Over the last couple years, I’ve kept the eyes on the Toronto Blue Jays. They’ve chosen the same general course as the White Sox, but they started it a year earlier, and they’ve been a lot more successful.
In 2013, the Jays tried to accelerate a rebound from a 73-win season by loading up in a hurry. They pulled off the blockbuster with Miami (Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson), signed Melky Cabrera and acquired R.A. Dickey by trading some no-future prospect named Noah Syndergaard.
That influx resulted in a one-win increase, and a consolidation year in 2014 boosted them to only 83 wins, so they had to keep plugging (corrected). They did so by signing Russell Martin and trading for Josh Donaldson. Even then, the Blue Jays still hovered around .500 approaching the end of July. That’s when Alex Anthopolous eventually found the finishing moves with a couple of whoppers, trading for David Price and Troy Tulowitzki. They finished that season 40-17 to win the AL East, and finally put them in a position where they could actually absorb a setback.
The White Sox have followed those three Toronto seasons over the last two winters, but Rick Hahn hasn’t generated the same upswing. His big winter in 2014 — Cabrera, Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Adam LaRoche, Zach Duke — only resulted in a three-win improvement in 2015, and he could only pull off one impact addition the following year (Todd Frazier). In fact, the White Sox added Dioner Navarro, which is the guy Toronto replaced by signing Martin. The Sox then collapsed before the deadline, selling lightly instead of adding and finishing with only 78 wins. Entering the 2016-17 offseason, the Sox need another significant haul in the offseason to improve their chances, at least on paper.
Now, let’s look at where the Blue Jays are after a third year of going for it resulted in consecutive ALCS appearances. We’ll start with Dave Cameron:
OK, but he’s just one guy. What about Grant Brisbee?
Eesh. The latter doesn’t necessarily support the course presented by the former, but the theme is the same: The job gets harder from here. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders are free agents, while Martin and Tulowitzki are in their declines and Devon Travis has a helluva time staying healthy. Moreover, their rotation is bolstered by J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano, none of whom are younger than 33. They can still field a competitor by retaining their free agents (or finding other solutions), but they run the risk of the bottom dropping out, so a step back might be more prudent.
The White Sox will face a similar roster reckoning. It’s already kinda started, what with Alex Avila, Austin Jackson and Justin Morneau back on the open market. Looking ahead one year to where the Blue Jays are right now, the White Sox will see their third baseman (Frazier), second baseman (Brett Lawrie), left fielder (Cabrera) and fourth starter (Miguel Gonzalez) hit free agency after the 2017 season. At the same time, the trade values of Chris Sale and Jose Quintana will likely enter their declines as their bargain contracts come one year closer to completion.
Looking at it this way, scrapping the core is the healthy and proactive course. The Blue Jays are sitting right there as a cautionary tale. They’re showing what happens after the first-draft window closes, and they’ve made two consecutive ALCSes. Meanwhile, the White Sox can’t even get to .500, which means if enough goes right next year, they might make the postseason. Sell, sell, SELL.
Except ... the White Sox have a few variables that actually have upside, enough that the on-hand situation in 2018 can’t properly be projected right now. The big three:
- A full season of Tim Anderson.
- A fuller understanding of what Carlos Rodon needs.
- A new manager.
There are a few others in-house solutions that could materialize — Carson Fulmer, Zack Burdi and Zack Collins contributing in one role or another over the course of the season — but Anderson, Rodon and Rick Renteria represent likely tangible improvements over where the White Sox started in 2016, and that’s before the trades and signings yet to come. Renteria might have the least-detectable impact on wins and losses of the group, but his arrival makes the biggest emotional argument for me. If the White Sox do tear it all down, I won’t be able to believe they never tried firing Robin Ventura before it all collapsed. (I mean, I will, but I won’t.)
But I can also twist this into an argument for trading Sale and Quintana. A healthy organization could afford Anderson to take a year to consolidate his game, and it wouldn’t need Burdi and Collins to be in the mix a year after they’re drafted. An influx of young talent gained from trading Sale and Quintana, be it MLB-ready or MLB-projectable, would allow the best of the young White Sox players to advance on their own time, and the combination of internal and external players could coalesce into something resembling a comprehensive vision in as little as two seasons.
That’s why I think I ultimately come down on the side of selling, as it doesn’t require wishcasting an eight-win improvement based on linear prospect development and an unforeseen commitment from ownership, and with no clear course afterward. I stop at “think” because I can’t say I trust this front office to get fair value for Sale, Quintana & Co. after years of watching attempts to build around them fall flat. If there’s no chance of an executive overhaul, though, I’d rather play to its only documented strength. The one thing it’s shown it can do is sign young players to highly budgetable extensions, so they may as well find more candidates for such contracts.