Wait 'Til Next Year: Chicago White Sox
While so much of our day-to-day attention in this space is devoted to the teams still battling for playoff spots, we feel as though it’s only fitting to acknowledge the teams that have been mathematically eliminated from contention, giving them a brief sendoff that should suffice until Hot Stove season. Thus, the Wait ‘Til Next Year series.
Current Record: 58-85 (.406, 5th in AL Central)
Mathematically eliminated: Sept. 6
What went right in 2013: Chris Sale, who signed a five-year extension last March, has shown no ill-effects from his 121-inning workload increase in 2012, and he has actually improved on his inaugural year in the rotation with a season that has once again put him in the Cy Young chase. The Sox have also enjoyed strong sophomore seasons from fellow lefty starters Jose Quintana, who improved his strikeout rate by more than two per nine innings, and Hector Santiago. (At 25, Santiago is the oldest of that trio.) Veteran lefthander John Danks returned in late May from major shoulder surgery to make his first starts in more than a year and has held his own, offering some hope that his five-year, $65 million deal, which lasts through 2016, won't be a total bust.
Also, Jake Peavy stayed healthy long enough, and pitched well enough, that the team was able to flip him at the deadline in a three-way trade that brought multi-tool outfield prospect Avisail Garcia from Detroit (where the Tigers were desperate to replace the suspended Johnny Peralta at shortstop) to Chicago. For a team with a weak farm system -- but for whom young starting pitching is a strength -- trading the veteran Peavy for a hitting prospect was exactly what the White Sox needed, and it's even better that the prospect they acquired came from the best team in their division.
Chicago has also gotten good performances from its bullpen and, as a whole, its pitchers have combined for the sixth-best ERA+ in baseball.
What went wrong in 2013: Notice that all of the things that went right had to do with pitching? The White Sox' offense was the source of all their misery this year. To this point in the season, only the Marlins have scored less often than Chicago's 3.75 runs per game. Even the Astros outscored the White Sox this year.
Paul Konerko's late-career renaissance came to an end as the 37-year-old DH has hit a mere .248/.320/.360 while struggling with back pain. With the exception of Garcia, no one on the team has posted an on-base percentage above second baseman Gordon Beckham's .329 thus far, and only first baseman Adam Dunn has slugged above left fielder Dayan Viciedo's .430. Remember, this is a team that plays in one of the game's most hitter-friendly home parks. Dunn is also the only White Sox hitter to this point (again leaving out Garcia, who has been far and away the team's best hitter since being acquired at the end of July) with an OPS+ at or above league average, and Dunn's mark is a mere 102 (the second-worst of his career). As a team, Chicago's position players have been nearly three wins below replacement level per Baseball-Reference's WAR, with Konerko and intended third base solution Jeff Keppinger (.244/.271/.303 in 430 plate appearances) doing the most harm.
Overall outlook: Bleak. Help is not on the way. The White Sox have no elite prospects on the farm, and centerfielder Courtney Hawkins, their top pick in the 2012 draft and a consensus top prospect coming into the season, hit just .178/.249/.384 for High-A Winston-Salem, with a brutal 5.52 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Hawkins is just 19, so he has time to figure things out, but that performance is a clear sign that he won't be helping out at the major league level any time soon, and more advanced hitting prospects Trayce Thompson and Carlos Sanchez also struggled in 2013. Having dealt Peavy and outfielder Alex Rios, the Chicago doesn't have much more trade bait at the major league level beyond Alexei Ramirez, who will be 32 next year. A total rebuild would have been a good idea when then-general manager Kenny Williams, now the team's executive vice president, floated the idea after the 2011 season, but the team's assets have depreciated since then. With the Royals and Indians in ascension this year, the White Sox and their fans should get used to being near the bottom of the AL Central.