This is not the time for Chicago White Sox fans to stop believing
This has been, without question, the winter of Chicago White Sox discontent.
No blockbuster trade. No Aaron Judge. No second baseman. Jose Abreu is no longer on the roster. No fan-friendly Sox Fest to vent frustration or welcome Andrew Benintendi.
Above all else, there has been no readily apparent reason for White Sox supporters to believe the rebuild is safely back on track after its stunning 2022 derailment.
General manager Rick Hahn, though, has remained cool, calm, collected, and committed to the rebuild he was trusted to orchestrate after the 2016 season.
Hahn apologized to Sox fans for not acquiring much help at the trade deadline in the middle of the derailment and also for the 81-81 bang-your-head-against-the-wall result when it mercifully came to a close.
Apologies, after all, are standard GM procedure when your disgruntled fan base has already grabbed its pitchforks and flaming torches and has headed out on the city streets in search of the monster responsible for killing its beloved rebuild.
The Chicago White Sox could very well bounce back again in 2023.
None of that public panic and terror, though, has seemingly swayed Hahn from the tedious job at hand. He hasn't busted the fragile White Sox budget by signing a $300 million outfielder, infielder or pitcher.
He hasn't traded away top prospects Oscar Colas and Colson Montgomery for stop-gap veterans just to fill holes. Judging by his lack of knee-jerk reaction to the fans' anguish and agony, Hahn has remained sure of himself and confident in his rebuild, which is headed into year seven.
Sox fans have a clear seven-year itch right now and want to scratch it immediately. But Hahn continues to trust the process he started back in 2016.
Some Sox fans, it seems, have forgotten all that 2005 taught them. Didn't we learn anything from Steve Perry of Journey when he, along with backup singers Aaron Rowand, A.J. Pierzynski, and Joe Crede, told us "Don't Stop Believin'" in 2005?
Well, it's easy to believe when you are holding a World Series trophy. But when you are coming off an 81-81 slap in the face, you might be inclined to adopt another line from that famous song, the impatient philosophy that tells us "everybody wants a thrill, payin' anything to roll the dice."
White Sox fans, for their own mental health, need to calm down, take a deep breath, follow Hahn's lead and stop rolling the dice with this rebuild. Rolling the dice and coming up empty is, after all, why this rebuild was started.
It didn't work just weeks after the 2005 Series when an aging Jim Thome and his bad back was brought in for Rowand for, it turns out, no good reason.
It didn't happen years later when the Sox paid anything and rolled the dice, giving away talented prospects like Marcus Semien, Fernando Tatis Jr., Frankie Montas, and Chris Bassitt for over-hyped veterans in more recent years.
The Sox thought their rebuild started in the winter of 2016. It actually started a few years earlier with Tatis, Semien, Montas, and Bassitt, though they didn't know it.
The Sox hopefully learned from those awful deals to never abandon their own talented prospects. That's why it's time to remember, now more than ever, that it was just 12 short months ago that we all believed in the current rebuild.
The Sox were coming off a 93-win Central Division title in 2021 that barely caused them to break a sweat. Another 93-win season, which would have won the division again in 2022, by the way, seemed like a sure thing.
Hahn then went out and added relievers Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly, outfielder A.J. Pollock, and second baseman Josh Harrison.
As a result, the White Sox were suddenly being mentioned in the same breath as other World Series contenders. That was just 12 months ago. It seems like a simpler, more innocent time a year later.
All the World Series promise, though, was based on all of the amazing talent (namely Moncada, Anderson, Jimenez, and Robert) continuing to mature and blossom. Little did we know that it would all get hurt in 2022.
It threw the Sox into some weird alternative baseball universe where everything came apart. The 77-year-old Hall of Fame manager (Tony La Russa) started intentionally walking guys with two strikes and the third base coach (Joe McEwing) started waving slow-footed catchers toward home every chance he could get.
The manager then got sick and eventually retired during the season. Injuries curtailed the production of practically all the key pieces of the rebuild (Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson, Yasmani Grandal, Lance Lynn, Michael Kopech, Luis Robert, Yoan Moncada), and others (Lucas Giolito, Joe Kelly) simply underperformed.
Abreu forgot how to hit the ball out of the park and Dallas Kuechel forgot how to get anybody out. Pollock and Harrison, go figure, were well past their days of helping a team get to a World Series.
Whatever could go wrong in 2022 did go wrong and they usually invented new ways to do it. But none of it, however, was the rebuild's fault. La Russa, don't forget, wasn't truly part of the rebuild. Well, he was never part of Hahn's rebuild.
