The White Sox are walking down the same path as the Houston Astros. Of course, whether they arrive at the same destination remains to be seen.
The Astros went through the same loss-heavy, developmental seasons the White Sox have experienced for the last three years. But their mostly homegrown rebuilding strategy paid off in the form of a World Series championship in 2017, and they remain one of the favorites to win the whole thing this season, too.
That’s what the White Sox are trying to do, obviously.
“They’re certainly one of the best examples of someone who has done it well,” manager Rick Renteria said before Tuesday’s doubleheader against the visiting Astros. “On the North Side, they’ve done a nice job of doing the same thing. I think Cleveland kind of did a little of the same thing a few years back, and they still have the remnants of those guys on that ballclub. And I hope that we are one of those guys that end up doing the same things.”
Impatient White Sox fans sick of the losses that have piled up at the major league level in recent seasons — 95 of them in 2017, 100 more last season and 64 during the team’s first 116 games this year — can look at the same thing happening, to a much greater degree, in Houston several years back. The Astros lost a combined 416 games in four seasons from 2011 to 2014.
Three years after the last of those, a 92-loss campaign in 2014, the Astros were world champs, thanks in large part to a homegrown core of superstars like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.
Well, the White Sox are in the process of building their own homegrown core, with several of those players already on the South Side. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada are in the midst of breakout seasons, with Eloy Jimenez creating plenty of highlights during his rookie season. Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal figure to join that group relatively soon, too.
The White Sox also potentially have something brewing the Astros (and the Cubs and Kansas City Royals before them, for that matter) never managed to accomplish: a mostly homegrown starting rotation. Lucas Giolito was an All Star this season, Reynaldo Lopez is pitching tremendously since the All-Star break, Dylan Cease is here, and Michael Kopech will return to the starting staff in 2020. If you want to include other names like Carlos Rodon, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert in that group, too, go right ahead.
There’s a lot that needs to happen before they do what Giolito said they have the potential to do and become “one of the most dominant rotations in baseball.” But if even three of that group of young arms become good major league starting pitchers, that will be an accomplishment not experienced by the Astros, Cubs or Royals during those teams’ rebuilding projects.
Of course, even if it does happen, it’s not going to stop Rick Hahn’s front office from doing something those three teams did with great success: add high-impact starting pitching from outside the organization. The Astros traded for Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke, so they are the best example, but the Cubs’ franchise-altering signing of Jon Lester and the Royals’ midseason deal for Johnny Cueto led to World Series wins, too.
Hahn has clearly stated that going out and getting some starting pitching will be an offseason priority for the White Sox this winter — maybe a run at Cole? — and so there’s another page he hopes to take from the Astros’ rebuilding playbook.
“Be like the Astros,” though, is much easier said than done. The Astros’ roster is stocked with some of the best players in baseball. And while the White Sox hope the same can be said about them within the next few seasons, is there more to the equation?
The Astros are one game removed from owning the best record in baseball. The White Sox and any other rebuilding team can emulate the way the Astros built their championship-caliber roster. But can the players on the field emulate the Astros, too?
“They play the game the right way,” White Sox catcher James McCann said Tuesday. “Guys hustle down the line. They protect the ball, they don’t make a lot of errors. And you can see the fun that they have on the field in their highlights.
“There’s a confidence, an aura about their team that they give off that is something that every team should look at. I know there’s a fine line between being cocky and arrogant and being confident. They’re definitely a confident team.
“You look at teams and you look at where they are and their expectations, and the natural thing to do is make comparisons. They went through the rebuilding process however many years ago, and obviously now they’re beyond that. But there’s definitely things you can take from every team, and they’re one of those teams that we can definitely take some things from.”
While every team has a window, the Astros have kept adding fuel to their burning contention fire. Rookie slugger Yordan Alvarez has been one of baseball’s best hitters since his big league arrival earlier this season. They went out and traded for Greinke at the deadline. All that after signing Michael Brantley to be one of their everyday outfielders last offseason.
The White Sox minor league depth doesn’t look quite as impressive as it did a few months ago, but there’s at least one more huge name down in the lower levels of the organization in Andrew Vaughn, the slugging first baseman selected in this year’s draft. He doesn’t figure to be joining the big league club two years after a World Series run like Alvarez and the Astros, expected here sooner than that, but he could be another member of that core that comes up and has a huge impact. The White Sox, too, expect one day to be the kind of team that makes big free-agent splashes and swings a pennant-race-altering trade at the deadline, too.
It’s important to note, obviously, that the Astros have reached the top of the baseball mountain and the White Sox are trying to get there. But the South Siders have the ingredients to write a similar rebuilding success story. Time will tell if they’re able to, of course.
But for White Sox fans wondering what all this waiting is for, just look across the field this week. That’s the endgame.
“It is at times a reminder,” McCann said, “to see, ‘Hey, we keep pushing and this is the eventual result.’”