White Sox fans and the brouhaha over promoting top prospects

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 21: Eloy Jimenez
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 21: Eloy Jimenez /

An NBC Sports Chicago poll reveals White Sox fans prefer holding off call-ups for Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech in favor of maximizing their service time. Are they wrong?

James Fegan of The Athletic notes his disappointment of an NBC Sports Chicago poll result in which White Sox fans expressed a majority desire to hold off calling up top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech to maximize their major league service time and team control.

I very enjoy my subscription to The Athletic and Fegan’s contributions. His style of writing is clean and point of view astute. All except for this last one, that is: “Memo to White Sox fans: Root for the prospects, not their service time” (subscription required).

Fegan found the poll result “fairly dispiriting” that fans preferred holding off on call-ups for the top minor league performers in favor of keeping them in Sox uniforms for as long as possible, a sin he described as “blatant service time manipulation”.

I have to wonder if James Fegan is a Cubs fan, because as much as Sox fans can’t wait to have each prospect wearing the major league uniform few would ever see the value of losing an extra year of control in exchange for few extra days on a team 22.5 games behind division leader Cleveland and 32 games under .500.

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What’s really disappointing – (blush) if we “dim” fans are allowed to have feelings – is his describing this point of view as “the fetishization of optimal human asset management has trumped the interest in seeing great players do their thing.” Really? White Sox fans are fetishistic? Is that legal?

I’m a tremendous White Sox fan and I love Major League baseball deeply, but I can definitely report I have never, ever been turned on by its service time rules.

I also love watching Jimenez and Kopech on MiLB.com. Rick Hahn described setting up a subscription for Jerry Reinsdorf himself to watch his thoroughbreds at Charlotte and Birmingham, and not just be allowed to focus on this sub-par Major League team. Is Hahn the evil master manipulator of service time or fan perception? Is Reinsdorf too a fetishist?

This article missed the mark and falls far below Fegan’s usual level of writing in my opinion, but the motivation is obvious and hiding in plain site: he refers to “page views”. A call-up for either player let alone both would provide easy column fodder for any writer compensated by page views.

I’m just a contributor and fan, and this is not a paid engagement for me. But the content you’re reading now is similarly monetized by the number of people who click on and share this post. Same for Fegan’s content with The Athletic, except he likely gets paid.

James Fegan can relax because he can still write about Jimenez and Kopech. It doesn’t matter if the players are in Chicago or Charlotte or Kannapolis, the same fans will read those articles without his having to insult them.

People want to know about Jimenez and Kopech. They, even more than Yoan Moncada, have become the faces of the rebuild. Those articles will pop his page view metrics, the traffic will still be monetized by The Athletic, and the content will continue to show up in our Apple News and Google News feeds for an insatiable audience seeking as many articles about a rebuilding White Sox team as they can find.

The same might be said for NBC Sports Chicago. They may also wish for the call-ups to happen as soon as possible since they broadcast 107 of the team’s 2018 games, as opposed to WGN who broadcasts the other 55. Think more viewers would tune in if Jimenez and Kopech joined the team? That is a rhetorical question. Of course they would, and NBC Sports Chicago would enjoy a bump in viewership and revenue.

I might suggest Fegan take a deep breath and try to understand what is driving fans to feel this way. The optimism, for example, that Sox fans are feeling from the prospect of finally have an extended winning structure in their future. The excitement of wanting this to extend for as long as possible before the team risks losing this talent to larger budget major market teams. The fear of the team not playing it perfectly, leaving players and pennants on the proverbial table, and potentially missing out on any championship runs altogether.

Expectation-setting is the subtle art of managing hope and disappointment. Fans, players and even owners can be drawn into this. It’s okay to hope and it’s okay to be disappointed: they represent opposite sides of the same coin.

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Journalists are people too (ahem, Mr. President…) and can be drawn into this as well. That’s okay and even encouraging, but it shouldn’t get personal.