The Chicago White Sox won 9 of their last 12 games when the All-Star break arrived, and have done so against some of the top teams in baseball.
Suddenly a team that looked like foregone sellers just a couple weeks ago has a renewed spark that might cause General Manager Rick Hahn to walk over to the marketplace with a shopping cart rather than a “for sale” sign.
The question is though: What would the Chicago White Sox even look like as buyers?
According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, this is a team that’s still going through an identity crisis, but webbed in his analysis of a misfit team that doesn’t know what to call itself, are a few intriguing quotes from Executive Vice President Kenny Williams:
"“Yet, no matter what happens with Samardzija, who’s being strongly pursued by the Toronto Blue Jays, Williams insists there won’t be a teardown. This is Year 1 of their 3-year plan, Williams says, and he and GM Rick Hahn refuse to believe that their massive winter overhaul was a bust…’If we do anything, it will be consistent with trying to maximize this three-year plan or window that we set out originally.”’"
Do you here that? Maximize.
The White Sox front office has been anything but transparent regarding their contingency plans for the ’15 ballclub, but that word “maximize” is probably the biggest tell to leave the offices of 35th and Shields so far this season.
Not to mention, Williams made these remarks even before the White Sox really took off.
Jul 6, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale (49) pitches during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
It’s safe to assume that the aforementioned three-year window encompasses 2015, 2016, and 2017. Both superstars Chris Sale and Jose Abreu are locked up through at least those three seasons and will be in their respective primes during that timeframe.
Considering that starters Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon, along with outfielders Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia, are also in place through that window, the White Sox are actually in an enviable position with one of the better young cores in the game.
However when you look closer at the numbers, there is certainly reason for optimism regarding these three pieces:
• Samardzija has a 2.40 ERA over his last six starts.
• LaRoche is historically a better 2nd-half player, with a career .860 OPS after the All-Star break compared to a .767 OPS prior to it.
• Melky Cabrera has a .928 OPS in July, and that’s building on a surge he started in late June.
A productive Cabrera and LaRoche that hits for some power changes the dynamic of this entire line up. Say what you will about the defense, but it is the offense that is keeping the White Sox from the postseason.
The pitching has been a catalyst, and after a bumpy start for some of the flashy front end arms, it is finally rounding into form. The White Sox pitching staff is middle of the pack in ERA at a 3.90 mark, but they’re sixth in quality starts with 53.
Due to the fact that the rotation is essentially printing quality starts at this point, the White Sox are 29-9 when scoring more than four runs.
The White Sox are averaging 3.40 runs per game in 2015. Last year, that mark was a clean 4.07, which would make this year’s team one of the most dangerous in baseball if combined with its near flawless pitching. The average offense is scoring 4.10 runs per game meaning the White Sox just need to be league average versus historically bad in order to compete.
Is it that much to ask for this team to be an average offense? On paper, they certainly have the personnel to perform to those standards.
I expect quite a bit of positive regression for the offense in the second half, and if the White Sox’s brain trust takes that into consideration, being buyers at the deadline looks a little more palpable.
The White Sox aren’t as far behind ‘supposed buyers’ as you think.
At 5.5 games back of the 2nd wildcard, the White Sox are arguably in the thick of the race.
Let’s play a game.
Do you consider the Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, and Tampa Bay Rays buyers? Well the White Sox are 2.5 games behind those teams in the Wild Card standings.
How about the Blue Jays, the team that’s rumored to be targeting Samardzija, do you consider them buyers? Guess what, the White Sox are actually ahead of them in the loss column.
While most of those above teams are in a very winnable AL East division, they aren’t going to be the most difficult teams to leap-frog in the wildcard standings. The White Sox don’t need to catch the 49-40 Minnesota Twins or the high-octane 52-34 Kansas City Royals.
They just need to snag that second wildcard spot because then it’s basically game over.
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With Chris Sale looking like he’s primed for the Cy Young this season, I like his chances of stealing that one-game playoff.
Then a playoff rotation of Sale, Samardzija, Quintana, and Rodon would be one of the nastiest in the field. How many AL teams would consider that starting staff an easy road to the World Series?
So case in point, if the starting pitching stays this hot then the White Sox are really just some positive regression and one more impact bat away from a playoff spot.
The route the organization takes will vary significantly depending on how hot they are leaving the gate into the second half. If they continue this outrageous .750 winning clip over their last 12 games into the first week, then the possibility of even a rental is on the table. If they sputter and reach just .500 a couple days before the trade deadline, then maybe it’s better to only add players with more than one year of team control remaining.
Beyond that, the White Sox could employ a hybrid approach by buying and selling at the deadline, with pending free agent Samardzija being the most likely candidate to leave.
What follows are three scenarios that fall under these three respective categories with a blueprint as to how each one might play out.
Next: Could an Oakland infielder be a rental?