No South Side Sox White Sox Team Health Check can begin without taking a look at the health of its leader. That’s me. And I am sorry to report that, just as I sat down to write up my White Sox Team Health Check three hours before an early March deadline in order to have it remain fresh and astute for weeks into the future, I am felled by a wicked case of spring allergies.
So, advance apologies for any antihistamine-induced hallucination to come indicating Manny Machado, Bryce Harper and Clayton Kershaw will be playing on the South Side in 2019.
[Sniffly, stuffy, wheezy imitation of Ron Howard]: They won’t.
So, why should we, collectively as baseball fans or specifically as White Sox fans, bother with meditating on the 2018 season?
[See above]: We shouldn’t.
The 2018 White Sox are not built to contend for anything but a top-three draft choice. When you sign more free-agent concession foods than you sign actual free agent players, that sort of gives away the strategy.
In fact, anything resembling contending —not an impossible notion, given the utter weakness of the AL Central, but actually a pretty darn good season slogan (White Sox ’18: Resembling Contending!) — may be met by cheers from fans, but consternation from the front office.
That’s not because, har har, owner Jerry Reinsdorf, exec VP Ken Williams and GM Rick Hahn don’t like winning. They do. Each have them have told me this before, one-on-one, in intimate discussion: We like winning.
No, if the window of contention opens too early, it will create some awkward problems for the White Sox. If the fan base howled with venom back in 2012, when Adam Dunn and Alex Rios were hitting a collective .058 for the supposed All-In White Sox and Dayan “The Tank” Viciedo remained in Triple-A, overturning parked cars and making infants cry with his prodigious clouts, imagine what will happen if the White Sox are sniffing .500 in June, Carson Fulmer is averaging four innings per start, and Michael Kopech has gone all Noah Syndergaard down in AAA Charlotte? Or if DH Matt Davidson hauls a 15-homer, 180-K mark to the All-Star break while Eloy Jimenez is literally turning batted baseballs into mashed boniato in AA Birmingham?
It would be hard to go down that road again. As much as White Sox fans love to hold the team’s suite class up for derision over X prospect not getting Y playing time, it would simply be best if the White Sox slept through many Zzzzzzz games, and were something less than good this season. Far, far less.
Besides, the buzz around the White Sox this spring doesn’t make a sound: It skips. There’s an extra hop in Chicago execs’ steps, as word spreads that [sotto voce] the rebuild is ahead of schedule.
Resisting the temptation to contend prematurely may prove harder than actually contending when the window is open.
No matter how the team succeeds or fails this season, all indications are that we are going to have a far, far different discussion about the White Sox next year, after Sports Illustrated slaps them on the cover as the surprise 2019 World Series winners, the South Siders suddenly become sabermetric darlings, and I survive at least one more pollen pummeling.
Let’s have that discussion a year from now, then.
[sneeze ... wheeze ... grumble ...]
Wait, I’m not done? You need more?
Ugh. OK, let’s have that discussion now.
The White Sox, as you may have heard, have salary commitments of about $12.9 million in 2019, give or take a few Subway coupons. Never lauded as big spenders (despite having a top-10 payroll as recently as 2013), the team is poised to be a major free agency player in 2019.
Will any of the top three, blue-chip FAs come to play on the South Side?
- Bryce Harper: No. He will join Vegas bro Kris Bryant on the North Side, and Chicago Cubs fans will be so giddy over all the World Series they’re going to win with Harper and Bryant that 10 years will pass before they’ll sober up to realize they won: none.
- Manny Machado: We all know Machado will end up in New York, because the Yankees believe they can and need to buy up all the dingers.
- Clayton Kershaw: No. What? Why? He pitches at Chavez Ravine, for the Dodgers! Just, no.
So where does that leave the White Sox? Hot corner dreaming.
The White Sox will ink Josh Donaldson to play third base in 2019. Donaldson will be 33 and on a bit of an offensive decline, but a bit of (relative) bargain shopping is right up the White Sox’s alley. Donaldson will be on a much bigger defensive decline by 2019, which is OK because ...
The White Sox will ink Nolan Arenado to play third base in 2020. Yeah, see, here’s how it works. The Sox are going to be somewhere between pretty great and World Series winners in 2019. So, flush with a taste of glory (say, a wild-card berth in 2019), the White Sox will go more all-in than they’ve ever gone (and, giving $56 million to Dunn, an extremely limited Washington Nationals designated hitter, and then chasing that by giving $25 million to Adam LaRoche, another extremely limited Washington Nationals designated hitter, and a tad less of a teddy bear to boot, proves that when the White Sox want to go all in, they go ALL IN) and break the bank for Arenado, as “the guy.” Donaldson will shift corners and play first, or left, or somewhere else.
So, in sum:
Outlook for 2018: baaaaaaaaad. Deliberately bad. Stick with us one more year, please, fans, look, we signed some new concession foods, bad. The starting rotation is going to consist of veterans James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez, youngsters Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, and someone else: Hector Santiago for the nostalgists, Fulmer for the masochists.
There are some krazy kooks out there who think the White Sox should have “taken advantage of market leveling” or “zagged instead of zigged” or “pleased Scott Boras” or “wasted money and opportunity” by throwing a large boulder through their opening window of contention by signing Mike Moustakas or Carlos Gonzalez or Jake Arrieta or “preferably all three.”
But why would you listen to them? They’re krazy kooks. Plus, you’ve just described the White Sox free agency strategy (aka, shop at the dollar store for expiring items) from roughly 2017 back to, uh, 1976?
So, anyway, this year Jose Abreu at first base/DH will be good. Tim Anderson at short will be good. Yoan Moncada at second will be good. Avisail Garcia in right field will be good. Everyone else lives in replacement level city.
Outlook for 2019: niiiiiiice. Michael Kopech joins the rotation. Dane Dunning and/or Dylan Cease and/or Alec Hansen joins the rotation. Suddenly, rather than signing Miguel Gonzalez as a “workhorse” starter who’s never pitched 190 innings before in his life, you can sign him as a mix-and-match fifth or sixth starter who mostly pitch-charts with awe a White Sox five-man stud rotation boasting no one older than 25. In the outfield, Garcia is joined by Eloy Jimenez and possibly even Luis Robert, Luis Basabe or Micker Adolfo. The infield is sick: Abreu, Moncada, Anderson, Donaldson.
Seriously, the prospects for 2019 are really bright.
Outlook for 2020: Are you kidding? Everyone is a year better, Zack Burdi is pushing Nate Jones for the flamethrower closer role, the outfield has two Luises and an Eloy and they all dent fences and steal bags, and Arenado pushes Donaldson to first, who pushes Abreu to a DH/Papa Pito role.
OK, I can hear they’re starting to play the music, so I’ve got to wrap things up.
By the end of 2018 White Sox will have gone 10 seasons since their last playoff
That streak will end in 2019. And it gets better from there.