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Monday, June 6, 2016

Same Trade, Different Year: The White Sox Trade For James Shields and Still Seem Destined to Fail

Six weeks into the 2016 season, the Chicago White Sox sure seemed like the team to beat in the American League. They had a 22-10 record, Chris Sale was unstoppable, Adam Eaton was a crazy good maniac, and the team was on a roll. Five weeks later and the team is in free-fall. They have lost 18 of their past 25 games and currently sit in 3rd place in the AL Central, only a half game up on the 4th place Tigers. In an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging, last Saturday they traded two prospects to the San Diego Padres to acquire starting pitcher James Shields. On its face, it seems like a pretty good trade for the South Siders. They trade away a 26-year-old pitching prospect (who can barely be called a prospect any more) and a crazy young shortstop prospect who may or may not develop (but certainly won’t help the team win now) and get a proven veteran and innings eater- while only paying half of his salary. As The Ringer wrote, it’s a deal that shows the White Sox are serious about competing this year.

Considering how hard I lambasted the Royals when they traded for James Shields a few years ago, and considering how (relatively) successful the trade turned out to be proving me (and most baseball commentators) wrong, I am not going to comment on whether or not this was a good trade for the White Sox. However, I am upset because this has been the White Sox M.O. since the mid-2000’s when Kenny Williams was still the General Manager- and for the most part this strategy has been wildly unsuccessful.

Former White Sox G.M. has always been a tinkerer. That’s just who he is has an Office Guy. Williams has had success with that approach as the Pale Hose won a World Series in 2005 thanks to a scrap heap of talent Williams had acquired over the past few prior seasons. People love to shit on that ’05 White Sox team, but that’s wildly offensive and diminishes the talent and proven on-field success the team had. But I get why that ’05 team is generally dismissed, because it is not replicable. No one would consider Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, and Jose Contreras amazing pitchers, but the White Sox struck lightning-in-a-bottle and those guys led to a great rotation for one year.

I will always take the Championship over any sort of regular season success or possible future outcomes, but the 2005 World Series win has hurt the White Sox ever since. The win justified and solidified Kenny Williams’ thinking and approach to baseball and has led to most of the moves the White Sox have made in the past ten plus years since. Kenny Williams, with the help of owner Jerry Reinsdorf, have always taken the approach that you can purchase a great team versus building it up from scratch. With Chris Sale as Exhibit A, the Pale Hose do not ALWAYS take this approach, but they have shown time and time again that their farm system is more useful as trade bait than as a way to build a franchise.

Since the White Sox won the World Series they have traded for Jim Thome, Javier Vazquez, Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez, Nick Swisher, Alex Rios, Jake Peavy, Jeff Samardzija, and Todd Frazier and have traded away Gio Gonzalez (twice) and Daniel Hudson along with essentially every player that has started a game for them. On paper, practically all of those deals have either worked out in the White Sox favor or haven’t come back to bite them (terribly hard) in the ass. The problem though, is after all of these trades, the White Sox are in the same place that they started- outside of the playoffs. Since 2005, the South Siders have been to the playoffs a grand total of one time- in 2008 where they lost in the first round to the Tampa Bay Rays. Since the Sox’s 90 win team in 2006, the team hasn’t won more than 85 games outside of that 2008 season. For all of Kenny Williams’s tinkering, the White Sox have practically not had any success.

What’s even more frustrating is seeing the success of Chicago’s other baseball team. GM Jed Hoyer and executive Theo Epstein have created a juggernaut for the Chicago Cubs after years of being bad and rebuilding. They’ve created a solid corps of incredible young talent and only made big offseason moves once the team was ready to win. The Cubs currently have the best record in baseball and certainly seem like the team to beat not only this year, but in the years to come. Only time will tell if the Cubs will win the World Series, but regardless, Hoyer and Epstein have assembled a fun team that will at minimum be competitive in the near future. They have not relied on luck, but rather skill and talent. Not long ago, the Chicago Cubs were an atrocious team, but that was just a placeholder while upper management got their dynasty ready.

Contrast that to the White Sox who have just been atrocious yet still refuse to build up a farm system for the future. The Cubs were bad, but collected young talent during that time frame to get themselves back in contention. Whereas the White Sox have been bad, yet attempted to continue to purchase veterans to maybe get good for the next year (or guys like Manny and Griffey to sell jerseys). While I don’t have any proof or statements to back this up, it certainly feels that the White Sox as an organization believe that they always have to be competitive and have the appearance of trying to win in order to attract fans and butts in the seats during home games. While I’ll always remain a loyal White Sox fan, I know the South Siders don’t have a huge loyal core the ways the Cubbies do. I think the organization believes that they can never bottom out the way the Cubs did because they can’t afford to lose any fans and always needs to try to gain new fans. The ironic part is that the White Sox remains an organization that consistently loses anyways.

I really hope James Shields adds a shot of adrenaline to this White Sox team and that they win the AL Central and win a pennant. Nothing would make me happier than to see the Pale Hose winning. But I know that this trade is just a symptom of a larger issue. Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf are still running the organization and still calling most, if not all, of the shots. This 2016 White Sox team is still the same team that Williams and Reinsdorf believe they can buy their way into Championship contention. Maybe they eventually will stumble into it again the way they did in 2005. Ultimately though, I wouldn’t mind an organizational overhaul and for the team to take the approach that their Northern compatriots are taking. In the end, that would be more fun. 



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