The end of the season is right around the corner, and for a select few teams that means moving on to play more games in October. For another select group of teams, it marks a time to look forward on the calendar to June, when the first year player draft will occur. The White Sox and their fans have had their eye on that date since Chris Sale first put on a Red Sox uniform, and at times it’s led to outlandish predictions about 18-year-old players over a year from their big day. There has been some focus on who Chicago will pick, but the main question at hand was about where they will pick. Perhaps the aura of a rebuilding team naturally brings the word tank along with it, but these White Sox were never tanking.
It’s been a long season, but if we can think all the way back to April we find some good memories. The White Sox went 13-10 in April, certainly surpassing the expectations of a tanking team. They still had Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera, and a shockingly good bullpen; they also got a strong, surprising contribution from Avisail Garcia. It made sense that a team with such solid lingering veteran talent would find itself a few wins above the norm for a team just entering a rebuilding state.
When that talent was all shipped away at the deadline, yes literally all of it, the team naturally recoiled and had a stretch of games that sent them into first pick territory. The White Sox had lost half their bullpen, their best starter, the starting left fielder, and their starting third baseman. With those players happily playing for contending teams, the team in Chicago was forced to lean on a pitching staff that was not only bad but also tired. Their starters didn’t go deep in games, and their bullpen was sad as well. That was the closest they came to tanking. They had dropped a good portion of their roster, and it was suddenly filled with misfits and guys that were being given a shot merely because they had the space to do so.
Not long after that brief period of tanking, however, reinforcements arrived. Carlos Rodon returned from his injury to sort of look like himself for about a month before being shut down for the season. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez both made their way from Charlotte with guns blazing, taking the White Sox rotation from abysmal to, at the very least, optimistic. Tim Anderson snapped out of his funk to put together a solid season, and his double play partner, Yoan Moncada, found himself in September after a power and walk happy August. Each of those contributions could have been predicted at the start of the season. We all were confident that Rodon would return and be good. While doubts about Anderson surfaced early in the season, there was a small part of every fan that assumed he would be just fine in the end. As for Giolito, Lopez, and Moncada, they were the prized prospects — anything less than the success they’ve seen would have been a disappointment.
The team also received positive contributions that could not have been predicted. The seasons from Leury Garcia, Avisail Garcia, Nicky Delmonico, and Yolmer Sanchez all came out of nowhere and were relatively productive. Avisail Garcia’s 136 wRC+ over a full season, and Delmonico’s 136 in a much smaller sample had profound impacts on the team. Even 97 and 92 from Leury Garcia and Sanchez respectively was far above preseason expectations. Contributions from the predictable young players, and surprisingly good seasons from others led the White Sox to a uniquely non-tanking season for a rebuilding team.
So here the White Sox sit with a record of 65-93, with the fourth pick in the draft likely, the third within reach, and the first requiring a miracle of sorts. In the eyes of some this marks the season as a failure, but that type of thinking requires assuming the White Sox were ever tanking to begin with. That’s simply not the case. They were too good in the early going while still possessing elite talent, and received too many encouraging performances from young players that could fit into a future White Sox roster.
Marking the 2017 season as a failure for the rebuilding White Sox would be foolish. Moncada, Giolito, and Garcia (x2) all took strong steps forward while Lopez, Rodon, Anderson, and Delmonico all showed that they could be part of the team’s optimistic future. Those strong steps forward by players already at the major league level put the team behind the eight ball regarding draft day, yes. But those strong steps are likely to have a more profound impact on the team’s future than whoever dons a White Sox cap next June.
Lead Photo Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports