Chicago White Sox – Why The Failed Rebuild Stings So Much

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MAY 29: General manager Rick Hahn of the Chicago White Sox answers questions from the media prior to the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 29, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MAY 29: General manager Rick Hahn of the Chicago White Sox answers questions from the media prior to the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 29, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Instead of culminating in multiple deep postseason runs, the rebuild ends with several key players traded away and the Chicago White Sox being barely better than the Oakland A’s and Kansas City Royals – two teams that are openly NOT trying to win.

Optimists can hope that the rebuild isn’t truly over and that the Sox are adjusting on the fly like the New York Yankees did in 2017. That is, of course, possible. But the 2023 season is effectively over, and even if the Sox do have success in the near future, it won’t involve players who were expected to be part of the core.

Predictably, Sox fans are dealing with a range of emotions – the two most prominent ones being anger and sadness. Another emotion is frustration – frustration that this all could’ve been avoided.

That’s why we’re so upset. Obviously, no fandom wants to sit through a rebuild, see it fail, and then have to wait several years for the next attempt to possibly come to fruition. But what’s so disturbing is that this rebuild faltered not because of injuries – though they played a part – or luck, but because the Sox themselves botched it.

As fans, we knew that the rebuild might not bring another World Series championship. We knew it might not succeed. Some rebuilds fail because of injuries. Sometimes the front office whiffs on talent. Sometimes talent doesn’t develop. Sometimes it all goes well and the team competes but it falls just short.

Fans can live with those results. Injuries usually can’t be controlled or avoided. If a front office fails to properly evaluate talent and/or develop it, new personnel can be brought in. If a team is constructed properly but can’t finish the job, well, that’s just how it goes sometimes.

This Sox mess, however, is a whole different beast.

The Chicago White Sox rebuild is over.

Let’s start with injuries. They have, at times, derailed the rebuild, especially during the 2022 season. But the larger problem is that the Sox had no plan in place to deal with them. There wasn’t enough roster depth to cover for extended absences of key players – nor were there enough assets on hand that the Sox could use to trade for reinforcements.

The Sox did acquire a lot of talent during the rebuild – and much of that talent is still here. I don’t believe that Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams whiffed on most of the young players they traded for or drafted (veteran acquisitions are a different story). But they didn’t stockpile ENOUGH assets. There was no backup plan for injuries, which are inevitable in sports.

The team also failed to spend wisely in free agency when it was ready to take the next step. Sure, Lance Lynn was good before he was bad, but the Sox never adequately addressed needs. Consider this past offseason – the Sox arguably overspend on a back-of-the-rotation starter with serious off-the-field issues while simultaneously ignoring needs at second base and right field. The plan was to bring up Oscar Colas to play right field – and he hasn’t appeared quite ready to be an everyday major-league player.

At second base, the Sox decided to bring back aging veteran Elvius Andrus. Andrus provided a late-season spark in 2022 but he’s looked washed in 2023.

Finally, the other big free-agent signing was left-fielder Andrew Benintendi. Benintendi has played well, but he’s also lost his home-run power due to a wrist injury. The Sox didn’t disclose that injury until well into the season.

Explain to me how a talented team that underachieved with a .500 record in 2022, one that was also getting a new manager in Pedro Grifol, would be improved by having a not-yet-ready rookie in right and a veteran who is past his prime at second base.

Oh, and the closer, Liam Hendriks, started the season as unavailable as he fought cancer. If the Sox knew he was going to be unavailable for an indefinite amount of time, why not sign a closer?

Roster construction isn’t the only problem here. Former manager Tony La Russa was far from the only problem here, but his hiring never made sense for this team. Despite a playoff appearance in 2021, the first season in his return to the South Side, it seems to mark the moment when the rebuild went sideways.

Still, poor roster construction and odd hiring decisions might be survivable. Long-time baseball fans have seen teams with holes in their roster still manage to have success. The Sox’s problems run far deeper than having the wrong guy at the top step of the dugout.

Sox fans have been saying for years, dating back to the Robin Ventura regime and maybe even back to Ozzie Guillen’s final years as manager, that the team lacks baseball IQ. Too many pitchers ignore baserunners. Too many defenders throw to the wrong base or make too many errors – including errors that seem easily avoidable. Fundamentals are lacking.

The Sox should’ve implemented a vision to fix that the instant the rebuild began. It would have to be an organization-wide plan – baseball smarts and quality execution of fundamentals would have to be drilled into young players the moment they arrived. Players could work on these things in the minors so that they’d be ready to compete when they reached the majors.

This has not happened. We still see too many errors at bad times. Pitchers still walk too many batters, and quality hitters strike out too much by chasing too many pitches that are well outside the zone. Some players do not hustle.

