Is Chicago baseball landscape on verge of tilt to south?
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CARLSBAD, Calif. — About the time the White Sox started their tanking-based rebuilding effort two years ago, their top role models were riding toward Grant Park along a World Series parade route, providing the Sox with a confetti-filled skyline of cover for the process.
Now, with the close of this week’s general managers meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., the Sox are in position to make a serious run at generational free agent Manny Machado, have a restocked farm system poised to start testing impact prospects in the big leagues and have the manager they want to take them there extended through at least 2021.
If anything, the buzz surrounding each of Chicago’s two teams this week was as strikingly different as their finishes in the standings the last two years.
And, yet, it was the 100-loss Sox brimming with optimism and big ideas heading into the meat of the offseason — while the 95-win Cubs try to tinker with fixes under payroll constraints and a field staff in flux.
Talk about role reversal.
Is it possible the landscape of Chicago baseball is about to undergo a seismic tilt to the south?
Could success the Sox envision not only resemble the Cubs’ arc but also start commanding their dominance of the airwaves and back pages of the city’s baseball attention in the next two years?
“In all candor, I really don’t look at vis-à-vis them in terms of competitiveness,” Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “It’s much more important for us to be in a position to win vs. our division than it is a team we play four to six times a year.”
But it certainly wouldn’t hurt their long-dormant profile in town if the buzz their minor leaguers and early offseason rumors already are receiving ascends as their competitive star rises.
The Sox already traded for some of the Cubs’ buzz in 2017 when they sent Jose Quintana to the north side and landed top prospect Eloy Jimenez — who should debut early in 2019.
Meanwhile, the Cubs go into next season with their third hitting coach and likely third pitching coach in three years and a manager in a lame-duck contract year despite four consecutive playoff appearances.
The top baseball executive, Theo Epstein, who made his name in nine seasons in Boston, heads into his eighth season with the Cubs — with a personal philosophy of 10-year limits for one job or place.
And this: A bloated payroll with as much as $50 million in bad salaries, based on recent trends, has left them strapped this winter as they try to fix a “broken” offense and add bullpen help.
Without some bounce-back performances and production from the farm system, the Cubs might discover a whole new meaning to “Try not to suck” within the next two or three years.
Right about the time the Sox rebuild hits its competitive stride?
“Look, if we’re capable of winning 95, 100 games on an annual basis and capable of competing for championships, it’s not going to matter where another team in another league is, frankly,” Hahn said.
“White Sox fans are going to be supporting this club,” he added. “People will be excited about this club for us. I don’t think where we rank against anyone else is going to matter other than our ability to get into the postseason on a regular basis.”
A lot has to happen before the Sox can start thinking about their own parade routes — never mind rushing past the Cubs in the city’s baseball consciousness.
But the optimism in California this week was palpable.
“We feel we’ve put ourselves in a pretty good position from a prospect standpoint, put ourselves in a very good position from an economic standpoint,” Hahn said. “We’ll use each of those hopeful advantages over the next few years to put together a championship roster.”