The race to the bottom kicks into high gear this weekend on the South Side.
No, there won’t be the same sort of atmosphere that accompanies the actual pennant races happening elsewhere around the league at this time of year, but you could argue that the stakes are similarly high for the teams with two of the three worst records in baseball.
The White Sox and the visiting San Francisco Giants are a combined 67.5 games out of first place in their divisions, at the tail end of a couple last-place seasons, but they’ll be fighting for the No. 1 pick in next summer’s draft this weekend and throughout the remainder of September. Both are competing with the team with baseball’s worst record, the Philadelphia Phillies, and all three squads are within a game and a half of each other at the bottom of baseball’s standings.
Now, as manager Rick Renteria explained and as you surely could have guessed, obviously these teams aren’t trying to lose to improve their draft position. It’s been a tough year in all three cities. The White Sox are in the early stages of their rebuild. The Phillies are trying to crawl out of theirs. And the Giants are having a very uncharacteristic season after failing to make it four straight Even Year championships last October.
Getting the No. 1 pick isn’t on the minds of those in either of the dugouts this weekend at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“I think their club and our club and every club that plays Major League Baseball tries to go out honestly and tries to perform well, tries to win a ballgame,” Renteria said. “I think all those things take care of themselves. They’re not something I think about, worry about, concern myself with.
“My biggest concern is, are the players doing what they’re supposed to do, are they gaining experience and knowledge and are they dealing with situations that occur at any given moment properly? And the rest, it is what it is.”
But while the managers and players aren’t thinking about next year’s draft, the fans certainly are. And while there will be nothing that happens this weekend that affects baseball’s exciting pennant races, it’s anything but a meaningless trio of games, as it could have a huge impact on who gets to pick first next June. That provides some reason to pay attention over the final month of the season as the White Sox finish out a last-place campaign.
Getting the No. 1 pick could be huge, obviously, as it would give Rick Hahn a golden opportunity to add a franchise-changing player to his already remarkable cadre of highly ranked prospects in the minor leagues. Top picks over the past decade and a half have included some of baseball’s best players: Carlos Correa, Gerrit Cole, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, David Price, Justin Upton and Joe Mauer. Imagine adding someone like that to an existing group of prospects that includes Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez, Alec Hansen, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dane Dunning and Luis Robert.
But while the race to the bottom is a moderately fun thing to follow over the season’s final month, it’s important to note that no matter the White Sox pick, there will be opportunity to add an incredible talent — as well as the usual pitfalls of a guy not panning out.
There have been No. 1 busts like Bryan Bullinger, Matt Bush and Luke Hochevar. And similarly there have been perennial All Stars taken at Nos. 2 and 3: Kris Bryant, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon and Justin Verlander were No. 2 picks, while Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Evan Longoria all went at No. 3. The White Sox spent a No. 3 pick on Carlos Rodon three years ago, and they’re hoping he’ll be at the top of their rotation of the future.
It might be fun this weekend to follow the standings closely and see if the White Sox can better position themselves for the first choice in the draft. But at the same time remember that this last-place season’s silver lining means a pick at the top of that draft, even if it’s not the first one. And as history has shown, there’s franchise-altering talent to be found at one, two and three.
So get ready for another high-profile addition to the White Sox rebuild.