Given middle of the road franchise ambitions, middle of the road talent, and middle of the road results, it’s understandable that the White Sox fan base has recently found an appeal to extremism. They now crave the most extreme rebuild possible, and holding out for the biggest trade return possible for their impressive crop of marketable assets. The Cubs and Astros’ rebuilds were so gruesome at their nadirs that it almost seemed on purpose, so why should the Sox not pursue the ugliest rebuild, so that the franchise can be purified through suffering, to receive an even greater reward in the end by being willing to endure the most?
In this context, there are fits of concern about a report that the White Sox are unwilling to trade Chris Sale to the Cubs. It’s not that people want to see Sale traded specifically to the Cubs, but after seeing the Sox fail to achieve the goal of winning now because they were unwilling to spend more on the major league roster, unwilling to fully gut their farm system, and unwilling to find more avenues to spend to build a farm system that could sustain a gutting, any conditions being placed on a potential fire sale reeks of a franchise too ready to fail on their own terms rather than succeed while making hard sacrifices.
I understand and sympathize with the spirit of these objections, for they are of the same spirit that makes a rebuild seem like a compelling direction, but keeping Sale off the North side is a condition that can be surrendered, for three reasons.
1. Avoiding the optics of Sale thriving in the same town while undergoing a hard rebuild is underway is a worthy consideration.
As much as straddling the fence has grown frustrating, as much as a rebuild seems exciting considering the potential end product that the Cubs and Astros are enjoying, their paths are good reminders that the process is absolute hell. Even with fans understanding and relatively buying into the rebuilding process, they still carved paths that included empty stadiums, time served as national punchlines, deep consideration whether they were disgracing the sport, star players publicly questioning franchise leadership, ratings so bad it threatened the local television contract, and other countlesa unpleasantries.
We don’t like to give stage time to Sox fans so preoccupied with malice toward Cubs that they would be alienated by the sting of handing them a homegrown, generational talent, but they’re a significant population. Avoiding their worst nightmare, and avoiding the extra scrutiny of pulling off an intra-city Sale deal could be the difference between navigating this dark period with the typical amount of awfulness, and descending into something even more dire and irretrievable.
2. The market for Sale is far more vast than just the Cubs, and the Cubs are a particularly unlikely trade partner to boot. The Sox are not hard up for offers where dismissing the Cubs significantly shrinks the scope of their pursuit. The objection is more one of principle about eliminating anyone than the Cubs in particular, and the least desperate team in baseball can certainly be pushed aside as a trade destination if they are truly the one exception. The team boasting the 2015 NL Cy Young winner, and two more top-five finishers from 2016 is unlikely to nuke their farm for one more ace.
3. The terms stated for not dealing with the Cubs are not absolute, and the White Sox are looking for a team that breaks from their current stance to make an over-the-top offer.
CBS Chicago dug up Cubs GM Jed Hoyer’s explanation from this Summer of the hurdles in place for a crosstown trade of any kind, and he likened the extra degree to which a swap has to be worth it to deal with the scrutiny and attention, to a “tax” that has to be paid.
‘”Given our situation, you had two active sellers in our division, one active seller in our city, and so it’s really hard to do deals with those teams,’ Hoyer said, referencing the Brewers, Reds and White Sox. ‘There’s probably a tax you have to pay or not be able to get a deal done.'”
While the Cubs are indeed an unlikely suitor, Hoyer’s description kind of matches what the White Sox want to draw out of their trade partner: someone driven to pay a little extra just because they must have Sale.
When I was 13, my parents bought me Zack, the greatest dog this world has ever seen. When he was still an impressionable but fiercely independent-thinking puppy, I took Zack to weekly obedience classes at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club. Near the end of his three-month class, Zack and all the other dogs were being put through various tests while they prepared for the final exam. One Saturday, the class instructor had all the dogs line up at the end of the room, and had us, their owners command them to sit down and stay in place while we all walked to the other end. As they were holding position, the instructor tempted the dogs by throwing and bouncing a tennis ball in the middle of the room. By this point in the class, all the dogs understood that they had been ordered to sit still, they understood the consequences for disobeying a command, and that bailing on an order in class usually just meant that they would be made to do it again. What was being tested was their commitment to this order, and whether the tempting sight of tennis ball bouncing freely in front in their view would drive any of them to push aside their understanding of consequences, of the fleeting nature of immediate gratification, and decide “To hell with all of this, that damn ball is mine.”
One dog eventually made this decision, and it was Zack. He was made to repeat the entire class, but he got that ball.
The White Sox are waiting for their Zack; a team that will spend more than it should, or is even currently planning to offer for Sale, whether it’s due to desperation, enthusiasm after a hot 2017 start, injury, megalomania or just temporary insanity. It could take a while to find such an offer, it could take a development that hasn’t happened yet to force a team’s hand, and it could take a team deciding they are willing to pay a “tax” they previously hoped to avoid just so they can have Sale.
It would take a shocking Godfather offer for the Cubs to pry Sale, but how much different does that make them from anyone else?
Lead Image Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki // USA Today Sports Images