THE FOLLY OF THE CHICAGO WHITE SOX REBUILD

This is a blog I’ve been thinking of doing for a long time, and something I’ve touched on in previous blog entries stretching back to 2018. This may draw the ire of the Chicago White Sox fan boys, who think this team can do no wrong regardless of what they do, but the fact of the matter is, this rebuild has not gone to plan in spite of the back to back playoff appearances in 2020 and 2021. While the original trades that set off the rebuild were universally praised, I think they need to be revisited, as well as the free agent signings and pursuits that have taken place since the rebuild was instituted following the 2016 season.

I want to take a look at the rebuild in a season-by-season view:

2016

This is where it all began. In December 2016, the White Sox made three moves that would have a profound effect on the organization, two trades and one Rule 5 Draft pick.

– On December 6, the White Sox traded LHP Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox for IF Yoan Moncada (at the time the #1 prospect in baseball), RHP Michael Kopech, OF Luis Alexander Basabe and RHP Victor Diaz.

– On December 7, the White Sox traded OF Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals for RHP’s Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning.

– And on December 8, the White Sox selected RHP Dylan Covey in the Rule 5 Draft from the Oakland A’s.

This was also the year the White Sox hired career loser Rick Renteria to be their manager, once again sniffing fumes from the Chicago Cubs, who had hired Renteria four years earlier to handle their rebuild on-field.

2017

Now fully into the rebuild, not much was expected in terms of free agent signings or trades, as the Sox had little left with which to deal (though they still made a major deal before the trade deadline).

– On May 27, the White Sox signed OF Luis Robert as an international free agent from Cuba.

– On July 13, the White Sox traded LHP Jose Quintana to the Chicago Cubs for RHP Dylan Cease, OF Eloy Jimenez, 1B Matt Rose and IF Bryant Flete.

– On July 19, the White Sox traded 3B Todd Frazier, RHP David Robertson and RHP Tommy Kahnle to the New York Yankees for RHP Tyler Clippard, OF Blake Rutherford, OF Tito Polo and LHP Ian Clarkin.

In the first season of the rebuild, the Sox finished the 2017 season with a 67-95 record.

2018

The worst season of the rebuild, by far. The Sox finished with a record of 62-100.

– On November 23, 2017, the White Sox signed OF Daniel Palka off waivers from the Minnesota Twins.

– On December 1, 2017, the White Sox signed C Wellington Castillo to a two-year deal with an option to lock down the catcher position that had been in flux since A.J. Pierzynski was let go.

– On December 22, 2017, the White Sox signed RHP Jose Ruiz off waivers from the San Diego Padres.

The Wellington Castillo deal was one of the first ones to implode on this team, as Castillo was suspended 80 games for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy on May 24, 2018. Unaware of it at the time, this was going to be an omen of things to come, not in terms of drug policy violations but in terms of poor free agent signings and a poor performance in free agency, in general.

2019

This is where the rebuild really started to go south. Prior to the season, the White Sox were considered one of the front runners to sign free agents Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. In fact, some media outlets said there was a chance the White Sox could sign both. Instead, their offseason acquisitions amounted to:

– On December 15, 2018, the White Sox traded minor league OF Alex Call to the Cleveland Indians for 1B/DH Yonder Alonso.

– On December 19, 2018, the White Sox signed C James McCann as a free agent from the Detroit Tigers.

– On January 10, the White Sox signed OF Jon Jay as a free agent from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

– On March 22, the White Sox signed OF Eloy Jimenez to a six-year, $43 million extension.

The Chicago press pointed out that Alonso and Jay were offseason workout buddies of Machado, while the Sox front office did everything they could to downplay the connection publicly.

While the Chicago media circled the wagons around the franchise, the rest of the country was laughing at the White Sox over the attempt to sign Machado. After announcing they had made an eight-year, $250 million offer, and Machado had signed a 10-year, $300 million offer, White Sox team president Kenny Williams was left to try to justify that the offer could have reached 10 years and $350 million if all options were exercised and all criteria were met in on-field performance. In the same breath, he said the White Sox just couldn’t afford to go to $300 million guaranteed. I feel like this was lost on most people, saying “we can’t afford to pay you $300 million, but we can afford to pay you $350 million.” The White Sox were the laughingstock of baseball outside of the city of Chicago (and were publicly laughed at during Machado’s press conference announcing his signing with the Padres) and the Sox finished the season with a 72-89 record, a 10-game improvement from hitting rock bottom the previous year with a 100-loss season.

2020

The window of contention begins to open. And the White Sox struck hard and fast.

– On November 21, 2019, the White Sox signed C Yasmani Grandal to the largest contract in team history, four years and $73 million.

– On December 10, 2019, in an attempt to shore up right field for the contention window, they traded OF Steele Walker to the Texas Rangers for OF Nomar Mazara.

– On December 30, 2019, in an attempt to shore up the rotation, they signed free agent LHP Dallas Keuchel.

– On January 2, the White Sox signed minor league OF Luis Robert to a six-year contract worth $50 million with options that could push the deal to $88 million.

– On January 9, the White Sox signed Edwin Encarnacion as a free agent to plug a hole at DH.

The White Sox were rumored for months to be in the market for RHP Zack Wheeler, who signed with the Phillies for less money than the White Sox offered (no monetary information was ever released but the significant facts were never disputed by the White Sox or Wheeler) and for the second straight offseason the Sox were left with egg on their faces, and as I’ll address later, I think this was the end of the big market free agent pursuits by the White Sox. Whether they were scared or just figured it wasn’t worth it, I don’t know.

In the season shortened to 60 games due to COVID-19, the White Sox finished with a 35-25 record.

2021

The White Sox entered 2021 as legitimate World Series contenders, according to the press. They fortified the roster with the following moves:

– On October 29, 2020, the White Sox hired Tony La Russa as manager, replacing Renteria.

– On December 7, 2020, the White Sox traded Dane Dunning to the Texas Rangers for Lance Lynn.

– On December 10, 2020, after failing to acquire Joc Pederson for the third consecutive offseason and releasing Nomar Mazara after he fell flat on his face as the everyday right fielder, the White Sox signed Adam Eaton as a free agent from the Washington Nationals.

And while I can’t find the exact date, at some point during this period, the White Sox signed 3B Yoan Moncada to a five-year, $70 million extension.

– On January 15, the White Sox had a big day. They signed Liam Hendriks and signed international free agents Yoelqui Cespedes and Norge Vera.

The White Sox let C James McCann go, and he signed a $40 million deal with the New York Mets, a little more than half what Yasmani Grandal would make in the same four years.

The Chicago media was all in, thinking the White Sox would acquire everyone from Trevor Bauer to Michael Brantley to George Springer to Kris Bryant. The Chicago fan boys were picturing a $400 million payroll. What the White Sox got was a 93-69 record, an AL Central Division title, and a first-round loss in the playoffs.

2022

Again, the idea that the White Sox were going to break the bank hung over the team as free agency started in November, 2021. Such arrogant statements as “we’re going to sign Marcus Semien but in case we don’t, Eduardo Escobar is our backup plan.” (Escobar signed with the New York Mets before Semien signed with the Texas Rangers and the White Sox were clearly never in on either of them). Another embarrassing situation revolved around OF Michael Conforto, whose name was bandied about for months until it was revealed he wouldn’t be playing in 2022 due to shoulder surgery. (Prior to this announcement, a White Sox “news” site had posted a column saying that the Sox had a massive offer on the table for Conforto, but because he wasn’t vaccinated the team wouldn’t sign the deal. Every bit of that was subsequently proven to be completely fabricated in someone’s brain).

The 2022 MLB lockout lasted from December to March, and the White Sox made two moves prior to the beginning of the lockout (during which MLB transactions were not allowed):

– On November 30, 2021, the White Sox signed RHP Kendall Graveman as a free agent.

– On December 1, 2021, the White Sox resigned IF/OF Leury Garcia.

Following the lockout, and with most of the top-flight talent off the board, the White Sox made the following transactions:

– On March 14, the White Sox signed RHP Joe Kelly as a free agent.

– On March 15, the White Sox signed IF Josh Harrison as a free agent.

– On April 1, the White Sox traded RHP Craig Kimbrel to the Los Angeles Dodgers for OF A.J. Pollock.

– On April 3, the White Sox traded C Zack Collins to the Toronto Blue Jays for C Reese McGuire.

– On April 5, the White Sox signed RHP Johnny Cueto as a free agent.

At the trade deadline, the White Sox sent McGuire to the Boston Red Sox for LHP Jake Diekman.

Not mentioned in the transactions (as I made those strictly important acquisitions) was LHP Dallas Keuchel was designated for assignment on May 28.

Now, I went through all of those transactions so we can look on a case-by-case basis how the rebuilt roster looks and how the players who were acquired for and during the rebuild have fared. I’m going to list the most relevant statistics to each player listed above in bold and these numbers are the stats the player accumulated as a member of the White Sox ONLY. And I’ll start at the beginning:

Yoan Moncada: In six seasons with the White Sox, Moncada has compiled a 13.2 WAR and a .254/.337/.425 stat line. His 2019 season is an outlier, with a 5.2 WAR and .315/.367/.548 line and 25 home runs. A consistent stolen base threat in the minor leagues, he’s stolen 3 bases in 5 attempts since the beginning of the 2020 season.

Michael Kopech: Kopech missed the 2019 season with Tommy John surgery and the 2020 season with “personal problems” as best as I can describe them. He seems to finally be putting it together in 2022, but has compiled a 9-12 career record and a 4.1 WAR (four of those victories and 2.6 WAR coming in 2022). Hopefully his best years are ahead of him because he seems to really be perfecting his craft.

Lucas Giolito: This was the guy I thought would be the centerpiece of the rebuild. Like Moncada, he’s had one very good season and a lot of average-to-below-average seasons around that. In 2019, Gio made the All Star team and finished with 14 wins, a 3.41 ERA, a 134 ERA+ and a 5.5 WAR, all career highs. His 2022 season has been poor, with eight wins, a 4.91 ERA, an 81 ERA+ and a 0.1 WAR.

Reynaldo Lopez: Like Kopech, Lopez has really hit his stride this season, but not as a starter, as a high-leverage reliever. A failed starter (in 2019, Lopez compiled a 10-15 record with a 5.38 ERA in 33 starts, with an 85 ERA+ and 0.3 WAR). In 2022, after corrective eye surgery and a move to the bullpen, Lopez is 5-2 with a 2.84 ERA, 141 ERA+ and 1.0 WAR.

Dylan Covey: My choice for the worst player acquisition during the rebuild (and everyone knows my feelings about Adam Eaton). In three seasons with the White Sox, Dylan Covey compiled a 6-29 record, a 6.54 ERA, a 66 ERA+ and a -3.0 WAR. I don’t know who saw what in this guy, he is literally one of the worst pitchers I have ever seen in 30+ years of watching baseball. Absolutely pathetic. Thankfully he was let go in 2019.

Luis Robert: This is a guy that I can honestly say, the numbers don’t tell the story. Robert has a career .297/.342/.488 line with an OPS+ of 128 and an 8.0 WAR in three seasons. The problem is, he’s played in 206 of 335 games (as of the time of this writing), which means he has missed roughly 40% of the Sox games he’s been eligible to play up to this point. The talent is definitely there. But if you can’t play the game, those “five tools” are completely worthless.

Dylan Cease: The real gem of the rebuild, Dylan has compiled a 34-23 record with a 3.66 ERA, 118 ERA+ and 7.3 WAR since 2019. His 2021 season was excellent, featuring 13 wins and leading the league in starts with 32, to go along with 226 strikeouts in 165.2 innings. His 2022 season has been transcendent, with 12 wins, a 1.96 ERA, 204 ERA+, a 4.4 WAR and 174 strikeouts in 128.2 innings. There is either a Cy Young award or a massive free agent deal with a better team in his future. Or maybe both.

Eloy Jimenez: Being honest, Eloy is my second favorite player on the White Sox after Jose Abreu. But he suffers from the same issue as Luis Robert: An inability to stay healthy. Eloy has played 271 games for the White Sox over the past four seasons, out of 497 possible. That’s roughly 55%. Just a little more than half of the games he could have played in. While his stat line is certainly solid (.273/.319/.498 with an .817 OPS and 118 OPS+), it doesn’t really matter if you can’t stay in the lineup.

Blake Rutherford: Blake was going to be the third outfielder with Robert and Eloy. He was highly-touted coming from the Yankees. However, in his six-year minor league career, he has compiled a .250/.286/.404 stat line with an OPS of .731. Those numbers wouldn’t cut it at the MLB level, let alone the MiLB level, and he was designated for assignment before being brought back off the 40 man roster.

Jose Ruiz: It’s amazing to think this guy is in his fifth season on the south side. Ruiz looked like he had turned a corner in 2021 (3.05 ERA, 144 ERA+, 1.1 WAR) but he has quickly fallen back to earth in 2022 (4.03 ERA, 99 ERA+, 0.5 WAR). Good stuff but nothing more than a spare arm that should never see a high-leverage situation.

James McCann: Even though he’s no longer on the team, I just wanted to point out that McCann signed a four-year, $40 million deal with the Mets the year after Yasmani Grandal signed a four-year, $73 million deal with the White Sox. Considering both of their numbers with those teams, I can’t imagine anyone would want four years of Grandal at $33 million more than McCann. Neither can hit a beach ball but McCann is certainly more mobile behind the plate. For the record, McCann’s stat line with the Mets (.223/.285/.335) compared with Grandal’s line with the Sox (.225/.368/.408 and Grandal’s OBP is out of whack due to his insane 2021 season and .420 OBP). Nothing will ever convince me that Grandal is $33 million better than McCann.

