White Sox on sell phone? Poor start points them in dealing direction

“We can’t dig ourselves an even deeper hole,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “We have to make a move here soon.”

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White Sox starting pitcher Lucas Giolito could be traded before season’s end if the Sox don’t start winning.

White Sox starting pitcher Lucas Giolito could be traded before season’s end if the Sox don’t start winning.

Charlie Riedel)/AP

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The White Sox entered Tuesday at 12-24, a deplorable record no one saw coming after they opened the season with a four-game split against the Astros.

How bad is it? Only seven weeks into the season, the front office must be contemplating a scenario in which it essentially gives up on it, starts trading assets and looks ahead to next season.

While it stood to reason that being sellers at the trade deadline could happen with a poor start, that possibility being a no-brainer was not. On paper, the Sox looked like an 84- or 85-win team, which in the American League Central puts you in the postseason picture through most of September. FanGraphs gave the Sox a 21.5% chance of winning a winnable division before the season started.

Even now, the AL Central presents a fool’s-gold temptation to keep the faith. The Twins are on top at 19-17, and the defending division champion Guardians are at 17-19. The Tigers are a half-game below the Guardians in third place.

The Sox were 7½ games out of first going into their game against the Royals on Tuesday. So, despite their record, they’re one very good week or stretch from a mini-revival.

“We have a team that can compete in this division regardless of where we are at right now,” manager Pedro Grifol said Tuesday, also noting the Sox’ 3-3 record against the Twins.

“This is a good division to be in.”

Indeed it is, but if and when the front office is faced with the reality that the worst division in baseball is too good for the Sox, and that a rebuild that began in 2016 produced one wild-card berth in the abbreviated 2020 season, a division title in 2021 and nothing more, it will be time to shop starting pitcher Lucas Giolito, relievers Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly and perhaps others to teams with legitimate postseason plans.

Giolito becomes a free agent after the season. Graveman is owed $8 million this season and next, and Kelly is in the second year of a $17 million deal.

Besides Giolito, the list of Sox who are potential free agents after the season and therefore potential trade chips includes right-handers Mike Clevinger, Reynaldo Lopez and Keynan Middleton, catcher Yasmani Grandal and infielder Elvis Andrus.

The Sox’ loss Monday to the lowly Royals in the first game of a four-game series with Opening Day starter Dylan Cease pitching signaled another short circuit for a team that had won five of seven after a stunning 10-game losing streak.

If Cease isn’t something close to the Cy Young contender he was in 2022 — and he hasn’t been with an 8.25 ERA in his last five starts — then what’s the use in pretending to be anything but a seller at the deadline?

Cease has two years of salary arbitration remaining and, despite struggles in his first eight starts, would have big trade value, but dealing him would make sense only in another teardown, which chairman Jerry Reinsdorf probably isn’t willing to do.

Yoan Moncada, due for $24 million in base salary next season, is under club control through 2025; Tim Anderson, due for $14 million next season, can become a free agent in 2025. Eloy Jimenez is under club control through 2026, when he’ll make $18.5 million, but Moncada’s and Jimenez’s injury histories probably affect their trade values.

In any event, the Sox could be one of baseball’s most intriguing teams to watch as the deadline approaches, but not what they aspired to be when Giolito was acquired along with Lopez and Dane Dunning for Adam Eaton in one of the big teardown trades of 2016.

Only a turnaround will prevent the front office from going into seller mode.

“We can’t dig ourselves an even deeper hole,” Grifol said. “We have to make a move here soon.”

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