The White Sox are in the painful part of their rebuilding effort, 30 games under .500 in a season where positives have been hard to come by.
The future is undoubtedly bright, but such has been the case for many rebuilding teams over the years. Exhibit A: the Kansas City Royals, on the South Side for three games this weekend.
The Crowns’ much-ballyhooed rebuild landed them on the cover of Sports Illustrated and culminated with their emergence from the depths of the AL Central for back-to-back pennants and a World Series win in 2015. It was a wild amount of success for a franchise that went two decades without a playoff appearance, let alone a championship.
No Kansas City baseball fan would trade in those two seasons — which one could argue came a stop at third base away from being two championship seasons — but it’s been an incredible fall from that point since. The Royals went from reigning champs to a third-place team, and they’re now without two of the biggest pieces of those teams — Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, who signed free-agent deals elsewhere this past offseason — and languish in last place.
Essentially, they’re back to square one.
And so the question is an obvious one: Was it worth it? All that time spent developing a generation of top draft picks into a championship roster, and though a championship is a darn fine destination to reach, it was gone in a Thanos-esque snap.
The pre-World Series Royals and the modern-day White Sox are hardly similar cases. The Crowns did nothing in terms of winning following their first World Series title in 1985. Dayton Moore’s rebuilding project didn’t involve tearing things down because, it can be argued, there was nothing to tear down. Rick Hahn, meanwhile, has traded away All-Star players, including a couple of the best pitchers in the game, in an effort to acquire talent that will get the White Sox back to the top of the baseball mountain.
But both teams were “sacrificing seasons,” in a way. The Royals had nowhere near the average expectations that the White Sox carried during their win-now period that featured big-money free-agent signings and acquiring some of the game’s biggest names. Still, none of that worked, and it’s been a decade since the White Sox were last in the playoffs.
That’s led to this point, where there are more important things than major league wins in 2018 for this organization. Hahn’s carefully laid rebuilding plans seem to have the White Sox lined up for what he often refers to as “long-term success,” an annual expectation of contention for World Series championships. But what if the success reaches only what the Royals achieved? Will this process be worth it for White Sox fans?
Certainly the Royals are their own case. Other rebuilding success stories, such as the Cubs and Houston Astros, seem to be nowhere near tumbling back into the mediocrity (or worse) that preceded their World Series wins. The Cubs and Astros are currently two of baseball’s top championship contenders. Though even those fan bases — to this point, with just one championship parade apiece — might have that question in the back of their minds: If one title is all they yielded, were the three, four, five years of last-place finishes worth it?
For a number of fans, the answer could very well be yes. While expectations seem to rise by the second on the North Side, there are plenty of long-suffering Cubs fans who were completely sated by 2016’s result. Surely there are similar feelings in Houston, as well, and Kansas City, for that matter.
Would one championship — and one championship only — satisfy White Sox fans who are currently sitting through this process? It probably would satisfy some, perhaps many.
But that’s not what Hahn is trying to do. Looking at that possibility might count as pessimistic, though there’s an embodiment of that possibility in the White Sox own division. Hahn, though, has acquired an awful lot of talent, referring to the depth as “waves” that could continue to power contenders for years to come. There are enough star prospects at this point to make two entire squads of future White Sox winners.
Do all those prospects win one championship? Two? More? At what point was the losing worth it?
Hahn and the White Sox are hoping and planning that it ends up being very much worth it, or else things wouldn’t be in the current state. But the prospect of winning just one championship — or no championships — is a real one. Even if rebuilding brings success, it brings no guarantee of sustained success.
The White Sox need to only look across the field — and beneath them in the standings — to know that.