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PHOENIX – The Twins remain weird.
It’s hard to say exactly what, in an age of long-term planning for years of championship contention, the road map is for the White Sox’ longtime division rivals. But whatever they’re doing with their odd mishmash of offseason moves, the White Sox now have to take notice.
The Twins made the biggest splash of this winter-turned-spring, completely out of nowhere, signing Carlos Correa to a three-year free-agent deal, giving their roster a new top player and suddenly making them look like a bit of a threat to the White Sox’ reign as kings of the Central.
I say a “bit” of a threat because the Correa addition – however enormous – does not vault the Twins ahead of the White Sox, who won the division crown in a runaway last season. Few expected a similar result in 2022, chiefly because of the on-the-rise Tigers, but before and after Correa came to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the White Sox were and are, on paper, the best team in the Central. After all, Correa can’t pitch for the Twins. And Javy Báez can’t press fast forward on the Tigers’ rebuild all by himself.
But the idea that the White Sox had the division locked up before the season started could use some second thinking, if not complete reevaluation. The idea was that another division crown was a given, nearly meaningless in the minds of most fans, who saw a division championship equal nothing but a quick exit from the postseason last fall. The division didn’t matter, it would be there. What came next was more important.
Indeed, what comes after the Central is more important, as this team’s goal is to win the World Series, nothing less. But while an expanded playoff field means a division title is less important than ever before – the key is to just get into the tournament, just ask the 88-win Braves – it’s not nothing, and to suggest it’s not one of the White Sox’ goals would be incorrect.
Well, things just got more interesting on that front.
As mentioned, the Twins have a ways to go before they can be counted as World Series contenders. A pitching staff that got better with the addition of Sonny Gray could use plenty more oomph before it’s anywhere near as good as what the White Sox boast. The Tigers, too, are indeed on the come. But they’re still moving their highest ranked talent through the minors and getting it a first taste of the big leagues.
But the White Sox’ place in the baseball arms race has been magnified even further with the Correa addition, and to a lesser degree the Báez one. What looked to be an offseason battle for mastery of the American League – one featuring the White Sox competing alongside the Astros, Yankees and Blue Jays, among others – has arrived at their front door. It’s come to the Central Division.
The White Sox have made positive moves this offseason, and Kendall Graveman, Joe Kelly and Josh Harrison count as good additions. But they are not Correa. They are not Báez. They are not Kris Bryant. They are not Matt Chapman. They are not Max Scherzer. They are not Kyle Schwarber. They are not Nicholas Castellanos.
The social-media angst fans have displayed over the lack of a big-name acquisition is to be expected. There’s nothing wrong with wanting your favorite team to sign a great player. The truth is that the White Sox have a very good roster, and it’s possible that they can win the World Series with what they’ve got. Your opinion might differ, and that’s OK. We won’t know who’s right until the games start counting.
The White Sox were in a good spot, with a roster full of talent, and they remain there. If the Dodgers and Astros have shown anything with their sustained success, it’s that years of work are more valuable than one offseason worth of work. Hahn did those years’ worth of work, and the presence of All-Star caliber players everywhere on the roster proves it.
Other contenders, though, have spent the offseason breaking the bank to maximize their chances of winning now. The Mets, the Dodgers, the Braves and now even the Twins are throwing big money at trying to win the World Series. The White Sox might have done so smarter, they might have done so more affordably, and they should be counted among those contenders. But they haven’t done what so many other contenders do, which is boosting their roster in big ways as other teams do the same.
The Dodgers just showed, by adding Freddie Freeman, that any team can get better. The Dodgers didn’t win the World Series last season, didn’t win their own division, and even if they remained the best team in baseball on paper, other teams had closed the gap in very tangible ways. Now they’ve gone out and spent big bucks to attempt to reestablish that edge.
That’s the arms race.
Now, none of this is to suggest the White Sox haven’t been trying to keep pace or outpace their rivals in the Central and across the AL. We’re not privy to every detail of Hahn’s day, and this is a team that has stated its preference for operating in secret. Don’t see the White Sox in a lot of Twitter rumors? It doesn’t mean they’re not pursuing those players.
And remember, too, that the offseason is not over yet, either.
“There’s always one more move to make,” Hahn said last week. “Sometimes you are better off not making that one more move because you don’t want to make a move simply to do it. You want to do it because it truly puts you in a better position to win.
“Conversations continue with other clubs, with free agents. I certainly can’t predict when any of them are going to lead anywhere, but it’s not going to be for lack of effort.”
But to this point, the White Sox have not made that big addition these last few months. They have been outdone in this offseason’s arms race. It doesn’t preclude them from winning the World Series, of course, and should that happen, the old adage that championships aren’t won in November, December, January, February or in this case March will again be backed up.
“Championship,” though, now includes the division title in addition to the pennant and the World Series. Because the Twins are much better than they were yesterday. And the Tigers are getting better every day. The White Sox are still the class of the division, but the gap has closed, somewhat, more than in the to-be-expected way, in part because those two teams launched themselves into baseball’s arms race.
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