The White Sox have a plan, and it can’t come soon enough
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The White Sox have been keeping a low profile, quietly losing two games for every one they win, keeping hope at the seed level, or lower.
If the Sox were public speakers, they’d be professional whisperers.
The club is entertaining (if that’s the word) 16,780 fans per home game, roughly 4,500 fewer than last season, when the Sox weren’t exactly deafening, either.
They finished 67-95 in 2017, 35 games out of first place in the AL Central. Who won the Central? The Indians, who are again in first place and in the midst of a four-game series with the Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.
The Indians, you’ll recall, came so close to beating the Cubs for the 2016 World Series championship. Their era is right now, and they seem to know this and perhaps are a bit desperate about it.
The Sox, on the other hand, are just chilling in the late spring sun, picking their teeth with straws, waiting for . . .
What are they waiting for?
They’re waiting for a lot. And that is because they’re in the midst of The Plan.
The Plan, of course, is the process of demolishing your team, starting over, losing at a record pace for years, and then — with all your new guys and young superstars assembled — winning everything!
The Plan has been around in some form forever, but it is now legion, having been turned into sacred dogma by the Cubs’ and Astros’ recent World Series success. Now we have about a third of major-league teams trying to win, a third stuck in the mud, and a third blatantly losing. All thanks to The Plan.
So other than just keeping quiet and promoting your ballpark food, rebuilding teams like the Sox tease fans with the promise of the future, with the unlimited acumen of the general manager, with the brilliance of upcoming trades, with free-agent acquisitions. And — above all — with the potential of the prospects soon to join the team.
I remember being at an Iowa Cubs Class AAA game in 2014, and there were Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Albert Almora Jr. lighting up the cornfields as they waited to be critical parts of the Cubs’ release from 108 years of misery. By 2016 those guys were pretty much everything Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer had claimed they would be.
The Sox are selling fans on prospects such as 21-year-old outfielder Eloy Jimenez and 22-year-old fireballing pitcher Michael Kopech. Both are young and talented — Jimenez is the No. 3 prospect in baseball, and Kopech has a fastball that can reach 100 mph.
But both are raw and have weaknesses. For power hitter Jimenez it is his defense, for Kopech it is control. Jimenez needs to see how major leaguers hit cutoff men, throw lasers to the plate and adjust to hitters and quirks of the park.
Kopech has walked at least one batter in each of the last eight innings in his last two games at Class AAA Charlotte.
So these guys are high-level projects, and GM Rick Hahn has said it would be disastrous to bring them up too soon. To destroy their confidence would be to destroy the Sox’ future.
No matter what, said Hahn, hurrying this pair will not happen because of fan unrest and desire to see them in the majors. Expectation “is going to have nothing to do with when these players arrive,’’ he said.
The Sox already have bright young players, such as second baseman Yoan Moncada, 23, and shortstop Tim Anderson, 24.
Slugger Matt Davidson is only in his second year with the Sox, but he is 27, and near-star first baseman Jose Abreu is still playing well, but he is 31.
So blending the active with the developing is an art. It is the part of The Plan that doesn’t get a lot of chatter, because it is more art than science.
I often think Bryant was ready for the majors when he was 21 or 22. He came up when he was 23, after hitting 55 home runs in the minors. Those were wasted homers. He hit a trillion before that at every level he played, from peewee on up. His dad has said Kris basically hit home runs from the moment he picked up a Nerf bat.
But the timing worked for the Cubs.
Here’s hoping the timing works for the White Sox, too.
Legendary Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their gritty, no-holds-barred takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.