Simply put, the White Sox beat themselves more often than their opponents beat them. We saw this last season. The hiring of first-year manager Grifol was supposed to change this, but it hasn’t.

It hasn’t just been errors – the bullpen has consistently melted down, as well. Two key losses in late July are indicative of this. Kendall Graveman blew a 3-0 lead at Minnesota and Joe Kelly had a self-induced meltdown against the Cubs that helped the Sox blow a 7-2 lead. The team lost both of those games.

Having talent is great. But it has to be harnessed. Talent is nothing if the players don’t execute the basics. And what’s frustrating is that this has persisted under multiple managers. I didn’t like the LaRussa hiring, but one of his strengths seemed to be getting players to get the fundamentals right. He didn’t do that. So far, Grifol has failed, too, despite coming in talking tough about how the Sox’s ability to execute would improve.

Finally, we must wrap this with culture. Rumblings from former first base stalwart Jose Abreu, a post-deadline quote from Hahn, and Jake Burger’s post-trade comments about his new team being unwilling to quit are an indictment of the Sox’s mindset.

This team should’ve been utterly embarrassed when division rival Cleveland celebrated a postseason birth by shouting “[BLEEP] THE WHITE SOX” at the Sox’s home park last season. They should’ve come into this season hungry to redeem themselves. Instead, they started 7-21 and have oft times looked like they’ve quit on the season. Sometimes I watch a game and it’s clear they’re just going through the motions.

As a friend told me earlier this year, the Sox built a good fantasy team but never sought out glue guys or players that could hold teammates accountable.

It wasn’t that long ago that Tim Anderson went on a 50,000-watt radio station and said the Sox were “the best team in the American League”. Earlier this year, fans thought he said “I hate it here” to Abreu after Anderson reached base against Houston. Personally, I think he said something else, but the fact that that interpretation was plausible speaks volumes.

To recap, the Sox started out the rebuild by acquiring a lot of good young talent. But they hired the wrong manager for the team at a key point. They failed to develop and execute an organization-wide plan on how to improve in key areas – areas in which successful teams are strong. They didn’t develop enough organizational depth as a hedge against injuries – or as possible assets that could be exchanged to plug holes in the roster. They didn’t spend wisely in free agency to likewise address roster needs. And while some veteran acquisitions worked, at least for a time, others were complete flops. There’s a long list of failed veteran bullpen arms – Jake Diekman, Joe Kelly, and Graveman, to name just a few.

Not every move is going to work out, sure. But with a proper plan in place, enough organizational depth, a willingness to spend smartly in free agency, and the installation of a winning culture, a rebuilding team can fortify itself against unforeseen problems and be better positioned to compete.

What the Sox did was acquire a bunch of young talent. They got that part mostly right – there have been a few failures and a few others (Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech) where the jury is still out, but players like Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, Andrew Vaughn, Dylan Cease, and perhaps Anderson if he rebounds from a bad year, can still form a solid core. Some of the Sox’s veteran acquisitions worked out, at least for a while – Lance Lynn was bad this season but good in prior years. Benintendi looks like a win, and if his power comes back he could be dangerous at the plate. Yasmani Grandal seems washed now but he had some flashes.

So the Sox got part one of the rebuild – get young talent – right. They have a mixed track record of adding veterans to the mix. But everything else has been a failure.

They hired the wrong manager at the wrong time. The next hire may be in over his head or too inexperienced. The culture has been toxic. The handling of injuries has been weird. Players have been forced to play hurt and others have been forced to play out of position – that’s possibly hindered the development of some players.

The offense has been undisciplined. There’s power there – but it’s hard to hit the ball out of the park when it’s a slider in the other batter’s box. The team doesn’t take walks – walks can fuel an offense. Conversely, even the team’s best pitchers are walking too many guys and too many are coming around to score. The Sox have talent, but they are also baseball stupid.

Getting talent is one thing. But not teaching players how to play the game well means you have a bunch of athletes who can’t do what it takes to win. And while clubhouse culture can be overrated, players need to at least hold each other accountable – and at least not concede the game the first time they fall a few runs down.

The rebuild failed because the Sox, as an organization, did nothing right beyond acquiring talent. There’s no coherent vision, no emphasis on playing winning baseball, and a lack of competitive mentality in the clubhouse. No smarts and no heart.

That’s why Sox fans are so upset. This wasn’t a rebuild done correctly that just came up short. This was a rebuild that started well and was sabotaged by the organization’s own failures.

Fans deserved better. We didn’t get it. And even if the new group of players brought in at the trade deadline brings this team multiple championships, we will never forgive the Sox for bungling this so badly.

We will never, ever forget this sting, simply because it was so avoidable.