Trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for a haul of prospects was going to hurt the White Sox at the MLB level, but it was supposed to give them one of baseball’s premium farm systems down below.
Back in mid-December, friend of the podcast Jim Callis said they were already there, put themselves in consideration for a top slot:
2. White Sox: Winter Meetings trades skyrocket this system up the list, with second baseman Yoan Moncada (No. 1 on MLBPipeline's Top 100); right-handers Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning; and outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe arriving from the Red Sox and Nationals.
(Update/correction: This is a list of most improved, not best farm systems. Callis says he hasn’t yet ranked them on the whole.)
I hadn’t given a hard number a thought, mostly because I figured trades made by the Sox and other teams would alter the balance further. For instance, maybe the Yankees and Braves were rooted firmly in the spots above the Sox in somebody’s eyes, but if one of those teams acquired Jose Quintana, the Sox would obviously leap-frog ahead. No reason to rush to judgment, right?
But now it’s mid-January, soon to be late January, and ... well, we’re still waiting. I expected the Quintana market to take a while to recalibrate and coagulate since Chris Sale had sent the rest of the league into a frenzy, but I thought “a while” would be a month.
Instead, we’re closer to two months of holding pattern than one. That would normally signal a failure on the White Sox’ part, but they’re far from alone. Mark Trumbo, like Jose Bautista, is returning to his former team on a deal that’s worth far less than he had hoped. Bryce Harper is stumping for the Nationals to sign Matt Wieters, even though they already acquired one catcher this winter, which qualifies as the most interest shown toward Wieters this offseason.
This winter is taking its sweet time making teams feel whole. It’s the second such offseason, and I’m not sure how I feel about this being a new normal. On one hand, waiting for the other shoe to drop is fairly frustrating. On the other, it makes the winter go by faster.
One example of the latter: SoxFest is next weekend. That seems premature and ill-advised, what with Quintana and Todd Frazier still on the bill when they’d normally be wearing another uniform by now. Yet SoxFest always been at the end of January, and most of the time it’s been a pleasant midwinter oasis of baseball news surrounded by nothing.
Editorial schedules are another victim of the time shift. In previous years, Keith Law posted his farm system rankings at the end of January or early February. His editors decided to push them up by a week or some this time around, probably not expecting that a late-January trade could still alter them so greatly.
If he could change his schedule on a whim, I imagine Law would hold off on stapling a number onto the Sox until a Quintana trade happens (if it happens). But time forced him to do it, and at this time, he doesn’t have the White Sox in the top five.
Hell, they barely crack his top 10. They sit not only behind the Braves and Yankees, but the Padres, Pirates, Dodgers, Brewers, Mets, Reds and Rockies.
That surprised me, given that the White Sox farm system added two of 2016’s top-five prospects as a dual figurehead and plenty more down below, but I can respect the reasoning:
Well, once you get past those eight guys, it falls off fast. Of their top 10 from last year, No. 1 graduated, and the next nine guys all had poor to lousy seasons. Some of the younger guys on the list still have promise but just haven’t performed. There’s no sugarcoating the lack of progress -- which I think made Rick Hahn’s decision to rebuild all the smarter, given what was on the way. And perhaps the infusion of older prospects will let the White Sox give some of their youngest prospects more time in low- or high-A to develop physically and mentally.
I mentioned something similar back in November, back when we were trying to decide whether the White Sox were truly serious about rebuilding. When Baseball America released its top-10 prospect list, 2016 draft picks made up more than half of it. That’s a great sign for the draft, but a terrible sign for a farm system if it were needed to supplement a contending effort.
Ranking systems as something slightly greater than the sum of its players gives a little more room for interpretation, and the divide between Callis’ ranking and Law’s ranking gives us something to chew on. On Callis’ end, you only need to be a little bullish about Carson Fulmer to see its best side. On Law’s, you can look at the way the White Sox farm system struggled last year and wait to see how well outside prospects assimilate before truly buying in. It’s a good proficiency vs. growth debate, if you’re not already burned out from the other one we’re having.