On the scale of the multi-season baseball winning curve, a single weekend is nearly meaningless, often providing more noise than meaningful information about the league as a whole whole and the teams within. But as the White Sox approached yesterday’s trade deadline at an organizational crossroads, this past weekend certainly felt meaningful. Already described as “mired in mediocrity” by GM Rick Hahn, the White Sox dropped two of three games to the AL-worst Minnesota Twins to fall to a season-worst 7.5 games out of a playoff spot while division-leading Cleveland bolstered their roster both for the present and the near future by acquiring Andrew Miller and Brandon Guyer. What was described in 2015 as a “3 year window” from 2015-2017 seems more nailed shut than it has ever been. As the team traded LHP Zach Duke to the Cardinals for MiLB CF Charlie Tilson, the org’s first obvious sell move since 2014, whispers flew about the Sox taking calls on franchise cornerstones Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.
In the end, none of those rumors turned out to be much more than that. While Hahn and co. likely took calls from all interested parties on most of their roster, yesterday’s 3:00 PM deadline passed without another move, keeping together a roster that will almost assuredly extend the Sox’ playoff drought to 8 years.
Unlike their approach to last year’s deadline, it’s unfair to criticize the Sox for delusions of grandeur- they didn’t hold onto a player like Jeff Samardizja as a last ditch effort to win this season at the expense of the future. Every player of real trade value on their roster will be under contract for at least 2017, so standing pat at the deadline does not necessarily diminish any rebuilding effort, and may actually allow for more (and better) options to develop for a trade involving a franchise cornerstone like Sale or Quintana. While trades would have been at the very least interesting and could have refreshed a roster that has grown stale, there was no imminent need to make a move.
With all that said, after nearly a decade of half-measures towards contention and rebuilding have the Sox stuck in their current holding pattern, its hard not to fear a certain level of indecisiveness went into standing pat at the deadline. While there’s certainly no rush to trade Sale or Quintana, selling high on Melky Cabrera or capitalizing on the relief pitching bull market by moving David Robertson or Nate Jones would seem to be prudent. And while it’s very likely the Sox fielded offers on each of those players, it’s hard to give them the benefit of the doubt at this point. Be it due to a lack of willingness or simply a matter of resources, the White Sox front office has simply not shown an ability to make the moves necessary to get them out of their current era of non-contention.
Another possible explanation for the hesitance beyond indecisiveness would be an impending house-cleaning of the White Sox front office. While expecting sweeping changes in an office run by Jerry Reinsdorf is perhaps unreasonable, the current regime certainly has not done enough to completely rule it out- this is now a regime that has neither built a playoff team nor a minor league system in the top half of the league in nearly a decade. Even if Hahn himself isn’t to blame, it’s possible he and his staff just are not the right fit in Chicago, and if that’s the case, there’d be no reason to allow him to set the course of the organization with a franchise defining trade of a player of Sale or Quintana’s caliber. Even if there’s an inkling of doubt in the chairman’s head, it’d make sense for him to be unwilling to approve of such a deal.
No matter the reason, the Sox are now in a position that’s been all too familiar over the past few years. They have a team with some elite, exciting talent, but a roster that isn’t going anywhere, and a farm system not ready to even foreshadow future success with September call-ups. All this adds up to a team hardly worth watching- a team whose stadium will only sell out again this year to see one of its most iconic fans host a rap festival in September.