For Once the Winners of the Offseason Are Losers
Traditionally in the offseason, one team that dominates the headlines is declared the”winner” of the winter. Last year, that team was the Diamondbacks, as Arizona pushed a good portion of their financial and prospect chips into the middle of the table. A year before that, the Padres won the offseason, when they overhauled their lineup and brought in new starters at nearly every position. Both clubs left the winter with a buzz, one created by an aggressive and hopeful offseason strategy.
Those Padres and Diamondbacks entered the actual regular season with high hopes based on their offseason maneuvers, but both busted in fairly spectacular fashion. The Padres’ acquisitions of Craig Kimbrel, Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, and Derek Norris, among others, failed to produce anything more than a fourth place team. After the Diamondbacks signed Zack Greinke to a $200 million deal and traded all kinds of valuable assets in exchange for Shelby Miller, they too were rewarded with nothing more than a crushing fourth place finish in the NL West.
The simple lesson, of course, is that the winners of the offseason quite often aren’t winners in the long haul. Arizona and San Diego made major changes to their teams in hopes of winning in the short-term and both have suffered long-term setbacks. This offseason, however, things are a little different. For once, the team than runs the offseason might actually be a loser.
The term “loser” isn’t meant in an entirely pejorative sense. It’s a reality that the White Sox, the team that has thus far stole the show this winter, are going to lose plenty of games in 2017, mostly by design. Instead of winning the offseason by making a number of all-in splashes, the South-siders are winning the winter by going in the complete opposite direction.
Chris Sale is signed to one of the most valuable contracts in baseball. He is quite possibly the best pitcher in the American League, and is owed at most $38 million over the next three years. Any team with the fortune of employing Sale under those terms would have to be offered a massive bounty to even consider moving him.
That huge offer came from the Red Sox, and Chicago GM Rick Hahn pulled the trigger, commencing a White Sox rebuild in one fell swoop. Sale is one of the best assets in the game, so it’s no surprise that he cost the best prospect in the game, Yoan Moncada. Moncada, a strong, fast, switch-hitting infielder that earns dreamy comparisons to Robinson Cano, is a great prospect on his own, and is joined in Chicago by three other prospects, most notable among them the fire-balling right-hander Michael Kopech.
There was some question as to what extent Hahn would decide to rebuild the White Sox after the Sale trade, and more than a few wondered if quality outfielder Adam Eaton would stick around, given his five years of team control remaining. Instead, he too was shipped out for a huge return, this time to the Nationals. After securing the best hitting prospect in the country, Hahn acquired Lucas Giolito from Washington, the best pitching prospect in the game, along with more goodies, like hard-throwing Reynaldo Lopez, and former first-round pitcher Dane Dunning.
It was a stunning shift as the Chicago farm system vaulted from among the league’s worst to possibly within the top ten. As a result, the White Sox now project to be well below average in 2017, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still have quality players to move. Jose Quintana, it can be argued, should return a prospect haul similar to what Sale fetched. Quintana isn’t the ace that Sale is, but Quintana is about as close to an ace as one can be without really being one, and is owed just $38 million over five years. Quintana might be the best numbers two starter in the game, and he is owed less annually than number five starters make on today’s market.
If Hahn pulls the trigger on a Quintana deal, names like closer David Robertson and first baseman Jose Abreu would be next on the block.With prices for relievers skyrocketing, Robertson’s 2 years and $24million remaining look highly attractive, even as he declines slightly from his peak with the Yankees. Abreu is no longer the potential superstar slugger that he appeared to be after his first year in the majors, now profiling more as an average first baseman. Still, power draws on the market, and on his attractive contract terms (Abreu will be arbitration-eligible for the next three years), he could bring back a solid prospect or two.
Yet, reading through the list of Chicago’s assets, you may notice a trend: the White Sox had a number of superlative performers locked down to very team-friendly deals. That the White Sox were unable to create anything resembling a winning team with a Sale, Quintana, Abreu-led core is pretty objectively an organizational failure. They will certainly be commended by some for taking advantage of a robust trade market and rebuilding rapidly, and the moves they made last week were prudent on the whole. That they were necessary, however, is a huge disappointment.
It is highly disappointing that a team with legitimate top-tier talent like the White Sox could find no solution other than purposefully losing in order to win. In the position that the White Sox were in, letting the bottom drop out and rebuilding was probably the best move. But Chicago had ample opportunities to make things work with Sale and company, and that things got this bad is a black mark for the team.
Even so, the White Sox stand apart from other recent winners of the offseason. They recognized that the best way for them to build a winning team from their current situation was not to push aggressively to win in 2017, but rather to focus farther down the road. With a dearth of elite options on the free agent market, Chicago saw an opportunity to make a killing on the trade market, and in doing so have set themselves up for the future. Fans of the team may rightfully wish that more had been done to surround Sale with complementary talent, but for now, even as they stand to lose in 2017, the White Sox are the winners of the offseason.