Nobody, after all, rebuilds with a 70-something manager unless, of course, you are an 82-year-old owner who thinks it is still 1986.
But the rebuild stayed alive and well even with LaRussa in 2021 and likely would have again in 2022 if the heart of the lineup didn't pull, twist, strain, or aggravate every muscle in their body.
Injuries heal and the foundation of the rebuild, which was always based on elite talent, is still talented despite what happened last season. Last season was simply a ridiculous series of unfortunate events that nobody could have predicted.
Last year, Hahn reminded us with his relative lack of roster movement over the past few months, is certainly not a reason to abandon the rebuild. Certainly not yet. The number of injuries to key players last year bordered on the absurd.
Moncada, Grandal, Robert, Jimenez, Anderson, and even reliable super sub-Leury Garcia all failed to play in more than 104 games. Anderson didn't even play for half a year (79 games). Lynn missed about a dozen starts, Kopech about a half dozen.
Even backup shortstop Danny Mendick suffered a season-ending injury after replacing Anderson. Dynamic lefty reliever Garrett Crochet didn't even get through spring training before going down.
Not all rebuilds, we learned last year, are created equal. The White Sox became enamored with the idea of a rebuild in the first place after watching how smoothly the rebuilds of the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, and Kansas City Royals proceeded without a hitch.
All of those rebuilds progressed from year to year and all were rewarded relatively quickly with World Series trophies. It seemed oh so easy.
The days of the Sox supplementing its undermanned rosters with the likes of Adam LaRoche, Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy, Todd Frazier, Jeff Samardzija, James Shields, Brett Lawrie, Yonder Alonso, and Alex Rios mercifully vanished with the official declaration of the rebuild after the 2016 season.
Sox fans, frustrated since 2005, bought in almost immediately. The buy-in became almost unanimous in December 2016 when Hahn got Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning from the Washington Nationals for Adam Eaton and traded Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox for Moncada and Kopech.
Roughly six months later, the rebuild hit a fever pitch of anticipation and excitement when Hahn signed Robert out of Cuba and stole Jimenez and Dylan Cease from the Cubs for Jose Quintana. Oh so easy, indeed.
It was the Astros, Cubs and Royals all over again. The Sox qualified for the playoffs in the pandemic-abbreviated 2020 season and then won the division in 2021. Everything was moving along nicely and according to plan.
But then 2022 hit the Sox square in the mouth with all of its silliness, bad luck, and 70-something manager drama, prompting some Sox fans to dig their pitchforks and flaming torches out of the basement closet.
The Sox fan anger and frustration were certainly understandable. Hahn, after all, said he understood after the year was over. Of course, he did. Those pitchforks and torches, after all, were pointed his way.
The Cubs, after all, went out and got Aroldis Chapman, Ben Zobrist, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Dexter Fowler, and Jason Heyward to complete their rebuild. They also replaced manager Ricky Renteria with Joe Maddon.
The Sox? Well, they went out and got Cesar Hernandez, Josh Harrison, A.J. Pollock, Jake Diekman, and a disgruntled Craig Kimbrel and replaced Renteria with La Russa. That can light a torch faster than you can say Steve Stone.
All of which brings us to the current off-season which seemed to only throw more gasoline on those torch fires. But buying a player like Judge was never going to happen this off-season, just like it's not going to happen anytime soon with Shohei Ohtani.
The White Sox live in a big market but the Sox can only afford to shop in certain aisles of that market. Last year, after all, was the first time the Sox drew more than two million fans in a season since 2011. And that (2,009,359 fans) didn't even happen until the final home game of the year.
Also never going to happen this off-season, thank goodness for Hahn's self control, was a headline-grabbing trade for a big-time player that would have ripped apart the rebuild or drained the farm system.
Such a deal likely would have required Hahn to give away his top prospects (such as Colas and Montgomery or some other prospect the Sox have undervalued like Tatis and Semien) or required them to sell low on players like Moncada, Jimenez, Robert, Cease, Crochet or Anderson.
There was even fan and media talk of trading Giolito just because he will be a free agent after the coming season.
All that talk, of course, completely ignored the fact that the Sox simply could not afford to replace the pitcher that Giolito was just two and three years ago when he was a Top Ten Cy Young finalist and could become one again in 2023.
All of the above roster movement, while exciting, would have required Hahn to basically blow up his rebuild or stop it completely to get a few favorable tweets and a couple of hours of positive discussion on sports talk radio.
It would have been the quick-fix fantasy baseball method of building a winner. Sox fans, even the ones with the handy pitchforks and torches, should thank Hahn for remaining calm, rational, and focused.