What trade deadline?
There’s anticlimactic, and then there’s the whole lot of nothing that happened Tuesday with Chicago’s baseball teams as the 5 p.m. major-league deadline approached. On a scale of 1 to Juan Soto, it was something like a minus-4.
No one — certainly not Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer — expected the day to end with All-Stars Willson Contreras and Ian Happ still on the team. So much for all those goodbye hugs, wistful tears and heart-rending videos and memes. So much for turning Contreras into the haul of prospects Hoyer was counting on to spark his (don’t call it a) rebuild.
And the White Sox? Hello? Is anybody home?
With all due respect to new reliever Jake Diekman — at least I think that’s his name — August is already a downer on the South Side. A .500 team more than 100 games into the season is what it is, and this one is going to go the rest of the season essentially unchanged. General manager Rick Hahn may have pounded his fingertips into nubs working the phone, but there are no gold stars for trying in his business. In the end, the Sox did zip, zilch, nada to address any of their biggest problems.
“In all candor,” Hahn said, “we’re disappointed that we weren’t able to do more to improve this club.”
Before a game against the Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field, Hahn sat in the Sox’ dugout and lamented a “seller’s market.” Did the expanded playoff format lead sellers to be more aggressive than usual with their asking prices? It might be the case. But that didn’t stop the Padres from going all-in for Soto — one of the best few players on the planet — and his teammate Josh Bell, another outstanding lefty hitter. It didn’t stop the Padres from dealing for all-world lefty reliever Josh Hader. The Padres went for it like few teams have done at the deadline before.
But the list of playoff contenders that actually helped themselves is long, and, unfortunately for the Sox, it includes the first-place Twins. Anybody feeling especially confident the Sox will catch and pass a Twins team that added a starting pitcher (Tyler Mahle), a setup man (Michael Fulmer) and an All-Star closer (Jorge Lopez) to its mix?
Even though the Sox are 26th in the league in home runs, even though their collective energy and spirit have been low, even though the closeness of their clubhouse has been called into question, even though manager Tony La Russa seems quite clearly not to burn with the same intensity he did in his previous incarnations, Hahn maintains the team can still get its act together in time to accomplish something meaningful.
How? By waking up, for starters.
“I know that it looks at times that we’ve lost a little bit of that swagger,” he said. “In 2020, even last year, we were an exciting, energetic young team with some swagger and a chip on its shoulder. I feel we need to recapture some of that.”
Making the game more fun again couldn’t hurt, either.
“There’s plenty of personality in there,” Hahn said. “We’ve seen it. When things are going right, we’ve seen it. Even though things haven’t gone quite as well as we had hoped over the course of this year, I think it’s time we see a little bit more of that personality on a daily basis, a little more of that energy and a little bit more of an attitude that we’re going to beat you.”
But this team’s problems run deep. On top of the others already mentioned, there’s no such thing as a home-field edge for the Sox. They needed only 52 home games to lose more times (29) than they did all last season (28). Their longest home winning streak thus far: two games. It’s baffling but, if we’re being honest, the trend of a run-of-the-mill group, an also-ran, a pretender.
“I’m not saying that we’re just flipping a switch, and the swagger’s just going to come back,” Hahn said. “I’m saying that we have confidence in the ability of this group, and I know they have confidence in themselves.”
The addition of one or more excellent players probably would have shaken things up and energized everyone involved, especially the fans. No Bryce Harper or Manny Machado a few years back was one thing. No Shohei Ohtani or Soto this year likely didn’t surprise anyone. But nothing game-changing at all?
In a bad division, maybe the Sox can work with what they have, change their stripes and start winning. If not, a downer of a month is going to turn ugly.