Somebody had to break the ice in this offseason’s “Cold” Stove and it wasn’t the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox or even the Chicago Cubs to do it. It was the all of a sudden aggressive Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brew Crew traded for uber-talented outfielder Christian Yelich and then signed all-star outfielder Lorenzo Cain about 30 minutes later, re-positioning themselves just weeks away from the start of spring training.
Despite winning 86 games last season, the Brewers narrowly missed the playoffs and were still seen by many to be ahead of schedule. The Brewers decision to cash in a lot of their chips and make these “big boy” acquisitions last week, signaled that the team feels ready to compete and accelerate the rebuild, timeline be damned.
The moves the Brewers made don’t directly affect the Chicago White Sox, but Sox fans should still take note.
While the White Sox aren’t as far along in their rebuild as the Brewers, it isn’t hard to think that they could be in a similar position in a year or two. The team is technically in Phase 2 of its rebuild as the team continues to bring up and develop young talent at the Major League level. Milwaukee took the jump from Phase 2 of its rebuild to Phase 3, shifting the focus of the club from development to competing and had the NL Central reeling before ultimately being chased down by the Cubs in July.
It will be interesting to see how quickly the White Sox can move from Phase 2 to Phase 3 with Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech both on the verge of getting to Chicago. They still have pieces they could move if they wanted in Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia, although both could be around when the team makes the turn toward contention.
Milwaukee’s acquisitions also show what stockpiling talent via trades and the international free agent market can give a club the flexibility to do. When the opportunity came to acquire a talent like Yelich, having a plethora of young players to package made the difference.
Both Lewis Brinson and Isan Diaz (2018 #27 and #86 on MLB Pipeline Top 100 prospects) were acquired in deals the Brewers made at the beginning of their rebuild. Brinson came over from the Rangers for catcher Jonathan Lucroy and Diaz from the Diamondbacks in a deal for shortstop Jean Segura. While Brinson was believed to be the center fielder of the future for the Brew Crew, being able to add Yelich and Cain to their current outfield–both under control for five years–was too good pass up. The additions give them the opportunity to consolidate their assets and accelerate their rebuild to try to compete not only for a Wild Card spot, but potentially a division title.
In the last 12-plus months or so, general manager Rick Hahn has turned over the White Sox farm system and parlayed 10 players from their big league roster into 19 prospects. Add that along with what looks like a solid draft class in ’17 and the splashy signing of Luis Robert and you have the makings of one of the elite farm systems in baseball.
Granted, the last time Hahn traded a prospect it was back in 2016 when the Sox acquired James Shields from the Padres in exchange for Erik Johnson and 17-year-old shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.. Tatis Jr., has since gone on to elevate his game and is currently ranked as the #8 prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline.
The next time Hahn trades a prospect it likely won’t be a relatively unknown commodity like Tatis Jr. was at the time, but one or more of their talented studs like Jake Burger, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, Alec Hansen or even Luis Robert. But unlike the last time, the White Sox shouldn’t be getting a star past his prime, but a player who may very well be one of the last pieces of the puzzle like the Brewers hope Yelich and Cain will be.
The White Sox may not win 80 games next season, but the time is fast approaching where they will, and not only be able to compete for AL Central division titles, but marquee players in both the trade and free agent markets. After all, developing talent from within frees up a lot of money to spend on free agents. Hahn and the White Sox have been patient in Phase 2 of their rebuild, as they should be. When the time does come, don’t be surprised to see them step on the gas.