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How the lowly White Sox are modeling themselves after the Cubs

The White Sox will finish toward the bottom of the AL this year, but their strategy looks similar to that of the World Series champs across town.

It’s been positively euphoric at the ivy-covered field on the North Side of Chicago lately, what with 108 years of ghosts being exorcised, followed by a five-month celebration barely interrupted by the start of a new season. The Cubs’ World Series victory and the dawn of a potential dynasty at Wrigley Field has so dominated attention that few have noticed what is happening less than 10 miles to the south, where the future of the team playing at Guaranteed Rate Field is even brighter.

Despite their 8–9 start, the White Sox aren’t likely to be much fun to watch this year; SI projected them to finish with the AL’s worst record. They traded their two best players—ace Chris Sale and outfielder Adam Eaton—during the off-season after going 78–84, so matching even that mediocre record will be a stretch. They haven’t won a playoff series since they ended their own 88-year title drought in 2005. But there are few fan bases that wouldn’t want to have the White Sox’ future. Why? It starts with the approach that their neighbors took just a few years ago.

On Opening Day 2014 centerfielder Emilio Bonifacio had four hits and Jeff Samardzija pitched seven scoreless innings for the Cubs in a 1–0 loss to the Pirates. By July, Bonifacio and Samardzija had been traded to the Braves and the A’s, respectively. Chicago went 73–89 and finished at the bottom of the NL Central.

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But the Cubs made significant progress that year. They drafted slugger Kyle Schwarber in June and landed shortstop Addison Russell in the Samardzija trade. In December they signed lefthander Jon Lester. And at Triple A Iowa, a kid named Kris Bryant was on his way to earning Minor League Player of the Year honors.

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In winning the World Series last November, the Cubs drew rapturous praise for their well-calibrated team building; it’s not hard to imagine White Sox GM Rick Hahn and president Kenny Williams inspiring similar paeans. They already have foundational pieces in slugger José Abreu and shortstop Tim Anderson. Their minor league teams feature potential pitching studs Carson Fulmer, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech and Reynaldo López, as well as infielder Yoan Moncada, the No. 2–ranked prospect according to Baseball America. Overall their system was ranked fifth at the start of the season, and it boasted five of the 60 highest-rated minor leaguers.

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Still, there is much more work to do. The club’s ace, lefty José Quintana, is the biggest name on the trade market this year. Third baseman Todd Frazier, closer David Robertson and outfielder Melky Cabrera are also candidates to be moved this summer. Each could bring back more top prospects. Just as the Cubs developed so many useful players that they were able to trade from that surplus of youngsters to acquire talent at the big league level (sending shortstop Gleyber Torres to the Yankees for closer Aroldis Chapman last July, for instance), the White Sox could do likewise to fill out their lineup.

There is one important way, however, in which the White Sox may not be able to replicate their neighbors’ success: luck. Theo Epstein & Co. drafted Bryant and Schwarber in back-to-back years, got high-impact performances from their big free-agent signings like Lester and Ben Zobrist, and watched Jake Arrieta, acquired off the scrap heap from Baltimore, win the 2015 NL Cy Young. There is no guarantee that any of the White Sox’ prospects will pan out or that coveted free agents will flock to Guaranteed Rate Field.

But there is plenty of reason to hope. And in a city that knows how to be patient with its baseball teams, a little more waiting could result in the South Side team soon having a party of its own.