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The doom and gloom that follows a miserable, 101-loss season that ranks as one of the worst in franchise history isn’t typically the breeding ground for hope.
But if you want a reason to believe the White Sox can go from triple-digit losers to a pennant-winning championship contender, look no further than this year’s Fall Classic.
Two years ago, when the White Sox were fresh off their first AL Central title in nearly 15 years, the Rangers and Diamondbacks were licking their wounds after horrendous showings. The Rangers lost 102 games and finished dead last in the AL West, 35 games behind the Astros, while the D-backs lost a staggering 110 games, worst in the NL West, and finished a whopping 55 games back of the division-winning Dodgers.
Two years later, they’re both playing for a world championship.
Now, that’s far from the norm, obviously, and it’s not like some sort of guaranteed baseball cycle that everyone goes from worst to World Series every couple years. The White Sox have made the playoffs just three times since winning a championship in 2005.
But the blueprints are there, showing there’s a way to do what Jerry Reinsdorf hopes and return these White Sox to contender status quickly.
“One of the things I owe the fans is to get better as fast as we can possibly get better. Speed is of the essence. I don’t want this to be a long-term proposition,” Reinsdorf said at the end of August. “I don’t want to make predictions, but in this division and with the core of talent that we have, I would hope and I expect that next year is going to be a lot better than this year.”
Plenty of fans find the chairman’s wishes to be somewhat pie in the sky and look at his method of getting there — promoting Chris Getz to general manager without interviewing any outside candidates — angrily.
Getz is about to embark on his first offseason in the GM’s chair, and he can approach things in a number of ways, two of which are again on display in the World Series.
The Rangers spent their way to the top, handing out numerous massive contracts in the past few years and bringing aboard Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Jon Gray, Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob de Grom as big-time free-agent additions. That list fails to mention plenty of young, homegrown players and other, lower-key additions helping them near their first ever world championship, but it’s the dominant storyline, especially as Seager and Semien turned in MVP-caliber seasons in 2023 and continue to come through in the clutch in the postseason.
Meanwhile, the D-backs are full of those young, homegrown types. Corbin Carroll is likely the NL Rookie of the Year, while other top contributors — Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, Gabriel Moreno, Ketel Marte, Christian Walker, Geraldo Perdomo — have spent much if not all of their big league careers in Phoenix. In a way, it’s the type of rebuilding success Rick Hahn hoped to have on the South Side.
Neither version of reaching the mountaintop is cut and dry, nor is either guaranteed to bring success. But this World Series has provided a fascinating contrast between a big spender and a rebuilder. It’s also provided a clear dichotomy for how the White Sox could approach this winter in attempting to pull off the same feat: going from a 100-game loser to a pennant-winner.
Will White Sox spend big like Rangers?
Reinsdorf’s comments from the day Getz was hired don’t exactly foreshadow a Rangers-style spending spree this winter. When asked about the payroll that day, the chairman reminded that the 2023 payroll was among the highest in club history, even if that means it wasn’t on par with baseball’s biggest spenders. His words also affirmed many fans’ belief that Reinsdorf isn’t interested in handing out the types of contracts that superstar players receive these days, the kind the Phillies gave to Bryce Harper, the kinds the Rangers gave to Seager and Semien.
“We spent a lot of money this year. People talk about, ‘Why won’t the White Sox spend?’ I think we had a payroll of $180 million this year,” Reinsdorf said. “Look, we’re not going to be in the (Shohei) Ohtani race, I’ll tell you that right now. And we’re not going to sign pitchers to 10-year deals.
“But we’re going to try to get better, and that means trades, it potentially means signing free agents, it means playing smarter baseball. It’s a lot of things.”
Does that mean the “Rangers route” is completely closed off to Getz? Maybe, maybe not. The White Sox have made those types of commitments in free agency before, notably the reported $250 million they guaranteed Manny Machado, who ended up signing with the Padres for $50 million more, and the deal they offered Zack Wheeler, who took a lower offer from the Phillies to keep his family on the East Coast.
