Success without playoffs?

Success without playoffs?
What a fun picture! // Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune

When Paul Konerko made his (in)famous admission at the start of this year’s SoxFest that given the position of the franchise, a season that saw forward progress but no playoff birth could be a success, it provoked a lot of reactions.

  1. Gee, what a depressing thing to say at SoxFest.
  2. That’s probably really accurate.
  3. Oy, that just makes it worse.

“If we don’t make the playoffs but we do it right and go out and compete well,” was a favorite selection for all, because it provided an easy standard.  The past year had been marked by organizational dysfunction, draconian strategy, a fractured clubhouse, and really awful players starting all the time.

From such beginnings, the White Sox not only becoming a competent outfit under Robin ventura, but spending five months masquerading as a frontline one, is a rousing success.  They’re almost unquestionably in a better position as a franchise now than they were at the beginning of the year.

The barren farm system had a full and ostensibly well-run draft injected into it, nothing of significance was purged in mid-season trades, and Alejandro De Aza, Hector Santiago, Jose Quintana, and Nate Jones might be surprise major leaguers, after all.

In continuing with assets, Alex Rios and Adam Dunn went from unplayable to possibly tradable.  The rebuild last season seemed to beg for is somewhat more plausible now, or as currently constructed, the major league roster is not as far away as initially feared.  Infield practice, outfield relays, and Chris Sale can make quite a difference, it would seem.

But there’s one thing that picks at the idea of calling Konerko’s dream a success–it’s the rest of his quote.

“You look at the end of the year and (Brent) Morel has had a really good year and (Gordon) Beckham has had a good year and Addison Reed has had a good year, those are all signs that it’s moving in the right direction. That can be, in my mind, a success.”

For Morel, Beckham, Reed, and even Dayan Viciedo–that youth movement didn’t come to fruition in 2012.  Even John Danks has a serious shoulder injury to come back from.  Six of the seven top Sox position players in terms of wins above replacement were over 30, and investing in them once more runs the serious risk of producing diminishing returns.

So while there’s success, there’s once again crossroads for a franchise that hasn’t yet shown a long-term plan for pulling themselves out of the middle, and blew a fitting reward for career years from A.J. Pierzynski and Alex Rios with the ugliest collapse in recent team history.

12 years of Kenny Williams, eight years of A.J. Pierzynski, even three and a half seasons of Gordon Beckham, have all imprinted a sense of stability, or at least an aversion to radical change when there’s a path of less resistance available.  But with a new GM presumably on the horizon, the off-season provides a new opportunity to re-define and re-shape how the “success” of being able to compete for the AL Central is rewarded.


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