The White Sox did a lot of losing in 2017 but were able to change their culture. This gives fans something to cheer for heading into 2018.
Chicago White Sox fans take note: something interesting happened this past season that represents the most exciting change in this team I have ever observed.
I’m not talking about the Chris Sale trade that formally kicked off the team’s rebuilding effort. Or the Rick Renteria hire, which Sox General Manager [Rick Hahn] later said he thought telegraphed the coming rebuild. Or any of the team’s other trades, signings or transactions that also, for the most part, represent the rebuild. Nope.
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The interesting thing that happened was a change of culture for an entire sports franchise. This team has made the decision to operate strategically with a long-term focus on building value rather than a short-term focus of putting a team on the field.
This may seem redundant – but what I want to call out is this is a rebuilding of culture. The stockpiling of talent exists within the culture rebuild, but let’s be clear the rebuild is the commitment to do things differently.
The difference is subtle. The increased value approach will allow more and better players coming up from the farm teams, better ability to market (trade) surplus talent to fill holes and accommodate gaps and injuries, and fewer and more strategic free agent signings when they need to occur and where they best help the team. Look it as a business model rather than an assembly of individual talent – the more value the organization accumulates and the ability to increase that value like a portfolio of stocks.
Doing this by not only position but age and readiness establishes the talent “roadmap” approach for years to come as opposed to a single team or year. Roadmaps are what product companies do; they build for the future in perpetuity rather than by instance. Taking appreciating positions are what portfolio investors do; they place bets with their asset pool to build capital.
Done correctly, a team increases its levels of lower cost, higher ceiling, more controllable talent. This will allow the team to spend more on strategic free agent signings and the capital to trade for additional talent than it otherwise could. The cost of talent and player value model is evolving to a better success structure for this franchise. Fantasy baseball fans will understand this.
One can clearly see the change in the before and after. The old culture was one of “good enough”. The new culture is “good enough is not good enough”. It’s like we’re watching the archeology of a professional sports franchise unfold and evolve in real-time right before our eyes.
If the rebuild was about a coming championship, 2017 would have been just one more season of falling short and a reminder of what it’s meant to be a Sox fan over the years. This is how the “old” White Sox operated. Instead, the rebuild was about committing to a change in culture. The franchise is already winning in that respect, and the next step in the process is about developing talent and the continued pursuit to build a pipeline and depth chart of core talent that will deliver on the field and fuel transactions to supplement the core.
Here’s what called out that difference for me: 2017 was the most engaged I have ever been as a fan. Ever. I loved losing! Each loss meant a little better draft pick in 2018, a lowering of expectations that would allow more prospects to play, and a less pressure environment to provide the learning framework necessary to enable their development.
Did the White Sox win too much?
I actually thought the team won too much as Detroit tanked and slipped below the Sox to gain the fourth draft pick in the 2018 MLB amateur draft. But it’s hard to justify losing 95 games represents winning too much. That said, if Brady Singer is still available and goes to Detroit in that fourth pick I may be sick. You get the idea.
The reason this is important to note is that Sox fans need to recognize the true change and this isn’t a quick fix. All this talk of “window of contention” suggests impatience. The pot will boil, so let’s all stop watching with expectation and instead just enjoy watching all this great, young talent develop. Talent development is the goal; contention is the by-product and one of many success factors.
Time is on our side, and it’s going to take some time to continue to develop and acquire additional talent. The key is patience, and Hahn has specifically called this out for fans.
With that logic in mind, there are additional potential moves (or non-moves) facing the team. What will they do with Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia? What will the starting rotation end up being in Chicago, Charlotte, and Birmingham? And what does the stack-ranked depth chart for center field look like across the entire organization? I am, as they say, on pins and needles in anticipation.
Oh, the universe of possibilities for a team that’s reinvented itself to a success culture! Suddenly life as a Sox fan is fascinating and open-ended. This is what rooting for an organization with a culture of winning feels like.