Tomorrow is September 1st and the White Sox have 31 games left to play, and it seems like a good time to step back and take stock.
1. Miguel Gonzalez is in the process of beginning his rehab outings. While Austin Jackson and Brett Lawrie initially had modest timetables for their absence that morphed into long-term or season-ending trips to the disabled list, barring a setback it appears that Gonzalez will pitch again this year. Gonzalez was on quite a roll before his injury, and the White Sox will need to decide whether to go to arbitration with him, non-tender him, or work out some other deal with him this winter. It will be helpful for the team to get more looks at him before having to make such a decision.
If Gonzalez’ 2016 is an indication that his days as a solid No. 4 starter aren’t over yet, that makes the rest of their roster decisions that much more interesting, because…
2. Carlos Rodon is on a second half hot streak for the second year in a row. And while his 2016 numbers superficially look pretty comparable to last year’s–his walk rate is way down, but his home run rate is way up–the Baseball Prospectus stats think he has made a huge jump this year. His cFIP is down from a pedestrian 104 in his rookie campaign to a well-above-average 88 in his sophomore season. For comparison, Jose Quintana‘s cFIP this year is 89 (and although Quintana holds a significant edge in DRA, it’s not like DRA hates Rodon either).
Put No. 1 and No. 2 together and all of a sudden…
3. The White Sox might have slots one through four in their starting rotation all accounted for with quality pitchers at absolute cut rate prices for 2017. Having a good, cheap starting rotation is something they had coming into this year as well, but if Rodon has taken as big of a step forward as his advanced metrics seem to think, there is reason to believe the rotation is significantly better moving forward. James Shields is a complicating factor, but the White Sox have Carson Fulmer and an offseason to acquire fallback options to address the fifth starter spot and otherwise add depth.
From what I can tell, the fanbase and a lot of media are insisting that the White Sox must do a full rebuild and blow up this team. I disagree. Emotionally I understand the appeal, but the logic is dictated by nihilism and frustration–and out of the likely correct sense that perhaps it would have been the smart thing to do at a much earlier time. However, given where they are now, the only reason to do that is because you think ownership and the front office are unwilling or unable to patch a few glaring holes on an approximately .500 team.
In which case–if ownership and the front office are unqualified to build a winner–then why even bother suggesting plans or making recommendations? If that is true, then the only solution is to rebuild both the roster and the entire front office and sell the team. While varying degrees of that are possible in a variety of scenarios, that’s the type of situation you evaluate when it comes, instead of rejecting any other avenue until it maybe, possibly comes to fruition.
4. One defense I have heard offered on the White Sox’ behalf is that they haven’t had many high draft picks–the inevitable comparison comes when people offer the Cubs or Astros as alternative examples. And while Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant are sublime players acquired as the reward for being at the bottom of the standings, my response is that even if Chris Sale and Quintana were not top five draft picks, they are dirt cheap superstars all the same. The White Sox have those guys. They don’t need more dirt cheap superstars (although they’re obviously welcome).
Rather, the White Sox need their catcher not to be the worst position player in the majors. They need enough depth such that when Jackson gets hurt they don’t have to make J.B. Shuck a starter.* They need to start a season with a DH who doesn’t have embarrassing offensive numbers.
*By contrast, look at how Tyler Saladino hasn’t skipped a beat since Lawrie got hurt. It’s almost like you can’t just assume all of your starting lineup will stay healthy and productive all year and need contingency plans!
5. Last offseason would have been a great time patch the holes they have. And while readers have correctly pointed out that a lot of the major free agent hitters signed last winter have been disasters, that is only one aspect of free agency and an offseason. Dexter Fowler, Mike Napoli, Pedro Alvarez, Ian Desmond, Dae-Ho Lee, Steve Pearce, and others would have all been boosts to the 2016 White Sox–some big, some small.
Moreover, depending on your definitions, none of those guys required anything resembling the huge deals the White Sox have been allergic to in the past, nor would they have necessitated the White Sox exceeding their 2011 payroll by any meaningful amount.
6. The excuses here tend to involve Adam LaRoche or waiting till the deadline to evaluate if you are a contender.** It’s true that LaRoche didn’t retire until a few days after the last of the above players had been signed. That excuse only makes sense in the bubble of insanity that is White Sox Baseball.
This argument implies that the White Sox could not bring in more bats because they were already set at DH with Avisail Garcia and LaRoche. The 36-year old with debilitating injuries to his back and knees coming off a sub.-700 OPS season and the guy who has failed to be average in any aspect of the game in over 1,000 PAs were the Plan A to a degree that it precluded the Sox from adding players like Napoli or Alvarez on cheap one-year deals as fallback options?
Even if LaRoche and Avisail miraculously had been good, it wouldn’t have been helpful to have an extra competent body or two around at minimal cost? Could the Sox not find a couple hundred plate appearances for someone like Pearce, who can play multiple positions and doesn’t have the clout to demand a full-time job? Do the Sox not trust their manager to figure it out? If not, is that not a disqualifying factor for Robin Ventura as a manager?
This is a team that carried a three-man bench that included Jerry Sands for weeks at a time that couldn’t or wouldn’t add someone dirt cheap like Pearce because they didn’t have room or couldn’t afford him. None of the preferred excuses make any sense in retrospect.
**I trust the myriad follies of the “wait till the deadline” approach have been exposed in stark fashion this season.
7. The free agent class this winter is weaker than the last, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be players out there who can be upgrades to the surprisingly limited number of positions of need the White Sox project to possess. The starting rotation is in good shape, as discussed above. The bullpen has been a source of frustration, but that doesn’t mean it is broken beyond repair–after all, Zack Burdi is the result of clinging to the 26th overall pick instead of signing someone like Fowler, and he could very well be a third plus right-handed reliever behind Nate Jones and David Robertson as soon as next year, not to mention a recovered Zach Putnam.
There are reasonable, solid options at third base, left field, right field, second base, first base, utility man, shortstop, and backup catcher for 2017. That leaves designated hitter, a right-handed catcher, and centerfielder to solve this winter, and hopefully, this year drove home the above point that having one reasonable option to play a position doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing to add more quality players that also play that position.
It doesn’t take a superlative front office to address those problems. We will see if the White Sox have the ability and the will to clear these modest hurdles. Their track record, however, is uninspiring.
Lead Image Credit: Rick Osentoski // USA Today Sports Images