As Major League Baseball and the players’ union gave themselves another six hours to rescue Opening Day, working on a path toward an agreement that could get the season started on time, White Sox fans still smarting from 1994 kept their fingers crossed.
As buzzkills go, a regular-season work stoppage would cut deeper on the South Side than it would in many other places. With most of their 93-win team from 2021 intact, the Sox will be favored — perhaps heavily — to repeat as division champions.
Failure to get a deal done threatens to cancel the Sox’ scheduled season opener against the Twins on March 31 at Guaranteed Rate Field. If the opener is canceled, an extended lockout could very well follow, cutting into important series against American League Central rivals the Twins, Royals and Tigers in the first two weeks of the Sox’ season.
An extended lockout threatens to kill more than just the opener. Important series against the Twins, Royals and Tigers of the American League Central in the first two weeks kick off the Sox’ season.
In the season the Sox have had circled to see their rebuild really flourish, the timing couldn’t be worse. It’s not unlike 1994, when the on-deck rug was pulled from under the feet of a star-studded first-place team felled by a players’ strike that ended the season on Aug. 12.
If it’s any solace, the Sox will be faced with fewer roster-construction issues if and when this labor tussle is resolved and spring training commences. That is when the offseason, halted by the owners’ lockout on Dec. 1, will resume. The Sox are primed more than most teams to hit the ground running whenever spring training — or summer camp if it really drags on — begins.
Not that the Sox are set and without needs. Their second baseman on the top of the depth chart is Leury Garcia, who would serve a championship-caliber team best as a multipurpose player. So a trade of Craig Kimbrel might be in the works.
The right fielder as of March 1 is a platoon of the left-handed-hitting Gavin Sheets, right-handed Andrew Vaughn and former Gold Glover Adam Engel. Big-name free agents Michael Conforto, Nicholas Castellanos and Kris Bryant are out there, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, already looking at his highest payroll ever, giving the less expensive option a go. Then again, the Sox have worked undercover and surprised with free agents in the past.
As good as it looks, the rotation, with left-hander Carlos Rodon likely gone, begs for reinforcement with Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech and Dallas Keuchel manning the five spots and Reynaldo Lopez serving as the sixth man.
The Sox should bolster the roster before the regular season starts, but they also will look to fortify at the trade deadline as they did when the aggressive deal for Kimbrel was made last season.
As it stands now, it’s not bad. The Sox are stocked with players in their prime years. They ranked second in the AL in on-base percentage, third in wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) and fifth in runs last season despite getting only 93 games from Yasmani Grandal, 68 from Luis Robert and 55 from Eloy Jimenez. Their rotation led the AL in ERA and strikeouts. And the bullpen, even if Kimbrel is traded, is deep and led by Liam Hendriks, one of the top closers in baseball.
All that stands between them and a chase toward a third consecutive postseason appearance is a labor agreement.
Easier said than done.