Many White Sox fans were overjoyed this offseason to finally see the team choose a direction. After years of being “mired in mediocrity,” fans and management alike were tired of providing half-measures to try to compete in the present. With that in mind, Rick Hahn pulled off incredible back-to-back trades during the Winter Meetings. In those trades, the White Sox received a wealth of prospects. A good portion of those prospects were pitchers with a large amount of risk, as I mentioned last week. Another thing quite a few of the prospects have in common is their relative closeness to the big leagues.
This puts the White Sox in a position dissimilar to most rebuilding teams. Whereas most rebuilding teams have a major league squad full of replacement level players who typically would be toiling away in Triple-A, the White Sox have a group of really good players currently at the major league level or ready to make that step in the near future. Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Yoan Moncada have all reached reached the majors last season. The homegrown prospects of Carson Fulmer, Tim Anderson, and Tyler Danish have all reached the big leagues as well. Four of the aforementioned six are among the Sox Top 10 prospects, as ranked by Baseball Prospectus.
The players in the Top 10 who haven’t yet reached the big leagues are Michael Kopech, Zack Collins, Alec Hansen, Luis Alexander Basabe, Zack Burdi, and Dane Dunning. Burdi will almost certainly make his MLB debut in 2017, while Kopech and Collins both have a good shot at doing the same, even for a short amount of time. Although the White Sox are certainly used to rushing young players — especially those drafted out of college — to the big leagues, that’s not even what is happening here. Their talent just happens to be advanced in both age and level of competition.
This group of relatively old minor league talent alone doesn’t put the White Sox in a completely weird scenario. Plenty of teams have centered their draft strategy around college players and added prospects at higher levels. What separates the White Sox in a very distinctly weird scenario is the lingering presence of veterans on the squad. With Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, and possibly Jose Abreu and Brett Lawrie yet to be traded, the Sox seem to be too talented in a few areas.
The infield, especially after the infusion of Moncada at some point, has the looks of an infield on a contending team. The starting pitching staff has high end talent that even division rivals Kansas City and Minnesota should be envious of. In the bullpen, both David Robertson and Nate Jones remain as a dominant and reliable back end pair. Factor in the players’ ever constant desire to win games and you have a team that might not necessarily find itself at the bottom of the standings.
There are, of course, things about this team that make it almost impossible for them to be an actual contender. The first is that they traded their two most valuable players, according to WARP (Chris Sale provided 6.8 and Adam Eaton 7.2). The holes created by the departure of Sale and Eaton won’t easily be masked. This will be especially evident in the outfield, both on offense and defense. Eaton’s defensive surge in right field helped turn the White Sox outfield into a surprisingly capable one on the defensive side of the ball, especially when Austin Jackson was still in the lineup. Now Jackson and Eaton are gone, leaving Melky Cabrera in left, Avisail Garcia in right, and a mystery combination of Peter Bourjos, Charlie Tilson, and whomever else in center.
Garcia’s struggles at the plate are well known across White Sox fandom. Bourjos and Tilson aren’t going to blow you away with the bat either. Tilson’s best asset, his speed, will surely be hindered by the sudden flood of injuries he’s experienced in the past year. Cabrera has been so up and down over the past few years that it’s nearly impossible to predict what he will do this season. With the defense in the outfield losing so much value, surely there will be an effect on how the pitchers perform as well.
This could have some very interesting effects on the rest of the White Sox rebuild. Keeping veterans on the roster for a good portion of the 2017 season could put them much higher in the standings than they’d like to be in terms of draft position. The difference between getting a Top 3 pick and just another one in the Top 10 can be dramatic. Steals can be found in the later picks, but the benefit of picking up a player in the Top 3 can be crucial to completing a rebuild.
The White Sox may not have that luxury. That means they’ll have to compensate elsewhere in completion of the rebuild. The additions of Giolito and Moncada are certainly a step in the right direction, but we’re left circling back to the theory that the White Sox will once again be faced with a great young core that just needs a few free agents to fill in the roster. Whether the White Sox will be willing to spend to make that happen in the future remains to be seen.
Lead Photo Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports