As the KC Royals have spent the offseason twiddling their thumbs, their AL Central Division foe in Chicago has done the opposite.
For we KC Royals fans wondering what a team should look like after a three-year rebuild, it is worth our time to analyze what the Chicago White Sox have done. Chicago lost 284 games over the last three years. A brutal three-year stretch for any organization by any objective measure. But, in my estimation, they at least lost for the proper reasons.
2016 was an epic disaster for the Chicago White Sox. Shortly before the season Adam LaRoche suddenly retired and walked away from $13 million because he had been told he could not bring his son to work with him every day. Chris Sale threw a historical hissy fit and missed a start over a wardrobe dispute. They were a laughingstock. I know I laughed at them plenty. The team would ultimately fall below .500 for the fourth season in a row.
But, rather than continue on their aimless pattern of halfway rebuilding and halfway attempting to improve a little bit each year the 2016 debacle seemed to wake up the franchise. They looked around at their pieces and saw a mediocre organization with a handful of prospects and some valuable trade assets. And they spent the next two seasons trading anything of value that was not bolted to the floor.
Adam Eaton and Chris Sale were traded in 2016. Jose Quintana was traded in 2017. Those three trades would bring in Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease, and Eloy Jimenez.
It is important that we point out here that the White Sox, like every team, have had their share of misses in the draft. They do not possess some otherworldly ability to identify talent that just cannot be replicated. Former first-round picks Keenyn Walker, Courtney Hawkins, and Keon Barnum are out of the organization and never even made any big league appearances.
The difference between the White Sox and the KC Royals is that when Chicago decided they did not have the prospects they needed they made tough decisions to improve their minor league talent. When they decided they needed to rebuild, they committed to that rebuild. They did not mealy mouth it and pretend like it is unclear what the word “rebuild” means.
When Chicago decided they did not have the necessary cornerstone pieces in their minor leagues they traded what they did have in attempts to make their organization better. And it did not matter if it was Chris Sale himself, anyone who was not going to be around to contribute a few years down the line when the rebuild was finished was merely an asset to be moved in lieu of prospects.
And now that the White Sox see their window opening, they are adding pieces. They have added Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez to their starting rotation. A rotation that now has the options of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease, Carlos Rodon, and Michael Kopech in addition to Keuchel and Gonzalez.
Offensively, they have signed Edwin Encarnacion and Yasmani Grandal in addition to acquiring Nomar Mazara and re-signing Jose Abreu. They are an organization that has flipped the switch. It was clear what their goal was when they were rebuilding, and it is now clear that the rebuild is over and they are ready to win.
A lineup of Luis Robert, Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Edwin Encarnacion, Yasmani Grandal, Eloy Jimenez, and Nomar Mazara is the best lineup in the division, in my opinion, regardless of which guy they find to fill out that ninth spot. This is a team constructed around a lot of young talent. But, this young talent is big-league ready.
Elsewhere in the Central Division, the Cleveland Indians cannot decide if they are coming or going. The Twins adding Josh Donaldson does keep them in competition for the division. But I do not find the signings of Rich Hill and Homer Bailey to be particularly promising. I would rather be the White Sox in 2020.
The most exciting aspect of the White Sox, though, is not that they will compete in 2019. It is that they are proof that a rebuild can work if it is handled properly. The KC Royals could learn a few things from their example. Having a clear plan and executing that plan with due diligence is the difference between becoming mired in mediocrity for years and rebuilding into a competitive organization.
The White Sox eventually understood that Chris Sale pitching meaningless shutouts and Adam Eaton leading off meaningless games in 2016 had no real value. But moving them for players like Moncada and Giolito made them incredibly valuable. I am not yet convinced that Dayton Moore and the Royals quite comprehend that aspect of a full rebuild. But, for guidance, we can watch it happen in real-time in 2020 on the southside of Chicago.