The past decade has not been a great one to be a White Sox fan. This fall will mark the ninth straight season without a playoff appearance, and that 3-1 rout by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2008 ALDS was hardly a series to remember. Only the Seattle Mariners (2001 ALCS), Miami Marlins (2003 World Series), and the San Diego Padres (2006 NLDS) have longer current playoff droughts than the Sox. Long stretches in the wilderness are nothing new to the franchise, but the past few years have seemed more cruel than before thanks to countless half-measures hamstringing what should have been contending teams. And no team quite encapsulates that feeling like the 2015 squad.
The 2014 team didn’t compete, but it had the foundations of a contender if the right complementary parts were acquired. A core four of Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Chris Sale, and Jose Quintana is impressive. Adding Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Adam LaRoche, and Melky Cabrera to it should have been enough to make things at least interesting through September. Instead, an eight game losing streak in mid-June put the season on ice early with May 18 being their last day above .500. Those four key additions wound up on a team that won a whopping three more games than the season before. 2016 hurt even more. A 17-8 April gave way to going 36-61 over the next four months and a fourth straight year with a losing record.
The team was blown up and we’re where we are now. The seemingly huge acquisitions either blew up in the Sox face or amounted to diminishing returns. LaRoche flopped and retired in the weirdest clubhouse incident in recent memory. Samardzija pitched like an absolute bum and all it cost the team was a shortstop worth 5.7 bWAR over two years, a backup catcher, and a swingman. Robertson may wind up paying off if the trade market doesn’t completely crater this summer due to the gulf between the haves and have nots making for some uninspiring playoff races. But the one move that has absolutely not disappointed is signing Cabrera.
This is clearly not coming from a statistical standpoint. Melky’s essentially been a league average hitter in his time on the South Side and his defense could be charitably described as “somewhat lacking”. But Melky was never supposed to be “The Guy”. He’s one of the guys you sign or hope to develop that slot easily enough into the lineup that you don’t have to worry about their production. He’s meant to complement the bigger pieces and keep the Dayan Viciedos and pre-reboot Avisail Garcias confined to the realm of bad memories and nightmares that no longer have the power to haunt you.
Yes, the White Sox lost on their investment. They paid way more than Melky wound up being worth to them. But in three seasons that have felt like soul-sucking slogs, he has remained incredibly entertaining to watch because he actually seems like he enjoys his job. The world doesn’t end if he doesn’t get a hit, but holy hell if it isn’t somehow the best thing in the world to him if he does get one. He does weird hand gestures. He runs the bases like a day-old foal. His routes in the outfield resemble a cross between the old Family Circus circuitous path home gags and 22-26 year-old me stumbling home in the early hours of the morning. He dresses like a cowboy and hits baseballs with guitars.
The Melky Cabrera experience is coming to an end. Even if he isn’t shipped off to a contender over the next two months, it’s hard to imagine he signs a new contract with Chicago this winter. And while 2015-2017 are three seasons I don’t imagine I’ll hold in any high regard as time goes by, I’ll always look back at Melky being incredibly, charmingly weird and smile.
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