After seven consecutive losing seasons and a painstaking rebuild, the White Sox are well into their competitive window to contend for their stated goal of winning multiple championships.
And here we are, two full seasons into it and starting to watch the clock, coming to the realization that the window won’t stay open forever.
Jose Abreu, the 2020 American League MVP and eight-year rock of a run producer since he arrived in 2014, is in the final year of a three-year contract. Lucas Giolito, the Opening Day starter the last two seasons, can become a free agent after 2023. Catcher Yasmani Grandal has two years left on his deal, as does All-Star right-hander Lance Lynn (with a club option for 2024).
Shortstop Tim Anderson can become a free agent after 2024, and closer Liam Hendriks is signed through 2024.
Nothing lasts forever.
Built to last a good while, though, with numerous long-term contracts in place for Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez and Aaron Bummer, the Sox nonetheless embark on 2022 feeling some sense of urgency for the first time.
With a sizable collection of win/win player-contract deals for both the organization and players who signed ahead of arbitration and free-agency seasons, they’ve got a good thing going and will be favored to repeat as division champs and to play in the postseason for a third consecutive year.
Opportunity can be fleeting, and the Sox know the opportunity is now.
Fans know it, too. Especially those who remember 1994, when a players strike sidelined a 67-46 Sox team many thought was headed to the World Series. With labor strife threatening an on-time start to this season, imagine the damage fans would suffer from another work stoppage.
After enduring three seasons of tanking and seven straight losing seasons with a collective total of 151 games under .500, the Sox are built to win now, thanks to a teardown that began with the Chris Sale trade at the 2016 winter meetings, a deal that came one month after the Cubs saw their rebuild written into a perfect ending with a World Series title.
“Going through it was painful, watching the team lose [95 games in 2017 and 100 in 2018], but I always knew we had a plan, and we were working our plan, and ultimately the plan was going to work,” chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said after the Sox clinched the division title in September.
“The real plan is we want to be competitive year after year. It’s very hard to win one title, let alone multiple titles. I just want us to be playing meaningful games every October.”
Fans want that, too, but they also want October success, which hasn’t happened with consecutive one-and-done showings in the 2020 and ’21 postseasons.
The Sox were 1-2 in the wild-card series against the Athletics in Oakland after going 35-25 in the abbreviated 2020 schedule and 1-3 in the best-of-five American League Division Series against the Astros in 2021 after going 93-69 and winning a soft AL Central. The Sox will be staunch favorites to repeat, but the division will be stronger.
Success is far from guaranteed.
“The hardest thing to do is win the division,” manager Tony La Russa told the Chicago Sun-Times in November. “It’s the hardest by a lot. Trials and tribulations, ups and downs through the season. But the most exciting thing is the playoffs, a short series that can be determined by one pitch or play. If your best isn’t good enough then it’s ‘how do we make ourselves better?’ ’’
The Sox haven’t been good enough in October since they rolled through an 11-1 postseason to the 2005 World Series championship. They are 0-3 in postseason series with a 3-8 record in games played since.
Reinsdorf brought La Russa out of retirement believing he was the best man to make a difference in the end. La Russa, who won three World Series with other teams, knows it isn’t easy, even with great teams.
“Like I said, the reality is getting to the playoffs [is the most difficult thing],” La Russa said. “But if you don’t win the whole thing . . .”
His voice trailed off.
If you don’t, the reality is no one, from the owner to the fans, is happy or satisfied.
Just ask the Giants, the best team in baseball for almost all of 2021.
“A hundred and seven wins [in the regular season], and the Giants were out in the first round,” La Russa said. “But that’s why it’s so much fun, because once you get there, anything can happen.
And there are only so many “getting theres” to be had.
WHITE SOX CONTRACT CONTROL
Jose Abreu — Signed through 2022
Dallas Keuchel — Signed through 2022, vesting option for 2023 (with 160 innings pitched in ’22)
Craig Kimbrel — Signed through 2022
Yasmani Grandal — Signed through 2023
Lucas Giolito — Free agent after 2023
Reynaldo Lopez — Free agent after 2023
Lance Lynn — Signed through 2023, club option 2024
Liam Hendriks — Signed through 2024
Tim Anderson — Signed through 2022, club options for 2023-24.
Kendall Graveman — Signed through 2024
Leury Garcia — Signed through 2024
Yoan Moncada — Signed through 2024, club option 2025
Eloy Jimenez — Signed through 2024, club options for ’25 and ‘26
Luis Robert — Signed through 2025, club options for ’26 and ‘27
Aaron Bummer — Signed through 2026
Dylan Cease — Free agent after 2025
Michael Kopech — Free agent after 2025
Garrett Crochet — Free agent after 2026
Andrew Vaughn — Free agent after 2026
Gavin Sheets — Free agent after 2027