White Sox fans aren’t genetically wired to give the benefit of the doubt to whoever is running the team at any given moment, whether it be Rick Hahn, Ken Williams, John Paxson or a retired circus elephant. They’ve been hurt too many times.
So you know by the striking lack of grousing among fans that many of them are on board with the franchise’s rebuild, or whatever you want to call it. Ace Chris Sale, whom the Sox sent to Boston in the offseason in a multiplayer trade, is off to a hot start for the Red Sox. But nary a discouraging word has been heard in these parts because the Sox received Yoan Moncada, the top prospect in the minors, in return for Sale. The kid has played well at Class AAA Charlotte.
Sox fans are starting to sound like those Cubs fans who were deeply smitten by the team’s minor-league prospects in 2013 and 2014. When the Cubs were going through their rebuild/tank, a certain strain of fan would shake the latest issue of Baseball America, hoping a centerfold of Kris Bryant would spill out.
Now it’s the Sox’ turn. They reportedly have reached agreement with 19-year-old Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, giving him a contract worth more than $25 million and giving Sox fans even more hope. In short order, the team’s minor-league system has become the envy of many a franchise, thanks in big part to the acquisition of Moncada (another Cuban), heat-throwing pitcher Michael Kopech and now Robert.
No one can guarantee that Robert will turn into a major-league star, but it says something that the Sox were able to beat out other teams for his services on the first day he was eligible to sign a contract. Either the Sox are going to be very good in coming years or they are going to have a couple of Cubans with nice cars.
Sox fans can thank Nemesio Guillot for the Cuban connection. He’s credited with bringing baseball to Cuba in 1864 after returning to his home country from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. The game eventually became the island’s national sport, and talented players have shot up out of the soil for decades. The Sox have had at least 18 players who were born in Cuba, including Minnie Minoso, Alexei Ramirez and Jose Abreu.
That likely played a role in Robert’s decision to sign with the Sox. Abreu came to the franchise in much the same way in 2013. Ramirez was playing shortstop for the Sox at the time. Chicago is a friendly port with familiar faces. That helps.
Hahn, the Sox general manager, now has a lot of baseball cards at his disposal. He’s obviously hoping that Moncada and Robert turn into stars. But if he stockpiles enough talent, he can use it to make trades to bring in veteran players. It’s what Cubs president Theo Epstein did when he shipped highly regarded prospect Gleyber Torres, among other players, to the Yankees for closer Aroldis Chapman. It helped the Cubs win a World Series.
The Sox don’t want to be compared with the Cubs, but it’s inevitable. For this rebuild to work, Hahn will have to be as smart and as shrewd as Epstein has been, which is no easy task. So far, so good. I still wonder if the Sale trade was made for the purpose of getting rid of a uniform-slashing pain in the butt as much as it was made for rebuilding purposes. But it really doesn’t matter why.
The Sox are in the middle of trying to turn nothing into something, and everything seems to be going right. But they’ll need a lot of luck on their side, just as the Cubs needed luck as they built their minor-league system. Remember, Epstein was going to draft Mark Appel with the second overall pick of the 2013 draft if the pitcher was available. Instead, the Astros took him with the top overall pick, and the Cubs were stuck with Bryant. Appel has yet to pitch in the majors.
Perhaps Robert will become the Sox’ Bryant. The Cardinals reportedly offered more money to the five-tool player, but he decided to go with the Sox for less. Hahn had predicted that bidding for Robert would be “robust,’’ which finally answered a question I’ve been asking myself for years: Who writes the descriptions on wine bottles? You know, The robust flavor features hints of berries and oak producing a velvety, imaginative red with a refreshing finish.
There could be a lot of good fortune in Robert’s decision to sign with the Sox, provided he becomes a brawny, complex player, one delivering a hearty, dense punch and a World Series aftertaste.
Hahn will have to tell us if that describes a wine or a Cuban victory cigar. Either way, it sounds good.