This weekend featured the end of yet another losing season on the South Side, yet another year without October baseball.
If things go according to plan, however, that’s all about to change.
Rick Hahn held his end-of-season press conference Friday, talking about how the White Sox are entering the next stage of their rebuilding process.
“I think we're entering the next stage, and I think that's going to involve continued growth and a path toward heightened competitiveness and far more compelling baseball out there,” he said. “How quickly we get to the most important stage, that being winning, I think it's premature to say right now. I think we have to wait to see what the rest of this roster looks like and then over the course of the early part of the season, see how the young players continue to grow before we can start saying, ‘This team's ready to win a championship.’
“But we're moving to that next stage. It's time now to start having that progress toward a winning team on an annual basis out there, a championship-caliber team ultimately.”
That should be music to White Sox fans’ ears, certainly the ones who have been frustrated with all the losses that have piled up over the last three seasons at the big league level. After losing a combined 195 games in 2017 and 2018, they won’t lose any fewer than 88 games in 2019.
But there’s been plenty that occurred this season to prove that Hahn isn’t selling a fantasy, only pitching a vision with nothing concrete to back it up. The 2019 season proved that the White Sox have a legitimate core in the works, a group of young players who played at All-Star levels that will be here for the long haul.
Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito transformed themselves after disappointing 2018 campaigns into the team’s best all-around hitter, a batting champion and the ace of the staff, respectively. Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease made their major league arrivals. James McCann was a heck of a free-agent find. And Jose Abreu, who figures to be back despite his pending free agency, has been Jose Abreu.
Add minor league stars Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal to that group, the healthy return of Michael Kopech and the fruits of what is expected to be a busy offseason, and the 2020 White Sox could very well have all the ingredients necessary to make the long-awaited transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode.
Two losses this weekend would make for the third straight 90-loss campaign on the South Side, and no one has enjoyed that aspect of this process. Plenty of fans will be unconvinced those fortunes will change until they do, which is understandable.
So what does the “next stage” look like? When will fans know that things are different?
It starts this winter, with Hahn laying out pretty specific plans for what the team will try to do. On the to-do list is a right fielder, a designated hitter and a starting pitcher or two. After last offseason’s aggressive (if ultimately failed) pursuit of Manny Machado, it would not be a surprise to see the White Sox again mentioned as interested in some of the top players on the market. They still have an enormous amount of financial flexibility, another goal of this process.
If the team makes those additions, combining them with the eventual arrivals of Robert, Kopech and Madrigal means four new starters in the everyday lineup and two new starters in the rotation. That’s a pretty hefty amount of adds to a core that already contains Moncada, Anderson, Jimenez, Abreu, McCann, Giolito and Cease.
But, obviously, the defining trait of the “next stage” will be winning — or at the very least more of it. Hahn was hesitant to make any sort of declaration of expectations for 2020 before constructing the roster, probably a wise move. But given the ingredients expected to be in place, it’s no great stretch to suggest that playoff contention could come as soon as next year.
Certainly the players and the manager are ready to put these days behind them, ready to say that the days of losing are over.
“I’m expecting that this is it,” Rick Renteria said earlier this month. “We are trying to win. I think we talk about it, we are going through it. I know there’s still refining to do, but I’ll be honest with you. We are finishing this season, we are talking about coming into next season ready to battle, period, exclamation point. That’s what we are looking to do.”
That’s as strong a statement as you’ll hear about the expectations for this team heading into next season. Or maybe it’s this one from the skipper, asked Friday what he wanted to be talking about at this time next year.
“What I'd like to be talking about,” he said, “how we're fighting for a position in the postseason.”