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Have other teams struggled as much as the White Sox this decade?

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The 2010s have been tough for White Sox baseball thus far. How do their troubles stack up against those of other franchises?

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers
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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In the first ten years of this millenium (2000-2009), the White Sox had a decade that I can firmly call “good”. In that time span, here’s where they stood on the franchise wins leaderboard:

  • 1. NYY: 965
  • 2. BOS: 920

.....

  • 9. CHW: 857

....

  • 30. KCR: 672

In addition to their standing in overall wins, they were consistently competitive, finishing at or above .500 in eight of ten seasons. They made it to the ALDS three times, which was a shade above the average of 2.86. And finally, they took home the championship hardware in 2005 with a World Series win. Some might say that’s enough to elevate the decade to “great”. I won’t quite go that far since eight different teams at least accomplished that feat, but hey, people waited a really long time for that.

Of American League teams, I think the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels had an objectively better decade than the White Sox. All three of those teams won at least one World Series, made more than three postseasons, and won more overall games than the White Sox (from the National League, only the Cardinals meet this criteria). Aside from those three, though, what other AL team would you take over our White Sox in that span? The only team that’s even close is the Twins, who made the playoffs in half the years but were never really able to do much with that. The Twins’ defeat of the Moneyball A’s in the 2002 ALDS was their only series win in all those chances. Possibly my favorite sports talk radio caller ever summed up Minnesota’s postseason difficulties by declaring, “The Twins are a waste of everyone’s time.”

Indeed, we had it pretty good. It’s important to look back and appreciate that.

Unfortunately, as difficult as it is to think of teams who did better than the White Sox last decade, it’s just as tough to find organizations that have had it worse in this one. Here’s the bottom ten teams by wins:

  • 21. MIL: 553
  • 22. CHC: 546
  • 23. CHW: 542
  • 24. ARI: 533
  • 25: SDP: 532
  • 26: SEA: 523
  • 27: MIA: 510
  • 28: COL: 503
  • 29: MIN: 501
  • 30: HOU: 478

So far, the Cubs, Astros, Diamondbacks, Twins (waste), and Brewers have been to the postseason this decade, with the former two standing a great chance to get back there again next year. That leaves only the White Sox, Marlins, Rockies, Padres, and Mariners as teams that have failed to make the postseason since 2010.

By sheer wins, the White Sox have had a slight leg up over the other four playoff-less teams and have put together a couple competitive seasons (2010, 2012). The Mariners have also been competitive twice (2014, 2016) but played some pretty unwatchable baseball at the beginning of the decade, finishing last in the American League in runs for three consecutive years. The Padres won 90 games in 2010, but the lack of a second Wild Card doomed them and they’ve since been the sadder White Sox. The Marlins and Rockies have just one above-.500 season between them and Miami’s 79-win campaign in 2016 was the closest either has been to a Wild Card. I think it’s fair to say that these two fan bases have had the roughest go this decade.

Things may change in the coming years, though. Sure, the Padres are probably going nowhere fast and I can’t see the Marlins shaking their mediocrity anytime soon, but the Mariners look to at least be competitive in the near-term and given the strength of the Rockies’ core, they figure to make some noise over the remainder of the decade. Meanwhile, the White Sox are embarking on a full teardown. While the purposeful losing will probably sting less than the accidental kind, the team is likely looking to 2019 as the only realistic shot left to salvage the decade. That’s tough to accept given that they’ve pushed for contention six of the past seven years.

In that sense, the new direction should at least be refreshing. The White Sox have had the Reinsdorf-Williams-Hahn brain trust at the top of the organization chart almost since the turn of the century. Since that dynamic was established, the baseball landscape has changed significantly. Extensions for young players have reduced the ability to use free agency to push a team over the hump and an increasing analytically efficient environment has made it tough to get a leg up on the competition from relying very heavily on major league scouting, which was a noted strength of the organization last decade. We’ve seen that script flipped in recent years, and one wonders whether other teams have simply become savvy enough to let some duds fall to the White Sox or whether White Sox leadership has simply been unlucky bringing in major league talent. I won’t completely rule out the latter.

In any event, a player development machine has become more critical than ever and that’s why rebuilding has the allure it does, even if competing with the Sale-Eaton-Quintana-Rodon-Abreu core seemed feasible. By going this route, the White Sox will probably wind up on the short list of the least successful franchises of the 2010s. Their failures this decade won’t sting quite so badly if their current direction propels them to a prolonged stretch of fun baseball to begin the next one. If they can manage a strong follow-up to the aggressive start to their teardown, they’ve got a great shot to do just that.