At long last, some life from the White Sox after the misery of a rebuild
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It’s always nice to see green shoots rising out of the ground a few years after a forest fire had reduced everything to black.
OK, forget that the White Sox started the fire with the intention of burning everything down. Forget the gas cans and the tossed cigarette. It takes the whole wonder-of-nature imagery out of the picture I’m painting here.
Two years after a wall of deliberate losing — fire, I mean — engulfed the Sox, we’re finally seeing life.
The recent arrival of Michael Kopech and his spring-loaded arm was a reminder that there’s a real chance for organizational success ahead. But it’s not just Kopech, one of the first fruits of the rebuild, who is reason for accelerated belief. It’s all the winning since the All-Star break — a 21-19 record after a 33-62 mark before the break. It’s winning a recent series against the powerful Yankees. It’s the blossoming of Carlos Rodon. And it’s the promise of Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease and the other prospects the Sox acquired when all was dark. They’ll be here soon (though, in the case of Jimenez, not soon enough).
If you’re a Sox fan looking for big-picture inspiration, check out the 2014 Cubs. I know: You’d prefer to be slathered in honey and used as bear bait than have to hear about the Cubs. But stick with me here.
Two years after starting their rebuild under president Theo Epstein, the Cubs finally turned a corner in 2014. They went 33-35 in the second half after going 40-54 in the first half. The success snuck up on most everyone. At a minimum, nobody saw 2015 coming. We might have seen the possibility of a playoff berth in ’15, but nobody saw 97 victories and a trip to the National League Championship Series.
It would be silly and unfair to expect that from the Sox next season. They’re not quite as far along in their rebuild as the Cubs were in 2014. We’ve only seen a month of fair success from the South Siders. But it is reasonable to expect 2019 to be much better than 2018 and for 2020 to be a potential playoff season.
The debate at the beginning of the 2015 season was whether Kris Bryant should make the Cubs’ roster out of spring training. The answer was, duh, yeah. He had hit .429 with a major-league-best nine home runs in preseason games and had been named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year the season before. But the Cubs wanted to wait the required 12 days to gain an extra year of contractual control over him. It was unfair to Bryant, who had earned a spot on the team, but the Cubs saw the business sense of it, even though they risked a playoff berth by having his bat out of the lineup for two weeks.
The Cubs called Bryant up April 17, and a Rookie of the Year Award followed. So did the rest of it, eventually: the 2016 NL Most Valuable Player Award and the 2016 World Series title.
Jimenez finds himself in a similar situation as Bryant did, which means he and his agents are angry and should be. He’s hitting .341 with 22 homers in 105 games between Class AA and Class AAA this season. He deserves to be in the Sox’ lineup every day, and he and the team would benefit from the at-bats he’d be getting in the majors. General manager Rick Hahn says Jimenez has more boxes to check, but unless one of those boxes is next to ‘‘named United Nations secretary-general,’’ it’s hard to imagination what those would be. There’s a chance Jimenez will start next season in the minors for the same contractual reason Bryant did.
But he’ll be here eventually. As will Cease, who recently drew praise from Sox pitching coach Don Cooper. Someday is coming soon.
The manager who oversaw the second-half surge for the 2014 Cubs was Rick Renteria, who is now the Sox’ manager. He didn’t get a chance to see the Cubs’ rebuild through. Epstein saw an opening to hire the more experienced, more successful Joe Maddon and canned Renteria. Is this where a rebuilt Renteria finally gets his due? Like so many other things about the Sox, we’ll have to wait and see.
No one knows if The Plan, The Process, The Princess Bride or whatever the Sox are calling their rebuild will work, just as no one knew if the Cubs’ rebuild would work. A rebuild doesn’t equal automatic success. You still have to pick the right players and have a good amount of luck. Kopech will experience some rough spots. He had a few this season at Class AAA, and just because he has thrown a 105 mph fastball in the past doesn’t mean he’ll be a star. But if he keeps having success with his other pitches and his elbow remains attached to the rest of his arm, look out.
A rebuild is a numbers game. Epstein saw that, and Hahn followed suit. Lose a bunch of games by trading some good players, acquire a ton of top prospects in those deals and accumulate a pile of high draft picks. If enough of those young players succeed, you might have yourself a winner. No guarantees and, for a long time, no fun.
Fun finally arrived when Kopech made his big-league debut Aug. 21. Fun figures to be around for a while.