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White Sox Wed Sep 11 2013

An Early Preview for Next Year's White Sox

Sox_200.pngThe Bears' season just began with an exciting comeback win over a playoff team. The defending world champion Blackhawks open their training camp on Thursday. The Bulls, even during this lull in the basketball offseason, are getting major buzz about being a title contender. With Big Ten and Notre Dame football kicking off too, this has been a busy sports month in Chicago.

That's not even mentioning the baseball teams. For a reason: both the Cubs and the White Sox are more than 20 games under .500, and have been reduced to playing call-ups and acting the role of spoilers for the rest of the season.

This was a bad year for baseball in Chicago, with the Sox suffering the most. Once at .500 in late May, the team has plummeted to 58-86. The race to the bottom for a top draft pick is on, and the Sox currently have the third selection locked down.

Enough about this season. What's in store for next year? This is a very early look at the 2014 season. Hint: It's going to be tough to be optimistic.

• With many veterans already traded away in the last months, this could very well be the same Sox team that takes the field next April. Only a few players, one of whom we'll get to in a paragraph or two, will actually be unrestricted free agents this winter.

The disappointing Sox farm system will also factor into the shaping of next year's team. Courtney Hawkins, Tyler Danish and Tim Anderson are some of the team's best young assets, but they are at least a year away from making their big league debuts. Trayce Thompson could be one of the Sox's best options for next year, but he's only hitting .229 in Double-A this year. Jared Mitchell, once one of Chicago's most highly regarded prospects, is a 24-year-old hitting a combined .167 in Double-A and Triple-A right now.

Expect the Sox to roll forward with Andre Rienzo, Daniel Webb, Leury Garcia, Avisail Garcia and Josh Phegley in 2014. A new wave of top minor league talent is still off in the distance.

• The combo first base/designated hitter positions have been held down by Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn for the last three seasons, and Konerko has been a fixture at the positions since 1999. This may soon change. Konerko is in the last year of his contract and has struggled mightily this season, and Dunn is reportedly considering retirement.

While the Sox don't have much use for either of them in what will be another down year, the team won't have an impact player ready for Opening Day at first base. Keon Barnum projects to be a good option at the position, but he'll only be 21 next year and only has a line of .254/.315/.403 in single-A.

Back to Dunn and Konerko: every option for next year is realistic (both or neither return, or only one comes back), so it's tough to project what might happen. It would be awfully unlikely that Dunn retires and misses out on $15 million, so unless he is traded (also unlikely, judging by non-trades this season) he'll be back. Konerko is a little tougher: he's not in the Mariano Rivera/Chipper Jones class, so he won't get a farewell tour if he stays with the Sox. And, he'll return at what will have to be a HUGE discount, just based on performance. Konerko may be in his last year in Chicago right now. For next year, the Sox will probably do the lamest course of action: signing a one-year stopgap (ala James Loney or Casey Kotchman) before they move forward.

Unless the Sox sign Jose Abreu.

• Across the diamond, third base has been a hole for the Sox since, well, forever. The last third baseman to have a WAR over 5.0 for the Sox was Robin Ventura in 1998. Prior to Ventura, the last high quality third baseman on the team was Bill Melton, an all-star in 1971. Otherwise, the position has been patchworked together for many years, a reputation that even inspired the name of one of the team's history books.

Conor Gillaspie had a great first month but has sharply declined, and his 0.1 WAR will probably signal to management the need to make a change. Of course, there are no hot shot primary third baggers in the Sox system, so the Sox can again go the patchwork route here, too.

• The Sox are nearing the crossroads with Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo. Both are far from being considered old, but they have been in the big leagues for at least four years and have not yet had a "breakout" season. Since they are under team control for the next few years (Beckham through 2015, Viciedo through 2017) they won't be going anywhere unless traded, and they were hardly mentioned during this year's mini-firesale. They'll be back, and the Sox hope they become more than average MLB players with specific strengths -- Beckham's glove and Viciedo's bat against lefties.

• Lastly, Chris Sale was practically the team's only untouchable in trades this year. Sale finished sixth in Cy Young voting last year, and he was even better this year: lower ERA, lower WHIP, lower walk rate and a higher strikeout rate in the same number of innings. Sale is only 24 and is under team control, with a favorable contract, through 2019.

But...

More and more people on the interwebs are calling for the Sox to trade Sale. And they make some valid points. The main one is that this team isn't going anywhere, and Sale's value is super high right now. Could they land a franchise-altering haul for him, restocking multiple positions?

A big issue with Sale is his mechanics. Though he hasn't gotten hurt, he's always been labeled as an injury risk. Consider the Mets with Matt Harvey. New York limited his innings and pitch counts, did all they could to protect him, and he still partially tore an ulnar collateral ligament. Pitchers, no matter their makeup or circumstances, can get hurt and miss big stretches of time. Or, their velocity and command can dip sharply after multiple high-caliber years, like what's going on with Tim Lincecum. Stuff happens to pitchers. They are far from being considered sure things. This again is more the reason to trade him.

Even with all this, the Sox are at an ideal spot now with Sale, taking into account his contract and on-field success. If the Sox were to trade him, they could only hope to luck out and receive a pitcher as good as Sale in return. I'm fine with keeping him, but expect the "Trade Chris Sale!" sentiment to continue to rise over the coming months.

 
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