GLENDALE, Ariz. — The first image a lot of White Sox fans saw from spring training was doctored.
I hate to break it to you, but the White Sox have not preemptively erected three years' worth of world championships on the outside of their facility here at Camelback Ranch. It was all just Instagram magic, courtesy of Nicky Delmonico. The lack of commas really gives it away.
There are probably a lot of folks out there rolling their eyes, raising their eyebrows or perhaps even spit-taking over the latest example of Delmonico's unbridled optimism.
Even if Manny Machado's unending free agency concludes with him in black pinstripes, the White Sox are not expected to contend for a playoff spot in 2019 — and certainly not a World Series championship.
But, hey, this is kind of Delmonico's thing. Last year about this time, he was telling Our Chuck Garfien that the 2018 White Sox were going to "surprise the world." Presumably, he meant they would surprise in a good way. Instead, they lost 100 games.
But hope springs eternal, and spring has arrived. With it comes the latest bout of optimism.
"We’re hungry," Delmonico said Tuesday, a day before pitchers and catchers are due to report and White Sox spring training officially gets going. "When you come off a 100-loss season, it kind of pisses you off. And I think we’re all in the same group and the same schedule of what we want to do this year and how we want to go about our business.
"Why not? That’s why you play. Every year you’ve got to have a goal. And if it’s not to be in the World Series, then what are you working for?"
You'd think everyone would have learned their lesson after last year, when Delmonico talked of a surprise that never came. General manager Rick Hahn, in discussing this offseason's pursuits of Machado and Bryce Harper. has referenced the suggestion it might be a year early to consider penciling this rebuilding team into contention. In 2019, Opening Day will likely come without Eloy Jimenez on the roster. It will come without Dylan Cease and Luis Robert on the roster. It will come with Michael Kopech on the disabled list, where he's expected to remain until Opening Day 2020. That doesn't spell contender, and it points to a year down the road being the one when things finally transition from rebuilding to contending.
But that's not what the beginning of spring training is about for these guys. They're here to work. They're here to, well, surprise the world.
"We feel like we can take our division," Delmonico said, confidently aiming for something a rung or two below the digital redecorating he did on the outside of the facility. "If we stay healthy, put the things right, go out there and handle our business, I think we can go out there and compete with any team.
"We had a lot of things go wrong (in 2018), people getting hurt. I feel like we’re hungry. And that can be dangerous. We’ve just got to go into camp and get the little things right."
And, while perhaps unlikely, it's not the world's most insane declaration, that the White Sox, following up a 100-loss campaign, could threaten for the crown in the weak American League Central or compete with a bunch of other teams in the same spot they are for an AL wild card berth.
Beyond the Cleveland Indians — a team whose contention window is shrinking to the point where they've entertained offers for some of their best players this winter — none of the other three teams in the division should scare the White Sox. The Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers are further behind in their own rebuilds than the White Sox ever were, and while the Minnesota Twins have been active this offseason, whether they've built a roster capable of contending remains to be seen.
And outside the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Houston Astros, which teams outside the Central are playoff locks? The next best team is ... the Tampa Bay Rays? The Oakland Athletics? The Los Angeles Angels have been to the postseason a grand total of one time since Mike Trout has been a big leaguer.
Joining Delmonico in his optimism surrounding this team might be a leap for a lot of White Sox fans. But it's not exactly impossible to see where he's coming from.
This isn't an effort to pump up expectations or to try to sell tickets on the metaphorical bandwagon. The White Sox are coming off a 100-loss campaign and seem set — regardless of where a certain free-agent infielder might finally land — to focus on another year of development at both the major league and minor league level.
But for the guys getting to work this week out in the desert, it's about more than that. It's about contending now. It's about doing a little redecorating on the outside of the facility.
Hope springs eternal. Welcome to spring training.
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