To some, it may feel like just yesterday. After months of anticipation, missing out on Manny Machado was bad enough, and the apparent disconnect within the front office in the following weeks did not help matters. The Machado saga had taken so long that there was no time to pivot to other targets, as Spring Training was well underway. Immediately, optimistic Sox fans looked for reasons to be excited for the season. Would Eloy Jimenez be an offensive force right off the bat? Would Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson make leaps from average starters to all-star caliber players? Would a pitcher such as Lucas Giolito surprise us and cement himself into the future rotation?
Even for an optimist, all of those scenarios coming to fruition may have seemed unlikely. Yet, as things stand at the all-star break, not only have all four of the aforementioned players met or exceeded expectations, but they have done so in an undeniable manner. Giolito has legitimately been one of the best pitchers in baseball, Moncada and Anderson (when healthy) have consistently been in the top 50 most valuable position players in the sport, per Fangraphs, and Jimenez is starting to come into his own as a middle of the order power bat. There is evidence to suggest that these are no flukes, either.
While everyone knew how talented these four players are, seeing them each evolve together has been a pleasure to watch. Other surprises, such as the dominant Aaron Bummer and James McCann, have aided the core players and contributed to the team’s general competence.
This is not to say that the miserable offseason was actually a good thing. The White Sox still should have signed Machado, who would slot in as a major upgrade over Yolmer Sanchez and his 75 wRC+. Rather, we can at least take solace in knowing that things could be a lot worse. If Giolito, Moncada, Anderson, and Jimenez were not emerging as stars but were struggling mightily in 2019, the fanbase might have just collectively given up after the heartbreak of the offseason. Now, these young, cost-controlled stars bring a chance at redemption for the front office. Free agency has been forever changed due to the past offseason, as evidenced by the exorbitant amount of team-friendly extensions signed throughout the league in March. Regardless, the hard part is out of the way, and the White Sox do not necessarily need to sign a star player. They could, and arguably should, but given that a young core of cornerstone pieces is emerging (without including Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal, or Andrew Vaughn, by the way), the Sox figure to have a solid amount of depth.
With such depth, the team finds itself in a position unlike the 2009-2016 era of having a few good players and a ton of mediocre free agent signings. The White Sox will have enough good players that they will not need to sign a dozen free agents. Instead, the team can execute a plan consisting of a few significant moves: acquiring a controllable starting pitcher or two, signing a corner outfielder, and perhaps adding a catcher to ease the load off McCann and to allow Zack Collins to move into an Evan Gattis DH/1B/C role. In doing so, we would not be seeing a repeat of those failed attempts at playoff berths. This time around, the front office would be supplementing a critical mass of young talent with a smaller quantity but better quality of veterans.
The past offseason was an awful experience for White Sox fans, but the improvement of the core players, the unexpected contributions of players such as Bummer and McCann, and the in-season arrival of prospects such as Collins have made the team fun to watch. If the core finishes the season playing this well, the bitterness of the offseason may be forgotten. If the front office comes through this offseason and supplements the core with a few high quality veteran additions, then the 2020 playoff discussion will rightfully begin. Compared to where the fanbase was at just 3 months ago, the warranted excitement around the team has been a needed and outstanding development.
Featured Photo: Sports Illustrated