Yasmani Grandal: See above. I don’t know if the Sox thought they were getting Carlton Fisk 2.0 but they didn’t. Grandal was on the wrong side of 30 and was coming off a 2019 season with the Milwaukee Brewers in which he hit a career-high 28 home runs and drove in a career-high 77. He’s come nowhere near those numbers since while making $18 million a year. His 2022 batting line (.203/.307/.264) will be the worst of his career by far and he still has another season to go at $18 million. I know it’s unpopular to say, especially among the fan boys, but that was a truly poor signing.

Nomar Mazara: This deal made me angry because I really started to notice the Sox had decided to take the cheap way out in their future acquisitions. The Chicago press presented him as untapped potential, even though he had over 2,000 plate appearances at the MLB level. I heard numbers thrown about like “35 home runs and 100 RBI” from a guy who had never hit more than 20. I told everyone who would listen it was a bad signing. Come to find out, it was a bad signing. Mazara hit .228/.295/.294 with 3 home runs in 42 games and was not brought back after the season.

Dallas Keuchel: Another deal I didn’t like. Not that I didn’t like the signing at the time but the contract was insane from my perspective. Clearly on the downside of his career, Keuchel got a three-year deal from the White Sox for $55.5 million. This was nothing more than a way for the White Sox to save face after Zack Wheeler signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for less money, embarrassing the White Sox organization in the process. So what did the White Sox get for that $55.5 million? A 17-16 record, a 4.79 ERA, a 91 ERA+ and a 0.9 WAR. Also $18 million wasted that they have to pay him after he was DFA’d.

Edwin Encarnacion: Not much to say here, his contract wasn’t that outlandish (one year for $12 million) but in typical form, he was a free agent signing that woefully under performed. In 44 games, Encarnacion put up a .157/.250/.377 stat line with a 70 OPS+ with 10 home runs and 19 RBI. He topped off what is, in retrospect, and absolutely horrible offseason that was celebrated at the time.

Lance Lynn: I like Lance Lynn, and he’s been relatively successful in his White Sox tenure, but I would have stopped short of giving him the two-year, $38 million extension he received. While his first year was certainly acceptable (2.69 ERA, 163 ERA+, 5.3 WAR), he’s not looking like he’s worth the money in 2022 (5.88 ERA, 68 ERA+, -0.7 WAR). A starting pitcher could be found somewhere to put up better numbers than that at half the price.

Adam Eaton: This is just covering his second round with the White Sox. Eaton was signed to a $7 million deal after perennial target Joc Pederson refused to sign and instead took less money to play across town for the Cubs. Eaton’s return engagement was not quite as productive as his first, as he compiled a .201/.298/.344 stat line with a 75 OPS+ and 0 WAR. The hole in right field that Mazara was supposed to fill ate up Eaton as well. He was designated for assignment after 58 games.

Liam Hendriks: Another sore spot with me. The numbers didn’t tell the story with this guy, either. A failed starter who then became a failed middle reliever somehow caught lightning in a bottle and became a very good closer for a year and a half before the White Sox dumped a three-year, $54 million deal in his lap. Hendriks is a low-leverage closer who does his best work starting a clean inning with a three-run lead. Anything less than that and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for him to blow it.

Kendall Graveman: A good signing (though a bit expensive for a set-up man at three years and $24 million) who has pitched very well and looks like a good investment so far, with a 2.59 ERA, 155 ERA+ and 1.1 WAR so far in 2022.

Leury Garcia: Longest-tenured White Sox player, been with the team for a full decade. And in that full decade, he has put up a .253/.294/.353 stat line with an OPS+ of 77 (remember, 100 is average and this is over the entire 10 years he’s played for the White Sox) and a WAR, over 10 years, of 4.5. And signed a three-year, $16.5 million contract prior to the 2022 season. I don’t care if he can play every position on the field, pop the corn and clean the toilets, you can pick up utility players every day that would make half that amount and put up superior statistics. No one will ever be able to explain this to me to my satisfaction.

Joe Kelly: “Let’s throw money at the bullpen” seemed to be the mantra of the White Sox front office during the 2021-22 offseason. Joe Kelly was not really a needed asset, and his multiple injuries in 2022 to go along with his 5.84 ERA and -0.4 WAR show this wasn’t a great investment. Yes, his numbers are skewed by his poor start to the season, but this is supposed to be a team that’s contending for a World Series, not nursing guys back to health that shouldn’t have been signed in the first place.

