After a full season’s worth of mediocrity, at the cost of $127 million, an easy conclusion to make might be that the White Sox are a collection of not especially cheap, mediocre players.
Costly mediocre players aren’t especially popular on the trade market, so Kenny Williams’ continued efforts to complete a comprehensive rebuild exclusively through a series of wacky trades during the winter meetings figured to have a fairly high degree of difficulty.
He would need to pull out all the stops–elaborate disguises, tricking other GMs into taking someone they don’t want by using anagrams for player names, and of course, plenty of smokebombs for when he needed to escape in a jiffy.
So naturally, the only proper reaction to other teams actually being interested in White Sox players is shock:
“You’d think we had a team out there that actually got into the playoffs from the interest level that people are showing our players, particularly our pitchers,” Williams said during a break at the GM meetings.
The irony of course, is that from a talent perspective, the White Sox were a playoff team. Particularly the pitching staff.
Collectively, Don Cooper’s boys finished behind only the historically great Phillies collective in FanGraph’s Wins Above Replacement, and were safely the best in the American League. And I mean safely.
Their 26.4 mark was 2.7 wins better than the 2nd place Yankees (yes, apparently you do get a lot of credit for playing in grain silo of a ballpark). Or you could say they were “a Jake Peavy” better than the Yankees. They’re also 6.4 wins better than the Tigers pitching staff.
And while we’re here in this perfect world where WAR–especially FanGraphs WAR for pitchers–is above criticism and without flaws, here’s the total team WAR disparity for the AL Central champion Tigers, and the AL Central town drunk White Sox:
Perhaps you expected a larger gulf between two teams that finished 16 games apart in the standings, but thoughts like that are only going to ruin our perfect WAR bubble, and besides, this is to make a point about the White Sox having the talent level of a playoff team.
Now take Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, Juan Pierre, Mark Teahen, and Omar Vizquel–the five guys who had their major league viability vanish completely but not their playing time, and replace them with…essentially nothing.
What if these five guys all missed the flight home from Kansas City after the opening week of the season, the team never sent anyone to pick them up, and they wandered through backwoods Missouri for weeks before deciding to settle down and start a commune, where the only rule was to cover the hole in the ground with a tarp after you were done using it? And what if in the meantime, the Sox just played replacement players.
Now we’re in range to do some real speculating. Now let’s imagine that rather than collapsing, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios merely had down years. Say Rios continued to play decent center field, and staved off becoming the worst hitter in baseball to post a 1.9 WAR. For his part, Adam Dunn struggles to adjust to the new league and the DH, and scraps to a 1.4:
Now was that exercise remotely scientific? Not one bit. If you show your friends, will they be impressed? No, they’ll be quite annoyed.
However it goes to show, that there was plenty of talent on the White Sox roster that should have substantial demand in the trade market. The diagnosis of “it’s like we’re a playoff team” isn’t off-base at all, because the White Sox were just that, save for a few enormous, crippling, black holes. The fact that those enormous black holes have equally large slabs of money committed to them is pretty much the franchise’s predicament in a nutshell.
Surely Kenny knows all of this already, and had no real purpose in saying it to the press besides to say “Hey, it’s like I actually put a pretty good team together or something that got derailed by unforseeable circumstances or something” and perhaps even to note “…and my manager never properly adjusted for it.” Which is every bit as true as the fact that having no minor league system and committing huge contracts to veterans exacerbated the problem.
Either way, the White Sox aren’t in a position where they need to go around hat-in-hand while trying to move talents like Gavin Floyd and John Danks, especially in a weak market like this. Those are two arms that playoff-quality rotations are made of, and Williams knows it. Hopefully, he can execute.