There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic as a White Sox fan right now. Through two years of a complete rebuild, the Sox have built a farm system that rivals any in baseball. On paper they should be ready to compete for championships in a few years.
But championships and consistent winners are not won or built on paper. With great hope and expectations comes great pressure, and with a team like the White Sox, the pressure is even greater in times like these.
A recent post by From The 108 on White Sox irrelevance inspired me to go a bit deeper with my thoughts on the future. While things are certainly looking up, there are also many reasons to be anxious about what could lie ahead in the White Sox long term future if things don’t go well.
There is no question that the White Sox have completely slipped from relevance (if they were even consistently relevant to begin with). The Sox have only made the postseason five times (1983, 1993, 2000, 2005, 2008) since the divisional format began, and have never made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. It’s now been ten years since the White Sox last made the postseason back in 2008. They haven’t had a winning record since 2012.
With such high stakes in modern sports, I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that this current rebuild is the White Sox last chance to gain relevance.
While the Sox aren’t the first franchise to experience a long playoff drought, they have a distinct disadvantage of having to share their city with another team. And not just “another team,” but arguably the best organization in baseball that has built a national brand and fanbase that rivals any in sports.
The Sox irrelevance has become a bigger issue due to the rise of the Cubs. In the last ten years since the Sox last made the playoffs, the Cubs have gotten stable ownership, completed a full rebuild, won 100 games, won two division titles, have made the postseason four straight years, had three straight NLCS appearances, and won their first World Series championship in 108 years.
While the teams are not direct ‘rivals’ on the diamond, they are absolutely rivals for eyeballs and attention in this city, and right now the Cubs own the White Sox in every way possible. And with the upcoming ‘Cubs Network’ TV deal, the Northsiders will continue to expand their media empire across a city that already ignores the White Sox.
We should credit the Sox for seeing the writing on the wall after the 2016 season. The status quo was no longer going to get the job done. They had to push all of their chips into the middle and try to emulate a total rebuild from the ground up, and for the most part they have succeeded in giving themselves a chance. The Sox placed their hope in Rick Hahn and Nick Hostetler to build a team and new culture that could save the franchise.
The Astros whiffed on two No. 1 draft picks, and still built a championship team that will be great for years. The Sox don’t have to be perfect, but they have to be right more than they’re wrong, and a little luck won’t hurt. That’s the pressure that comes with building a consistent winner at the big league level, something they have failed to do for decades.
It’s also no secret that the Sox are going to have to spend money on free agents like they never have before. Tossing small sums at stars and giving contracts to guys past their prime is not acceptable any more. The White Sox have to spend big if they want to win big. Landing a huge free agent like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, or Nolan Arenado will be critical to showing the league and the fans that ownership is serious about making the Sox great. Signing star players will bring eyeballs and put butts in seats.
I want to tread lightly here, but another elephant in the room is the fact that Jerry Reinsdorf isn’t getting any younger. There is a potentially dark timeline where the White Sox ownership situation, God forbid, suddenly becomes very unstable. If the team on the field still isn’t stable when that happens then things could unravel quickly.
Will potential new ownership demand a brand new stadium? That may seem crazy, but teams like the Braves and Rangers have abandoned their staduims that were similar ages to The Rate in the past few years. ‘Modern’ stadiums mean new streams of revenue for teams. New ownership and a stadium battle in a state and city that are already broke is not a recipe for anything good. If the rebuild is failing and the team is still losing with no hope in sight, we’re gonna start having more off the field issues.
Again, a lot of this is worst case scenario stuff. But it’s still worth pointing out the gravity of what’s at stake.
We often say that when the Sox are winning the fans will show up, and that is true. I genuinly believe there is a dormant Sox fanbase that’s dying to support a consistent winner. But a successful rebuild doesn’t mean just winning one title. Catching lightning in a bottle (2005) is no longer going to be acceptable. The goal is to build a stable franchise and consistently competitive baseball team that is set on a firm foundation for years to come.
If that doesn’t happen, I’m not convinced I’ll be able to pass down White Sox baseball to my future kids.