For anyone out there that enjoys blackjack, “going back to the well” is something you don’t want to have to do. My friends and I use that term to refer to the process of sitting down at the table, losing all of your money, and then going to the ATM to get more money to keep playing and try to win your original bankroll back.
Right now the White Sox are sitting at the blackjack table and it couldn’t be clearer that they’re out of money. Their hot start to the season was all but erased by the team’s worst stretch of play since the 2013 season (where they lost 99 games), the Cleveland Indians have caught fire and taken a 7.5 game lead in the division, there are three teams ahead of the White Sox for the last Wild Card spots, and PECOTA pegs the White Sox’ current playoff odds at 21 percent.
This leaves the team with a few options: chalk it up to a loss, sit pat or try to sell some veterans (though I don’t think you’ll get anything good for Todd Frazier or Melky Cabrera) and go into next year with essentially the same team, or go back to the farm system (the well) and try to turn their top non-Tim Anderson prospects into players that can help the team this year and beyond.
Much like going home to your significant other and trying to explain how you went to the casino with $200 in cash and have somehow lost $505 ($5 ATM fee), there’s significant risk for the White Sox if they choose to further deplete an already thin farm system. But unlike the former dilemma where there’s a lighter consequence of walking away when you run out of your initial bank roll, the White Sox could face potentially disastrous results if they simply stayed the course, or worse yet, sold some of their more talented players for pennies on the dollar*. Obviously, there’s a chance being aggressive and acquiring some better players may not be enough to catapult them into the playoffs this year or potentially next year, but when sitting on your hands offers essentially the same fate, it would behoove you to be aggressive.
Simply put, based on all of the evidence the White Sox have produced thus far in 2016 suggests they are not a good enough team to make the playoffs. If they enter 2017 with essentially the same team, the odds of them making the playoffs in that season are also marginal at best. Even with growth from Carlos Rodon and Anderson next season, the White Sox would still have serious holes in (and feel free to tune out if you’ve heard this before) the outfield, DH, catcher, back end of the rotation and the bullpen AND every other member of their core would be a year older and possibly, if not probably, a little bit worse.
There isn’t enough depth at the top of the minor league system to cover all of these issues, and even though the White Sox love to push their minor leaguers through the system as fast as possible, it would not be realistic to expect any of their top minor leaguers, Carson Fulmer, Spencer Adams, Tyler Danish etc. to make significant, positive contributions until at least 2018, and that’s not good for the 2017 White Sox.
Playing for 2018 is really unappealing because Frazier, Cabrera, and Brett Lawrie will all be gone, with no realistic in-house replacements. The very angry White Sox fan in me believes Avisail Garcia will still be patrolling RF as there’s also no internal answer for that position (Jason Coats doesn’t count), one of catcher/DH is still an issue even if you believe Zack Collins can come in and hit well, and Jose Abreu will be on the wrong side of 31 not getting any better.
The White Sox farm depth is starting to get better in the lower minors. This is a really important step in the right direction for the health of this organization, but the depth being in the lower minors means you really aren’t going to see the system bear real, talented fruit until 2019 and beyond (when the Sox lose Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and whatever shell of Abreu is left). Sure, you could make the argument that the White Sox could venture into free agency to fill some of the holes on the 2017 and 2018 teams, but in the words of Styx, you’d be “fooling yourself.”
I think all of the BP Southside writers have bemoaned the White Sox lack of willingness to sign top tier free agents at some point, so no they’re not getting Yoenis Cespedes next year either, and the White Sox’ hit rate on second tier free agents is so incredibly ugly, to expect them to find even mediocre talent seems like a stretch. Much like banking on the infantile farm system, counting on free agency to help the White Sox in the short term is a really bad bet. Will trading Fulmer and Adams probably suck in a few years? Yeah, it will. But even with those players in the organization down the road, I don’t think the White Sox future is all that bright.
All of this adds up to one unfortunate conclusion: if the White Sox don’t make the playoffs this year or next, there is a good chance that they won’t make the playoffs for an extended amount of time. That doubly sucks when you think about how their current playoff drought is seven-going-on-eight years and they’ve already missed the playoffs for an extended amount of time. The White Sox window of contention is right now and the organization has to be willing to pay the price to make this team better during that window. Their ownership has already made clear that they aren’t willing to spend actual money on good players, so that means they’ll have to pay a prospect price instead.
Luckily for the White Sox, some good players are available on the trade market. The Brewers are a treasure trove of players that have multiple years of control that would provide a big boost to the White Sox. Will Smith and Chris Carter are still arb eligible for several more years each, Jonathan Lucroy has one of the best contract options for 2017 in the majors and Ryan Braun is expensive, but producing at such a level that he is worth his current contract. Carlos Gonzalez and Jake McGee of the Rockies should also be available, as will be the Reds’ Jay Bruce who are all under contract through next season.
These players will be in demand, there’s no doubt about that. Unfortunately, this makes it fairly murky as to whether or not the White Sox would be able to catch some of these bigger fish with their current trade chips, especially now that Adams could be hurt. The most important thing, though, is that this front office has to realize where they are at in the win cycle and make every effort to acquire more talent for the stretch run this year and the next year’s season. They already shot themselves in the foot by not being more aggressive during this past off-season and every day that passes without a move this year cripples them even further. They have to go back to their well and double down and acquire more talent; there’s currently no better choice.
*Of course they could blow everything up and trade Chris Sale and company, but when you think about how their veteran-for-prospect trades have gone, they might as well just go all Fargo on their best players. Link for those of you that don’t get that reference.
**Also, screw the All-Star game for leaving Jose Quintana out.
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