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So what’d I miss?
I’m back in Chicago after spending a month in Australia for my honeymoon, and I see White Sox fans are exactly how I left them.
Rick Hahn says each winter – especially as the last several got off to unbearably slow starts for almost all 30 major league clubs – that we should reserve judgment until the entirety of his offseason work is complete. That’s obviously true, and even as White Sox fans have spent the last month frustratingly watching a lack of activity, I don’t think anyone thinks that Mike Clevinger will represent the entirety of the team’s roster tweaking before Opening Day.
But I get why the frustration has been so prevalent this winter, which has gone dissimilarly from the glacially paced ones that came before it. Teams across the league are spending like crazy, signing stars to one monstrous deal after another. Baseball’s arms race kicked into high gear during the Winter Meetings, and the White Sox, supposedly preparing for a run at a World Series in 2023, self-selected out of the party.
As we’ve talked to death, their approach of keeping much of the 2022 roster intact is not exactly shocking. They already invested in this group of players, and despite the disappointment of last season, they still believe this group can accomplish the ultimate goal. It’s not even close to ludicrous to believe that the combination of Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert, Tim Anderson, Andrew Vaughn, Dylan Cease, Lance Lynn, Liam Hendriks and all the others could be back on top of the AL Central next year.
But the Astros are the reigning champs, and what did they do? They went out and signed José Abreu to better their chances at a repeat. The reigning NL champs, the Phillies? They added Trea Turner to an already-loaded offense. The Mets? They want to win the World Series real bad, so they signed Justin Verlander. The Yankees? They couldn’t suffer the hit to their title chances that would have come had they let Aaron Judge go, so they gave him a massive payday. The Padres? They’re throwing money at everyone they pass on the street in an effort to permanently dethrone the Dodgers in the NL West.
That’s the arms race. The White Sox have decided not to participate.
And while there’s no rule that says a team has to spend a certain amount of money in a winter to qualify for the postseason – Hahn likes to point out, correctly, that “winning the offseason” doesn’t correlate to winning on the field – the White Sox aren’t acting like all those other teams that are trying to win the World Series. Instead, they’re announcing their intention to stay away from high-priced free agents and making it known they’re not planning to expand their payroll.
It won’t preclude them from winning a World Series. But it will make it awfully difficult.
The White Sox finished .500 last season and missed the playoffs. That result clearly sent shockwaves through the organization, with Hahn calling it the most disappointing season of his career and those of the higher-ups around him. But expectations won’t be recalibrated in the middle of a contention window the years-long rebuild was supposed to open. There remains only one goal: winning it all.
So being better than the Guardians alone won’t cut it. The White Sox playing up to their potential in 2023 would be an obvious righting of the ship and a welcome sight on the South Side. But if all that does is get the White Sox to October and nothing more? It will still be a failure to reach the goal.
No, the White Sox need to be better than the Astros. They need to be better than the Yankees and the Rays and the Blue Jays and a Rangers team that continues to spend and spend big with nothing to show for it. They need to be better than the Phillies and the Dodgers and the Braves and the Mets and the Cardinals. If they’re going to win the World Series, they need to be the best team in baseball.
Almost all of those teams were already better than the .500 White Sox. And almost all of those teams have gone out and made themselves better in dramatic fashion this winter.
The White Sox? I believe whole-heartedly that we’ll see better seasons than we saw in 2022 from almost everyone on the roster. But that’s what was supposed to happen. Are the White Sox better than they were when the season ended?
It’s impossible to say yes at the moment, not with Abreu in Houston and Johnny Cueto’s out-of-nowhere season replaced with the 4.33 ERA of Clevinger.
Don’t get me wrong, the Clevinger signing could certainly wind up a good one, and the White Sox’ pitching staff is far from the problem with this club. Should Lucas Giolito bounce back and Clevinger is the team’s fifth starter, that looks like a mighty fine rotation.
What will the Sox do without Abreu?
The downward slide since early October has much more to do with a franchise icon officially leaving town. Abreu was often described as the White Sox’ heart and soul, and the effect of his departure on the clubhouse will be fascinating, because the front office let a cultural lynchpin and one of the best hitters in their history put on another uniform because he didn’t fit into their budget, a budget they had control over setting.
But forget about that stuff, even, and just realize that a team needing drastic offensive improvement just lost its best hitter. A team searching for consistency from all its young cornerstones just lost its most consistent player – and one of the most consistent players in the game.
The offseason is about getting better, about putting yourself in a better position to win. The White Sox know that, and Hahn’s been talking about that need for improvement since before the regular season even ended. Thanks to hiring Pedro Grifol and bringing in a new coaching staff, that improvement can certainly come from within. The collection of talent on this team is still impressive, and it would be no surprise to see it produce way better results in 2023.
But the White Sox are not making it easy on themselves. Self-imposed budgetary restrictions, hoping trade scenarios come together, banking on internal improvement and not doing everything it takes to keep a team leader and the best hitter in the lineup is not the typical road map to a World Series title.
The team’s offseason work is far from over. There will be other moves and other additions, of course. Anyone gearing up to lambaste a repeat of the 2022 trade deadline is jumping the gun by literal months. We will talk about the team filling holes at second base and in the outfield. We will likely get to talk about a trade or two.
The question is: How much better will those moves make the White Sox? Will those moves make the White Sox good enough to compete for a championship?
Because so far this winter, the White Sox’ roster has only gotten worse.
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