My favorite part of an otherwise heavily scrutinized offseason plan by Lookout Landing was when they showed the low-end win projections for their planned roster, the high-end win projections, and the medians. The projections essentially showed the differences between a cellar-dwelling team, a division-winning team, and the mediocre club that anyone reasonable would peg the Mariners or White Sox to be in 2014.
The White Sox were widely projected as below-average to middle of the road team last season, and through the magic of rapid aging, random defensive asshattery and something bad in the water that all the hitters have been drinking for eight years, they managed to bounce nearly all the way down to 99 losses, when arguments about how they could chuckle their way to 88 wins pre-season were valid.
Now, in the nothingness of January, fan and media assessments of their own teams are trending up. First, it’s not much fun to glance ahead at a season and declare it stillborn before pitchers and catchers report. Second, stories from out of town about uneventful pre-Spring hitting camps just don’t travel, so it can seem like the White Sox new hitters are working ahead, rather than just working in plain sight. Finally, everyone being in on Mashiro Tanaka in theory sort of confuses assessments about what the organization’s goals are for this season.
Between all this and fan convention season, and all the word is theories on why _____ will outperform projections and flaws are irrelevant. Naturally, the Southside Showdown email thread has become a bubbling morass of hatred and antipathy.
It would be messed up by the Sox signing (tricking?) Tanaka over to Chicago, but a fun element to the Sox offseason is that all of their marquee offensive additions (Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson) could start in the minors. They won’t, and possibly none of them will, but they could do it and it wouldn’t be the most absurd thing to do. The collective opinion of each player could completely go to seed based on their 2014 performance, but they’re being paid to be assets down the line more than they are to drag this 2014 vessel to the playoffs.
The plaudits handed out to franchises for expressing some absurd concept of “discipline” by minimizing their major league payroll for years while developing prospect strength from below is more than tiresome. But if there’s an organization that can look at a season spent showing flashes of improvement, giving initial playing time to youngsters and no half-hearted mad dash toward a playoff spot as a breath of seemingly fresh air, it’s the White Sox.