that have been in decline.
Those same dice can be rolled again and do better than 63-99, but it would be nicer to get through 2014 feeling like a page was turned, rather than just a few names crossed out.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan