White Sox fans may recall the jovial days of 2017 and 2018 — we couldn’t care less about the major league team, but overwhelming optimism was building about the young guns Rick Hahn and Co. had acquired. Pictures of fans with jerseys featuring a taped-on list of names such as “Moncada; Kopech; Cease; Jimenez; Giolito; Lopez; Dunning…” went viral. After a stretch of five or so lifeless years, life was relatively good.
Flash forward to 2023, and where is that core? Where is the lovable group of six or seven players that form the engine of the team? Truthfully, there is no core. “Friggin’ Jake Burger is the team’s best offensive player,” and he was never truly heralded as a potential core piece.
It would be revisionist history to say there never was something of a core — the 2021 White Sox had a solid nucleus and were legitimate World Series contenders. A few of those players even motored the 2020 team. Still, a true core lasts more than one-and-a-third seasons. Looking north to our inner city rivals, we all know a family who named their dogs, cats, cars, children, you name it — for guys like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, and Kyle Hendricks.
The only equivalent for the White Sox would be Jose Abreu or Tim Anderson, with the former gone and both massively underperforming. No other player on this roster has strung together three successful seasons outside 2019-2021 Lucas Giolito and Aaron Bummer, and both have floundered in one of the last two seasons.
Point blank, there’s just no consistency. Yoan Moncada had stellar seasons in 2019 and 2021, but let’s not talk about the other years. Eloy Jimenez, as much as I love him, is far too injured. Tim Anderson, as well, has missed far too many games. Dylan Cease and Luis Robert Jr. are now establishing themselves as premier players, but it seems too little too late. On the flip side of the coin, Lance Lynn and Yasmani Grandal balled out in 2021, but have aged like milk.
Let’s get analytical and analyze player value in fWAR over the past four full seasons for the key group of players.
|Player||2019||2021||2022||2023 (150-game pace)|
|Luis Robert Jr./td>||N/A||3.4||2.1||5.5|
Look across that board. Not a single player with three consecutive, non-shortened seasons of 3.0 fWAR or more!! That’s almost impossible to do when you amass as many top-100 prospects as the White Sox did over the course of the late 2010s.
What to make of it
Alas, is there one person or thing to blame? Some systemic cause of inconsistency? I believe the harsh truth is that there’s no sole source to blame.
One hypothesis is perhaps the team lacked leadership, and therefore it was difficult for a core to truly gel. I don’t buy this, however, as Abreu was unanimously respected by his peers and, prior to his character concerns, Sox players also rallied behind Anderson. Lynn and Giolito were also commonly referenced as competent teammates and clubhouse voices.
Maybe Tony La Russa just sent everything off-course? Again, I don’t think this stands to reason. Following Ricky Renteria’s respectable 2020 squad, La Russa managed a team to 93 wins with no real clubhouse issues outside of a dispute with Yermin Mercedes (lol). In talking to the media, players consistently backed La Russa as their coach. One look at the state of the 2023 season also reinforces the idea that Sir Tony probably wasn’t the central problem.
Another idea is that the players were just never that good to begin with. Essentially, Rick Hahn and his evaluators were bad judges of talent. Still, I reject this idea—nearly all of the above names performed to expectations in the minor leagues and/or a season of excellent play in the bigs. Hahn can certainly be held accountable for poor decisions in augmenting the roster since 2020 or so, but the core group of prospects and veterans acquired were sound.
Sadly, I don’t think anyone could have predicted such absurd levels of inconsistency across an entire contingent of players. Health issues are to blame for much of the struggles, certainly, but only one or two of these names came with injury concerns when they were added to the organization. There’s just no way to predict that young athletes like Jimenez, Robert Jr, Anderson, and Moncada would miss a combined 400+ games across two-and-a-half seasons.
To be clear, I certainly wouldn’t trust the same group of coaches and fitness professionals to prepare the next White Sox core. There is a systemic inability to turn talent into healthy, consistent stars within the organization, even if a lot of bad luck seems to be involved. Assuming the 2023 squad continues to falter, a complete organizational overhaul seems in order — if you can’t identify a singular main culprit, burn the whole thing to the ground. Only one man stands in the way, and that goes directly to the top of the organization.
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