MESA, Ariz. — The White Sox looked across the field Sunday and saw the Cubs, that team across town, that team they — grit your teeth — aspire to be: rebuilt from the ground up, a perennial contender and World Series champion.
When the Sox officially embarked on their rebuilding project by trading Chris Sale for prospects a month after the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, they knew contention was at least three years away. And while the team playing the Cubs in a Cactus League game doesn’t look the part in Year 3 of its rebuild, the time has come to look better after 95- and 100-loss seasons in the first two years.
Take it from manager Rick Renteria.
“I have patience, but there is a beginning to a change,” Renteria said. “There is a beginning to redirecting who you are as an organization and a club. I believe we’re above where we were two years ago. It’s time to start answering many of the bells that are rung because you cannot live in a perpetual rebuild. Not physically, or talentwise or between the lines. There is truly no purpose for a perpetual rebuild.”
Renteria, who managed the Cubs in 2014 during their rebuilding years, just two seasons before it all perfectly came together on the North Side, looks around at the Sox’ young talent, admires it and says that’s all well and good but it’s time to live in the now as much as the future.
“We know tomorrow is another day, but you can’t live in that,” Renteria said. “At some point, we have to get better — in preparation, execution, performance and outcome.’’
This will be prized prospect’s Eloy Jimenez’s first year in the majors and the first, probably after the All-Star break, for minor-league pitcher of the year Dylan Cease. Renteria wants progress from young infielders Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada, young starting pitchers Carlos Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito and the kids in the bullpen.
“So now we expect more,’’ Renteria said. “You cannot stay in one spot and spin your wheels. I’m not going to be happy with it, ownership and fans won’t be and the players won’t be. So … I’m asking them, it’s time to ask of yourselves a little more. That’s where we’re at. We’re in a place where we want more, and we should want more.’’
With proven late-inning bullpen arms Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera added in the offseason, and first baseman Yonder Alonso and former Cubs outfielder Jon Jay added to the lineup, the Sox look a little better on paper. Ervin Santana, a two-time All-Star coming off a season lost because of a finger injury, also was brought on board to strengthen the starting rotation.
The hope is a blend of youth plus experience distances the Sox from flirting with 100 losses again.
“We have a good team here,” said Alonso, who came over from the Indians, the class of the American League Central. “We have some veteran starting pitchers with a mix of young guys, and our bullpen is one of the best in our division. On paper it looks pretty good, so we feel we can compete with any of those teams in our division.’’
Anderson, infielder Yolmer Sanchez and Nicky Delmonico are among those saying the Sox should not be underestimated.
It doesn’t hurt to play with a chip on your shoulder, or on a mission.
The Sox have a long way to go. A .500 season would be an improvement of 19 wins.
“We have a chance to shock some people,’’ Anderson said. “We’ll see what happens.”