They didn't fire Sale, but during the offseason they did trade him, setting off a roster fire sale that saw Chicago trade away its pitching and position WAR leaders for hefty prospect hauls while also making a managerial change.2016 At A Glance
Runs Scored: 686
Runs Allowed: 715
Pythag W/L: 78-84
Pitching WAR Leader: Chris Sale
Position WAR Leader: Adam Eaton
The 2016 campaign qualified as Chicago's best in four years, but that wasn't saying much. Another sub-.500 finish spelled the end of Robin Ventura's tenure, which produced only one finish above fourth place, back in 2012.
The story for the Sox was much the same: offensive mediocrity and a pitching staff that lacked superior quality beyond the undoubtedly stellar 1-2 rotation punch of Sale and Jose Quintana. Finally, the front office grew fed up with a formula that seemed to be going nowhere.
During the offseason, Chicago committed to an approach that many have lamented Minnesota's avoidance of during a half-decade of ineptitude: they tore it down. Sale was shipped to Boston in exchange for a premium package headlined by Yoan Moncada, arguably the game's top prospect. Adam Eaton, who was worth more than twice as many wins as any other position player on the team according to FanGraphs, went to Washington with three young pitchers coming back.
Outside of the returns in these blockbusters, the White Sox made no significant additions other than signing Derek Holland – a mid-rotation starter at best – to a one-year deal.
Why They'll Be Better
Well, anything can happen I suppose. They didn't set a particularly high bar last year and it's not like the White Sox are lacking in talent. Moncada is Baseball America's No. 2 prospect, and he's basically MLB-ready after debuting for Boston last September. The second baseman will start the year in Triple-A (mostly for service time reasons) but should be up quickly to partner with shortstop Tim Anderson for one of the game's best young keystone combos.
Right-hander Lucas Giolito, the hard-throwing centerpiece in the Eaton deal, is 25th on BA's prospect list and could soon join Quintana and Carlos Rodon for a potent trio atop the rotation.
If the youth movement can push things along and jell in a hurry, the White Sox have a chance to surprise this summer.
Why They'll Be Worse
It goes without saying that when you take away a team's top two contributors, it's probably going to take a step backward. Chicago doesn't really have anyone on hand to replace Eaton in center field (the presumed starter, Charlie Tillson, has a stress reaction in his foot and is out indefinitely). Of course, no pitcher is going to match the departed dominance of Sale.
In fact, the starting corps is shaping up to be a big old mess. With Rodon experiencing ominous biceps soreness, Chicago figures to open the season with a rotation featuring Quintana and then Holland, James Shields, Miguel Gonzalez and... Dylan Covey?
The expectation is that GM Rick Hahn will shop Quintana around in his continuing efforts to rebuild, especially if things go south early. Closer David Robertson is also potentially on the table. If the White Sox take away the few remaining standout veterans and leave it all in the hands of inexperienced youngsters and marginal players, they could be looking at 100 losses.
It probably wouldn't be the worst outcome. Part of rebuilding, and the part where the Sox have lagged with their habit of being bad-not-awful, is accruing high draft picks and hitting on them. Chicago has selected higher than eighth in the draft only once in the past decade, even with all of those non-competitive seasons. They used that pick (third overall in 2014) to take Rodon, who might be their best starter by year's end.
They'll get the 11th selection this June, but could be on the clock much earlier in 2018. In fact, they're probably counting on it.
~~~Check out the rest of our Central Intelligence series previewing Minnesota's division rivals:
Kansas City Royals
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