Meaningful baseball in September. Playoff baseball in October.
That’s what White Sox fans have been waiting and hoping for since the rebuild began back in 2016.
“Wait till next year” never beats “this is the year.”
So, when might that day come?
Even before Rick Hahn and the front office have made a single move in what could be an active offseason, veteran catcher James McCann gave his own prognosis for 2020, a forecast that would make for a nice billboard on the Dan Ryan Expressway.
“Next year is the year to watch out for the White Sox,” McCann told NBC Sports Chicago. “There’s talent here that’s in place. I believe in the front office and their visions for what’s needed to add to this team to make us a big-time contender.”
McCann has played with winning talents like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, David Price and Justin Verlander. Same with pitcher Ivan Nova, who’s been teammates with the likes of Derek Jeter, C.C Sabathia, Mariano Rivera and Andrew McCutchen.
They know winning teams — and losing teams — when they see them.
“Playoff contender soon,” Nova said emphatically about the White Sox.
“Soon,” Nova repeated.
2020 seems like the year when the window should start to open for the White Sox.
“I look to obviously contend,” McCann said about next season.
After watching his team lose two of three to the lowly Kansas City Royals on Thursday, clinching their seventh straight losing season, manager Rick Renteria echoed the same sentiments about where the White Sox are — and where many on the team believe they’re headed.
“I’m expecting that this is it,” Renteria said, asked if he thinks 2019 will mark the end of this losing era. “We’re trying to win. We talk about it, we’re going through it. I know there’s still some refining to do, but I’ll be honest with you, we’re coming in, we’re finishing this season, we’re talking about coming into next season ready to battle. Period. Exclamation point. That’s what we’re looking to do.”
For that to happen, you can point to several areas for that to become a reality. Some of those players are already here. Others are not.
The big three of Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada need to continue their rise as bona fide major leaguers and budding superstars. The key pieces of Eloy Jimenez, Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease will hopefully follow in that trio's footsteps and have breakout seasons of their own next year. There’s also Michael Kopech, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal — three players not here in 2019 but whose lockers are seemingly waiting for them in 2020.
Fans and media aren’t the only ones impatiently awaiting their arrival.
“I saw (Kopech’s) debut on TV,” said Nova, who was with the Pittsburgh Pirates during Kopech’s rain-shortened debut against the Minnesota Twins last August, when he had four strikeouts in two scoreless innings before the skies opened in front of that memorable, electric crowd. “Dirty. Throwing 100 miles per hour with lots of good stuff.”
“Madrigal, he’s a small guy, but very smart. He can hit. Robert is going to hit 30 homers. Madrigal is going to hit .300 and steal 30 bases and make a lot of diving plays out there and a lot of double plays.”
Sounds good to me.
Nova was hoping that the White Sox would call up Robert this year.
“That’s my personal opinion,” he said.
You don’t need to be a Sabermetrician to know that the White Sox can help themselves at three key positions next season. Adding a proven right fielder with some pop feels like a must. It’s an added plus if he bats left-handed. The DH position can certainly use an upgrade. Entering Thursday, White Sox designated hitters had collectively slashed .195/.273/.322 in 2019. That’s not good. Signing or acquiring a veteran starting pitcher who can help lead the staff and reduce some of the burden on Giolito and the rest of the rotation could go a long way, as well.
Whoever the White Sox add this offseason, via free agency or trade, will walk into a clubhouse coming off a losing season. But according to McCann, this group's core talent and culture has it ready to take off.
“Guys play for each other. They root for each other. They pull for each other. Everyone wants the guy sitting next to him to succeed. As much as you hate it, there are teams that don’t have that type of feel within a clubhouse,” McCann said.
Oh, like the Pittsburgh Pirates? Nova’s former team has been in crisis mode for most of the season. This week, All-Star closer Felipe Vazquez got into a fight in the clubhouse with fellow reliever Kyle Crick because of the music Crick was playing at his locker. Vazquez ended up needing six stitches to fix his nose. Crick needed surgery to repair a tendon in his index finger. He’s out for the season. In July, reliever Keone Kela was suspended for two games for arguing with a coach. Same with bullpen coach Euclides Rojas, who got into a fight with Crick earlier this season.
The Pirates are a mess.
The White Sox don't have those kinds of problems.
“There really hasn’t been one clubhouse disgruntlement all season,” McCann revealed.
That could be a major league record.
“That’s very rare. Even the World Series teams, there are guys who don’t always get along,” McCann continued. “But you look around this room and everybody gets along. Everybody respects each other, treats each other the way they’d want to be treated.
"The word that comes to mind is understanding. Everyone comes from a different background, everyone is going to have different views, everybody is going to go about trying to accomplish the one goal as a team differently and everyone understands where people are coming from and everyone respects each other. That’s a huge thing inside a clubhouse and the chemistry that comes from being around each other.”
Of course, talent has a lot to do with winning. The White Sox have some of that already. More is on the way. How much more? We’ll have a better idea come spring training.
In the meantime, veterans McCann and Nova believe a foundation is in place for sustained success. So much so, that Nova, who is set to become a free agent, wants to be around for it.
“If I can stay here and not move, I’ll be happy,” Nova said. “A lot of players go where the money’s at. I respect that. But if you can get money and play at a place where you feel comfortable, if it’s possible and you can have that choice. So if it’s possible and I can stay here and we can find a way to make it happen, I would be more than welcome it.”
Whether Nova is here or not, there’s one thing all White Sox fans will embrace: winning baseball.
Hopefully, that’s coming next.