If Getz identifies a free agent he wants badly enough — Hahn was still in charge when the team made the offers to Machado and Wheeler — perhaps he can convince Reinsdorf to make that type of investment.
“We’ll do what Chris thinks we ought to do to make us better,” Reinsdorf said.
But the truth is that there are a lot of holes on this White Sox roster, and while superstar players demand the eye-popping money, they’re just one guy. That’s not to say they’re not worth it, as Harper and Seager have shown this fall. But one player isn’t going to flip these White Sox from cellar-dwellers to title-winners. Will there be enough money available for Getz to haul in top-dollar players — the Rangers, for example, spent $500 million on Seager and Semien in the same offseason — and fill out a competitive roster? It strikes as a difficult task.
Will White Sox develop like D-backs?
Then there’s the “D-backs route,” which smacks far more closely of what the White Sox have been trying to do for years. They effectively assembled an impressive group of young talent under Hahn’s watch, but thanks mostly to injuries, the supposed high-powered contender never materialized.
The White Sox certainly have their own version of Carroll in Luis Robert Jr., who played at an MVP level this season. But they’re still waiting for everyone else to catch up. Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jiménez and Andrew Vaughn haven’t played like the D-backs have played, and their spotty health records make folks reasonably wonder if they ever will.
Because the White Sox have already invested in most of those guys, it’s likely the bulk of them will stick around, unless Getz engineers an unlikely winter sell off with sell-low trades. Reinsdorf doesn’t want that anyway.
“We’ve got a foundation here. We’re not going to take the guys that we have now and clean out and start over again,” Reinsdorf said. “We’re definitely not going to do that.”
The White Sox, though, might have little choice but to stage some type of rebuild given the number of fixes needed on this roster. But while the D-backs’ current success is the result of years of player development and player acquisition — baseball boss Mike Hazen has been in charge since 2016 — Getz could be focusing on a much shorter timeline. No one in the White Sox’ employ wants to circle back to the term “rebuild” after Hahn’s project failed.
But a less expensive offseason this winter, while waiting for the arrival of top prospect Colson Montgomery, could go hand in hand with the types of acquisitions Hazen made to boost the D-backs. While most of the impact players in Arizona are mainstays, they first arrived from elsewhere. Marte was a Mariner, Gallen was a Marlin, Walker was an Oriole, and Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. were acquired just last winter in a trade with the Blue Jays. The D-backs went out and got Tommy Pham in a midseason trade, just like the Rangers brought aboard Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery.
It’s worth noting, too, that the White Sox just hired one of the guys responsible for turning the D-backs around, with Josh Barfield brought over from his former post as the Arizona farm chief to be Getz’s assistant GM, part of a trio of energizing front-office additions. If anyone has inside info on taking a 100-loss team and turning it into a World Series contender two years later, it’s Barfield.
“To see finished products on the field from guys I had when they 15, 16, 17 years old and seeing where they were then to where they are now and where the organization kind of was a few years ago to where they are now, it’s exciting and gives a lot of hope and optimism here,” Barfield said in September.
No easy answers, but Rangers, D-backs found right ones
Obviously, these aren’t fool-proof strategies for building a championship squad.
And let’s not forget that neither of the teams playing for the title right now even won their division this year. The Rangers nearly collapsed their way out of the playoffs entirely by blowing the AL West to the Astros before getting hot again in October, while the D-backs finished 16 games back of the Dodgers and snuck in as a wild-card team.
In addition to being recrafted from their 100-loss states two years earlier, they also got lucky.
No one at 35th and Shields wants to just get lucky. They want to build something sustainable, as Hahn tried to do.
But getting lucky? You need to do that, too, and the White Sox need to build a team that can even get in position to get lucky. That’s what the Rangers and D-backs did.
Is the answer for a White Sox turnaround somewhere in this year’s Fall Classic? We’ll see when Getz starts his offseason work in earnest.
But going from 100 losses to the brink of a championship in two years? It’s not crazy.
In fact, it’s happening right now.
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