Josh Harrison: I like Josh Harrison, but I didn’t like this signing other than it would have been perfect as a replacement for Leury Garcia. Harrison’s days of being an everyday second baseman should have ended around 2017 in Pittsburgh, and he should be a full time utility player, a role I believe he would excel in. He started extremely poorly in 2022 but has since ramped up his stats to an acceptable level (.245/.312/.381 with a 96 OPS+ and 1.7 WAR) for a utility player, far better than Garcia is producing.

A.J. Pollock: I wanted to see the Sox acquire Pollock in 2019, when he left the Arizona Diamondbacks for the Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent. That version of Pollock was coming off a 21 home run season, a .257/.316/.484 stat line with an OPS+ of 108 and a 2.2 WAR. The A.J. Pollock the White Sox got is hitting .236/.287/.351 with five home runs and a -0.1 WAR.

Johnny Cueto: After all those acquisitions that failed to pan out or even come close to what was expected, Johnny Cueto was a Godsend. A 2.91 ERA, 137 ERA+ and 2.9 WAR in 15 starts is outstanding, and I’d have to think there’s nothing less than a 100% chance he’ll get a free agent deal this offseason that prices him right out of the White Sox plans. In fact, to put it into perspective, Cueto is making roughly half what Lucas Giolito is making and about about ¼ what Lance Lynn is making.

If we look at this rebuild academically, with our minds instead of our hearts or fandom, it’s clear it’s been a massive failure pretty much across the board. This team, as it is built now, has no chance whatsoever of getting to the World Series. The offense is worse than any I’ve ever seen, regardless of how poor the opposing pitcher is. Pitchers with ERA’s above 5.00 routinely shut down the White Sox offense.

I’m worried about where we go from here. The concept of just saying “well, let’s just take the same group into next season and hope it’s better” isn’t going to do anything for anyone, and I’m sure Jerry Reinsdorf doesn’t want to spend another $200 million on a .500 team. But those long-term contracts that Eloy Jimenez and Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert signed, along with the overpays for Liam Hendriks and Leury Garcia and Kendall Graveman and Lance Lynn have the Sox in a precarious position, there isn’t going to be a lot of roster turnover (Cueto and Jose Abreu and Josh Harrison are the only pending free agents) unless the White Sox can somehow convince another team to take one of those overstuffed contracts off the books.

That’s not gonna be easy because I can’t picture anyone saying “sure, I’ll take two years of Yoan Moncada at $41 million and I’ll give you a nice prospect package or a serviceable veteran at a lower pay rate in return.” The long-term deals didn’t quite work out the way the deals for Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana did. Those were the building blocks of the rebuild. This team is in a purgatory where they can’t really move those contracts to rebuild because the players attached to them are not worth the money they’re being paid, pretty much across the board (with the exception being Johnny Cueto). This is basically what happened to the Chicago Cubs, who priced their players right out of their payroll. But at least they got a World Series ring out of the deal. The only White Sox players with rings in their future will be getting wedding rings.

If I were running this organization, this offseason I would trade Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito (both of whom I don’t expect to be around long term and both of whom are at the height of their value as trade pieces), I would see if Jake Burger is a legitimate full-season third base option and if I can’t trade Moncada, I’d DFA him after next season (it would be easier to accept blowing $20 million than $40 million for absolutely nothing). I’d also DFA Leury Garcia. The Sox were willing to do so with Dallas Keuchel and the money would be less if Garcia were DFA’d next season. The problem is I just don’t see the Sox being willing to either eat that much money in DFA’s or be willing to admit that chances that extreme need to be made. But the Sox managed to get rid of Chris Sale, who had far more success than Lucas Giolito (who is guaranteed gone as a free agent after the 2023 season anyway). The bottom line is, changes need to be made.

If you took the time to read this entire presentation, I thank you. I’ve worked on this for the better part of three days because I’m tired of arguing with people about the state of this franchise. It’s in a bad way right now. The Sox aren’t suddenly going to “get hot” and just mow through the rest of the season and the playoffs and win the World Series. Those things just don’t happen. Or don’t happen often. Everyone uses the 2021 Atlanta Braves as an example but what are the chances of that happening two years in a row?

I sincerely believe the Cleveland Guardians will win the AL Central in 2022, with the White Sox finishing second and the Minnesota Twins finishing third. The Sox will also fall short of the Wild Card. At that point, hopefully changes will be made. Or they’ll stand pat and say “if it wasn’t for all the injuries…”

Time will tell. Peace.

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