The White Sox say their tanking days are almost over.
Say goodbye to 100-loss seasons and say hello, in the third year of the rebuild, to the turning of a corner.
The turn probably won’t be sharp enough to put them in the .500 lane — unless they sign free agent Manny Machado or Bryce Harper and make a trade to upgrade their starting rotation or lineup — but a bullpen bolstered by offseason deals, progress from young talents such as Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito, along with the arrival of prized left-field prospect Eloy Jimenez in April figures to make them better.
That’s the plan, anyway. After two seasons produced 67-95 and 62-100 records under manager Rick Renteria, it’s time to push back against a losing culture, play better and take an important step toward 2020, when the Sox should be ready to contend.
By then, top pitching prospect Michael Kopech will have recovered from Tommy John surgery, top minor-league pitching prospect Dylan Cease will have accumulated more major-league experience than Kopech, Jimenez could be coming off a an award-worthy rookie season, and Moncada, the former No. 1 prospect and centerpiece of the Chris Sale trade, will have turned a corner of his own after offensive and defensive difficulties in his first full season in 2018.
That’s a lot of positive thinking, but that’s the vision. All the while, a sizable group of highly ranked minor-league outfield prospects including Luis Robert, Micker Adolfo, Luis Basabe, Blake Rutherford and Luis Gonzalez will inch closer to the majors or be used as trade bait for more proven talent.
But first, there is 2019, which begins in earnest Tuesday when pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona.
Looming over the proceedings will be Machado. Who will he sign with? When will he sign? Will it be with the Sox, who still have the only known offer on the table? Having Machado on the left side of the infield and in the middle of Renteria’s Cactus League lineups immediately would remove the Sox from the list of tankers. It would cast 2020 and beyond in a much more competitive light.
Without Machado, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA rankings project the Sox with the fifth-worst record in baseball at 70-92, an eight-win improvement from 2018. Last year, PECOTA overrated the Sox with a 73-win forecast, an insult to unsuspecting fans.
Renteria is aiming higher, optimistically saying 80 wins is reachable with an improved bullpen.
“But we have to play clean baseball,” he said.
And see the results reflected on the scoreboard.
“You want to make sure [young players] don’t lose confidence, especially since we’ve had so many losses over the last few years,’’ Renteria said at the winter meetings. “You want them to understand, ‘you guys are winners.’ ’’
The Sox understand how to handle defeat, Renteria said.
“We’ve got to know what it is that is failing, what we’re not doing that we need to do to come out with the victories,’’ he said.
Like putting a ball in play with a runner on third and less than two outs, executing a 1-1 pitch in a high-leverage situation or hitting a cutoff man, things that aren’t measured in PECOTA projections.
Whatever it takes, it’s time the Sox figure out how to win more than 60-something games. In one of baseball’s weakest divisions, that shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Five things to know as the White Sox open spring training:
Wednesday: Pitchers and catchers’ first workout at facility in Glendale, Arizona.
Feb. 18: First full-squad workout.
Feb. 23: Cactus League opener: Split-squad games vs. Dodgers at Camelback Ranch, at Athletics in Mesa.
March 28: Season opener at Kansas City, 3:15 p.m.
April 4: Home opener vs. Mariners, 1:10 p.m.
HERE AND GONE
• Right-handed relievers Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera
• Right-handed starter Ivan Nova
• Left-hander and potential fifth starter Manny Banuelos
• First baseman Yonder Alonso
• Outfielder Jon Jay
• Catcher James McCann
• Right fielder Avisail Garcia
• Right-handed starter James Shields
• Right-hander Danny Farquhar
• Catcher Kevan Smith
• Catcher Omar Narvaez
• Left-hander Hector Santiago
• Designated hitter/pitcher
• Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez
• Trainer Herm Schneider
• Broadcaster Ken Harrelson
ELOY’S ON DECK
Eloy Jimenez’ much anticipated — and overdue — arrival to the major leagues will happen when his service-time reins are loosened, probably shortly after April 12. Jimenez, the third-ranked prospect in baseball, looked more than ready for prime time last season — although the Sox said he needed to polish his defense — but holding him back until April gives the club an extra year of contract control. As a teaser, fans will see a lot of Jimenez (.337/.384/.584, 22 homers, 75 RBI in 108 games between Class AA and AAA last season) in spring training, barring injury bugaboos which limited him last spring.
Nobody wants to hear it, but Manny Machado’s free agency could drag on even more, perhaps well into spring training. The Sox’ seven-year offer, reportedly in the $175-210 million range with possible opt-outs and incentives, has been on the table for weeks. Machado wants a bigger deal, and might prefer a different team, but the Sox, with no need to bid against themselves and having a limit on how high they will go, are sitting tight. Manager Rick Renteria, for one, would like to see it resolved sooner rather than later.
‘‘Is there an X-factor involved in my thinking with potentially him coming in? Sure,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘[But] I have to wrap my arms around everybody who is going to be here with us and put a plan together for those guys.’’
WHO’S ON THIRD
The Sox have discussed working Yoan Moncada at third base, but doing so depends on one big variable. If Manny Machado signs, Moncada stays at second base. Without Machado, Moncada playing at the hot corner could be one of the storylines of camp. Moncada faces a pivotal 2019 after falling short of expectations in his first season.