Even the most hopeful of White Sox fans must realize at this time that the 2013 White Sox are wiped out. Depending on whether you want to ask Baseball Prospectus or ESPN, the odds that this team makes the playoffs is either 0.1%....or 4 times that. Yep. It's over. We aren't rooting for a playoff berth, a pennant, or a World Series Championship. So what's to keep us from completely checking out? Well, to keep slogging through this season, we've got to find a silver lining. At times like these, we baseball fans need to look deep into our love of the game and recognize that bad baseball, albeit disheartening, is better than no baseball at all. There's still plenty of reasons to root root root for the White Sox, even as we're stuck in this painful quagmire of errors, baserunning blunders, squandered opportunities, and Jeff Keppinger. Here they are, starting with the most obvious.
1. The Trade Candidates
Despite the team's record, the next month of baseball for the White Sox is fairly important. Should all go according to plan, the White Sox are about to embark on the first major fire sale in recent memory, with Alex Rios, Jesse Crain, Jake Peavy, and Matt Thornton highlighting the trade block for the Pale Hose. For Crain and Peavy, there's a limited window in July to prove they're healthy and ready to perform at a high level for any potential suitors. Rios is coming off of a poor June in which he struck out three times more than he walked and only belted one home run. Scouts from other teams are checking in on Rios, and if his July looks a lot like June, he won't be nearly so appealing. There's plenty of reason for fans to have a vested interest in how all of these guys fare over the coming weeks as the trade deadline activity heats up.
Another stealth trade candidate emerged from the depths and is worth pulling for over the coming month: Adam Dunn. After a truly awful start, the much-maligned slugger is knocking on the door of replacement level (he'd be safely over it if not for defensive drawbacks), and another fine month could convince a contender needing DH help to bite if the Sox eat a good chunk of salary. The Orioles look like the only great fit for Dunn at the moment, but plenty could change in a few weeks.
All in all, rooting for players to boost their trade value doesn't seem as exciting as rooting for them to win meaningful games in 2013. Instead, try thinking of it as rooting for future wins. That's what we're trying to acquire, anyway.
2. Conor Gillaspie
Conor Gillaspie's refreshing adequacy at third base is a far cry from what the White Sox are used to in recent memory. With only 230 plate appearances under his belt in a White Sox uniform, it's still too early to tell whether he's a future long half of a platoon at third base, or Gonna Collapsie. The White Sox are a team that has recently struggled to produce cost-controlled hitters that can perform notably above replacement level. Gillaspie presents a chance for them to tread water at third base on the cheap when it comes time to spend money and compete again. That's an asset worth rooting for, and the second half of 2013 can help provide some indication of which direction he'll ultimately go.
3. New Faces, New Hopes
After the expected trade deadline exodus, the White Sox are going to have roster space to give a look to some new young players. Guys like Simon Castro and Charlie Leesman will likely get their chance to throw some big league innings, and we'll get our first look at what they might be able to bring to the future of the team. Josh Phegley is 25 years old and murdering Triple-A pitching (.316/.366/.588). It's time to find out whether his bat can hold its own in the big leagues. That's certainly more important to the future direction of this team than anything Hector Gimenez (63 OPS+, awful pitch framing) is doing. He should see some reps at DH, as there won't be any real reason to play both Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn every day (assuming they're both still here).
Perhaps the most exciting prospect on display during the last couple months of the year will be Erik Johnson. Johnson has pitched at 4 levels since the beginning of 2012 and doesn't own an ERA over 3.00 at any of them (including a small sample at Charlotte). Though his stuff is not overwhelming, he does have the ceiling of a #2 starter, and it'd be fantastic for the future of the White Sox to have a second cost-controlled pitcher fronting the rotation. Johnson has a chance to be the Robin to Chris Sale's Bat-...errrr....Condorman, and I for one can't wait to see how he fares against big league hitters.
4. Hawk Harrelson
No, I'm not referring to his entertainment value. My fan-broadcaster relationship with Hawk has been variable, to say the least, over the course of my life. I went from loving him as a kid, to loathing him once I learned a thing or three about advanced stats, to tolerating him and "appreciating him for what he is", to being worried about his job's impact on his well-being. His plight has been well-documented here, but to re-iterate, one only needs to read this or listen to this to understand just how pained this season has made him. The man has a long career in baseball, not to mention a family, but one gets the impression from listening to him that nothing is more important to him than whether the White Sox win on a particular day. And significantly more often than not, his hopes have been crushed in 2013.
Whatever your feelings on Ken Harrelson, he's a Chicago baseball icon. He's been a huge part (for better or for worse) of any White Sox fan's baseball experience for the past couple decades. It's truly excruciating to listen to him when things are going poorly, but now that the Sox are really out of it, my attitude has changed. It's become easier for fans to swallow losses now that they don't mean all that much, but each one still weighs heavily upon Hawk, and at his age, that can't be good for him. I genuinely want to see the White Sox play better, or at least more competently, in the second half of the year just to give the guy something to be happy about again.
These are trying times for White Sox fans, but there's no reason the 2013 season can't have some redeeming value before all is said and done, even if 2007 is the only comparably bad season in recent memory. This time around, however, we're not stuck watching organizational soldiers like Luis Terrero, Jerry Owens, Andy Gonzalez, and Ryan Bukvich play out the season. The next three months of White Sox baseball offer plenty of promise for the development and acquisition of pieces that could contribute significantly to the next competitive White Sox team. It isn't a pennant race, but as a White Sox fan, it's still something worth getting excited for.