It was about 11 months ago that the Chicago White Sox were the American League darlings of the offseason. The San Diego Padres had the Most Improved Award locked up for the National League, but the White Sox nabbed Melky Cabrera, David Robertson, Adam LaRoche and Jeff Samardzija. What an offseason! If you want to spend the next 15 minutes going through a Twitter search of "Padres White Sox World Series," be my guest. I just did, and I recommend it.
The Padres and White Sox did not face each other in the 2015 World Series.
We haven't heard from the Padres yet this offseason, but we know at the trade deadline they were holding onto assets rather than dealing them. In his first offseason, Padres general manager A.J. Preller was unfathomably aggressive. He could do it again. He could be six times more aggressive, which I think would involve some sort of military coup. He could be half as aggressive and still be more aggressive than anyone in the National League.
The White Sox, though, just might be rebuilding. From CBS Chicago:
As the GM meetings continue in Florida, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has explained that his team is going through a minor teardown and build-up this offseason. But make no mistake about the complete picture: The franchise is going through a significant restructuring.
The headline reads "White Sox Are In Rebuilding Mode." Later in the piece, we have another quote:
"We are trying to do this (rebuild properly) as soon as possible," Hahn said.
WAIT. What's in the parentheses? Is it a swear word? Or were the parentheses there so the author could define the "this"? Nowhere in the article is Hahn quoted directly with the word "rebuild," and that's important. "This" could mean something as simple as contending. The quote could just as easily be rejiggered to look like this:
We are trying to do this (not be so crappy) as soon as possible," Hahn said.
For a moment, though, assume the White Sox do want to rebuild. A complete teardown, right to the studs. What would that look like?
Chris Sale would bring back one of the most absurd prospect packages in the game.
Jose Abreu would bring back something similar.
Adam Eaton would bring back a lot. Jose Quintana would, too. David Robertson, even with a market value contract, would be popular. The White Sox could be swimming in prospects. Rolling around on them. Handing them out as party favors. They would use their prospects for stapling things around the office because they'd have too many of them, really. And as we all know, the point of baseball is to acquire prospects. The team with the most prospects at the end of the year gets a parade right down the middle of the Internet.
Except this brings up the Greater Theory of Rebuilding, which I totally didn't just make up:
The total number of prospects you can get by trading all of your best players is inversely proportional with how much sense it makes to trade them.
That is, if you have a ton of great players, you can exchange them for a whole bunch of prospects. Except ... you have a bunch of great players. Maybe keep them? Build around them? Do good baseball things with them?
Here, I made a fancy plot:
You can tell it's fancy because of the comic sans. The more talent other teams want, the more sense it makes to keep that talent. The White Sox have an ace and a prodigious slugger. They have a couple of solid players behind the slugger, and a couple solid pitchers behind the ace. They have a bullpen with promise. They have gaping holes at second and third, with a couple different options on the free agent market. They have a protected pick, so they can be aggressive with the premium free agents, too.
Except I'm not sure exactly where the White Sox are on that plot. They might be closer to the Reds than the Royals, and everyone agrees that the Reds should trade whatever they can for available prospects.
But they could be an Avisail Garcia breakout, Melky Cabrera rebound and creative offseason away from having a really, really nice lineup. At least, a lineup (with a better defense, hopefully) that could help Sale, Quintana and Carlos Rodon win more games than they lose. It's quite the high wire act.
The bottom of the current White Sox lineup is a disaster, of course. If there's anything preventing a reload instead of a rebuild, it's the daunting task of finding a third baseman and a shortstop and a second baseman. And maybe a catcher. And probably another starting pitcher. All on a mid-level payroll. It would sure be easier to grab the basket of prospects, run to the cellar and hang out for a couple years.
Except, if the White Sox trade everybody, what are the odds they'll get back a prospect who becomes as good as Sale? As good as Abreu? As good as Quintana? All at the same time? Pretty low. They could get all the prospects, sure, but that doesn't mean they'll come out on the other side with a better team. Hahn's words were "a minor teardown," which makes more sense. I'm wondering if they even need to do that much before attacking the market.
The White Sox are over the tipping point. They have enough talent to build around, and bold headlines about rebuilding seem premature. They had the splashy offseason last year and were dreadful. But they could be right in the middle of the AL Central with a modest, understated offseason and some help from within. That seems like a more reasonable goal than punting and hoping for good things in 2018.