Maybe this declarative headline is just for posterity, since the dimming playoff picture for the Sox has been increasingly apparent for weeks now, and is simply impossible to ignore now after a dismal 1-5 west coast road trip to start the second half, which came on the heels of home series loss to the tanking Braves.
All of which is kind of window dressing, and only serves to add that the team that has placed itself in a massive hole dotted by superior competition isn’t even playing particularly well. Usually when down 10 games in the division race and seventh in line for the final Wild Card spot in late July, having some kind of upward trend is desirable.
It’s understandable that the Sox are spiraling: they have been without their best catcher and starter centerfielder due to injury and have no specific idea when either will return, and are prepared to throw minor league filler to the wolves again while their next great starter recovers from falling up the stairs. On the other hand, their current state would be a disappointing but foreseeable result from the view of this Spring. Given the massive 23-10 head start they afford themselves, it’s truly galling. The Sox PECOTA playoff odds are only barely floating above six percent. The only team with lower odds who aren’t either obviously out of it, or were never even trying to compete this season are the Royals. Both teams are toast, and the Royals at least have a better excuse.
Most quasi-contenders wouldn’t be citing losing the likes of Austin Jackson and Alex Avila as significant concerns, but such is the typical White Sox roster, where every major league quality player is a blanket draped over a crevasse. J.B. Shuck has gamely cobbled together some of his best work since Jackson went down, but such has been the Sox apathy toward addressing the incompleteness that their only significant offensive upgrade–Justin Morneau–took weeks to arrive, and they needed two Shuck-type hot streaks instead of just one.
It’s hard to map out how to go forward, or at least how the Sox leadership will decide to go forward, without being able to understand what this year was about. Why would next year be more deserving of more aggression, more paying for certainty, a top-10 payroll in baseball than this one, a year where the Sox clearly abstained?
Nearly every valuable contributor on this roster is contracted through at least 2017. It would both be easy enough to keep improving the same team for next season, but confidence that the Sox will do what’s necessary to secure significant pieces has never been lower, and their situation is complicated by Jose Abreu throwing all kinds of doubt on whether or not he’s someone who can anchor the offense going forward.
It might be even more challenging to do a small scale sell-off, because they do not have the prospect resources to ship off much from the 25-man of value and replace them with someone capable. Even if 2017 is not a contending year, and the Sox just hold on to the bare essentials of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, Tim Anderson, Carlos Rodon and Carson Fulmer while they tried to build something more sustainable around them, they incur the risks of the front three of that group pushing age 30 by the time they have a real roster around them again.
A full scale rebuild, even for a team whose core is still mostly in their 20s, is tempting just because it’s a direction, and full commitment to a clear plan, and it’s easier to envision ownership committing to purging payroll en masse than adding it. But rare is the general manager that is tasked with tearing down his own creation, and a full rebuild, or backing away from this core at all, is hard to envision without a regime change.
For the Sox, that kind of acknowledgement that things are going wrong and change is needed, is unprecedented and hard to imagine, even as failures and disappointment mount. But they just blew another season, another year with a generational pitcher, with an enviable core and plenty of opportunity to do better. Even granting them some measure of credit for re-tooling in 2013 and 2014, this is two-straight years of trying to compete and not coming particularly close. That means something needs to change.
Lead Image Credit: Joe Nicholson // USA Today Sports Images