Could Jose Abreu’s success screw up the plan?
When they began their roster overhaul during last summer’s 99-loss disaster, the White Sox hoped they could reverse their fortunes and become an annual contender by 2015 or 2016.
This season, they opined, would be a blank slate in which their young core could develop in the big leagues. At the same time, the replenishment of a once-depleted farm system could continue with top-tier talent added in the amateur draft and international free agency.
But with Abreu’s record-breaking production powering the offense, the White Sox might have to rethink those plans. While much needs to be proven and significant developments must take place for the 14-15 White Sox, 5-1 losers to the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field, general manager Rick Hahn said the club wouldn’t easily dismiss a chance to contend in 2014.
“No one appreciates as much as Jerry (Reindsorf), Kenny (Williams) and myself how sacred are chances to win,” Hahn said. “You can’t turn your nose up at them. You can’t think ‘We’re in good shape this year, but we’re not going to go for it because we’ll always have next year.’ Nothing is guaranteed in terms of your future playoff appearances.
“At the same time, our intent going into this was to build something sustainable, something that was going to contend for multiple championships over an extended period of time. Part of doing that is not doing anything short-sighted or trying to avoid doing anything short-sighted or emotional to try to chase something that is not attainable.”
After Abreu’s record-setting month, some of the White Sox opponents’ believe they’re already in position to contend. Over the weekend, after he watched Abreu pummel the Tampa Bay Rays, manager Joe Maddon said the slugger has had a similar impact on the organization to the one Miguel Cabrera has had in Detroit when he arrived in 2008 and the one Albert Pujols had on the St. Louis Cardinals. Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander said after Tuesday’s win over the White Sox he’s impressed with the South Siders’ offense.
“These guys, the way they've been scoring runs, they're absolutely a contender,” Verlander said.
But nice as those plaudits are, the White Sox will need more evidence before they try to upgrade the roster in season. Still, there’s a sense in the clubhouse the potential is there after the White Sox survived a difficult early schedule with a bruised and battered roster. Seven players have already seen time on the disabled list this season.
“You’d like it to be better,” manager Robin Ventura said. “But when you’re dealing with injuries and things like that, at least you’re still in the mix. Guys offensively had a good month, and you just want to keep that up and play better.”
So what must be better?
At the forefront of those needs is the safe return and health of two-time All Star Chris Sale, who is eligible but unlikely to come off the DL on Saturday.
For the White Sox to contend, Sale must be healthy.
Second would be continued production from an offense that, even after it was shut out by Max Scherzer and Co. on Wednesday, has averaged 5.28 runs per game. If the White Sox can adjust to the adjustments pitchers make to them, Hahn knows he has a potent offense considering much of the team’s early production has come in chilly weather.
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The White Sox also need to see continued development from a bullpen that has begun to steady even though Nate Jones looks nowhere near ready to return. And, even if Sale’s back, they still need another starting pitcher or two, whether it’s Scott Carroll, Andre Rienzo, Felipe Paulino or possibly Tommy Hanson, to deliver consistency to the rotation.
A boost in attendance probably wouldn’t hurt either, though Hahn didn’t want to discuss that topic. The White Sox ranked 13th out of 15 American League teams before Wednesday, per baseball-reference.com.
“But if we’re in a position to win it’s not an opportunity we’ll take lightly,” Hahn said. “It’s one that we will try to feed but do so in a way that doesn’t compromise our ability to do this on an annual basis.”
In its current form, the White Sox farm system isn’t loaded from top to bottom the way they’d like.
The system has produced Marcus Semien, Daniel Webb and Jacob Petricka, all of whom have played a role in the team’s early success. The White Sox also have talented players ready or close to joining the big leagues in Matt Davidson, Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez. Hahn also cited the development of Trayce Thompson.
But whereas the team is rich in middle infielders, it doesn’t boast depth in other areas.
Hahn and the front office are hopeful a $15 million talent infusion through the draft and international signings this summer can remedy that. But ripping apart the farm system to contend would be a difficult decision, Hahn said.
Still, considering where they stood at the end of 2013, when things were as bleak as they’ve been at any time in the franchise’s history, Hahn would take it.
“If there is the right fit with a potential trade partner we could conceivably dip into some depth and not compromise that going forward,” Hahn said. “But it is going to be a balancing act. I’ll classify that as a good problem to have, but it’d be something we have to not take lightly.”