Typically this time of year, we eagerly check the PECOTA projections to see what it thinks of the White Sox’ chances to compete in the AL Central. For the first time in years, however, competing in the immediate term is irrelevant. While you could certainly debate how to sequence the non-Cleveland teams in the division, and, say, Detroit’s chances at a wild card run, but barring some bizarre outlier, Cleveland will run away with the division and that’s that.
Given the White Sox’ new priorities, the future holds much more interest than the present, and to that end, the White Sox may be positioned very nicely. With just two trades, the farm system has leapt into the top third in the majors, with still more pieces to sell. So, instead, perhaps it makes sense to make some forecasts about what the AL Central might look like when the White Sox are actually good again. First up, the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers are suffering from the after effects of wringing every last drop of contention out of their aging core for a long, long time. Grabbing Michael Fulmer for the tail end of Yoenis Cespedes in a down year was a neat trick, and Justin Verlander has corrected course after looking like he might crater two years ago. But Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez are rapidly approaching 40 and free agency, respectively, and unfortunately for Detroit they can’t DH them both. And while historically the Tigers would paper over their lack of any prospects at all with a fire hose of cash, they had already decided to scale back on spending even before the recent death of owner Mike Ilitch.
So now they are left with the money they have already spent and the very old roster they have already assembled, and a still-empty farm. Their top prospect was in high school last year and projects as a mid-rotation starter, and the system gets less and less inspiring from there. Even if the White Sox execute a very speedy rebuild and try to contend again by 2018 or 2019, it’s hard to see what the Tigers will have on hand to stand in their way. Miguel Cabrera will be 35 or 36-years-old by that time, and even solid younger players like Jose Iglesias will be free agents by that time.
Indeed, the way for the Tigers to inject talent back into the ranks would be to trade away players like Verlander, but frankly, the star players they have are all owed so much money that they are unlikely to fetch the returns that Chris Sale or Adam Eaton did.
It would appear that Detroit will be able to muster up one or possibly two more years of making a run at it with this present group, but they are clearly on the wane, and the White Sox have a big head start on the next upswing.
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