By Marc Normandin
There are major league teams out there that seem, not just reluctant, but adamant that they won't sell by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Their front offices are, generally speaking, deluded about their chances to stay relevant in 2013, or are simply hoping that no one will notice that they're even more out of it now than when they were pretending to field a competitive team back in spring training, leaving them with their jobs for just a little longer.
The White Sox, though, seem to get it. The word, and it's been out there for a while now, is that everyone on the roster not named Chris Sale* is available in a trade. Now, the White Sox aren't very good, and they're in this position specifically because they have a distinct lack of quality players. But they're not afraid to take the ones that they do have and hit "reset," in an attempt to restock a farm system that now lacks a single top-50 prospect according to Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law or Baseball America.
*Okay, Paul Konerko is untouchable as well, but that has more to do with his being the South Side's favorite son than because of talent and long-term production. He's the face, and that's worth more to them than what little he would bring back in a trade in a down year.
This is their chance to set things right, or at least to point the team in the direction it needs to be facing. They've already kicked things off by dealing lefty Matt Thornton and his 2014 club option to the Red Sox for Brandon Jacobs, who has some tools and promise but is getting it together slowly in the minors. He's a lottery ticket, but an organization bereft of those needs as many as it can get, along with some better players. There's more value in that than there is in another season of Jake Peavy on a losing team, or another Alex Rios campaign in which he's paid solid money to make his teammates look awful by comparison.
The rest of the league is all too eager to help them in their quest, too. The Rangers are looking at both Rios and Alejandro De Aza, according to TR Sullivan and Jon Morosi, respectively, while Jake Peavy is the fish everyone wants to reel in. The White Sox, unsurprisingly, are in no rush to move Peavy, because he's under contract for 2014 as well. They can be patient and wait until they get exactly what they want for him, whether it's now, in December or a year from now. The sooner he's moved, though, the sooner they can get on with the rebuild they so desperately need.
That's a little harsh, in some ways. The lineup needs a rebuild. The pitching is young, and the pitching is talented. The Sox have Sale, of course, who is 24 years old and signed to a five-year, $32.5 million contract with club options for 2018 and 2019. There's also Jose Quintana, also 24 and plucked from the minor-league scrap heap one year ago, who has managed a 117 ERA+ in 256 major league innings, and whose strikeout rates have climbed to around the league average this year. He won't be a free agent until 2019 at the earliest, and even if he falls back a bit closer to average, there's value there given his cost and age.
There's Hector Santiago, who is 25 years old and maybe walks a few too many batters, but his fastball-sinker combo has struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings in 169 big-league frames, and he's been better as a starter than as a reliever this year. If John Danks ever figures out how to stop giving up home runs again, there might be something there, too; he's still just 28 and is under contract for three more seasons after 2013, albeit for what could turn out to be an overly large sum of $42.75 million.
Still, if Danks, who was a quality pitcher once upon a time, is the worst thing going for you in your rotation loaded with 20-somethings, you're doing okay in that department. The same cannot be said for the lineup, as intimated above.
The White Sox have a collective OPS+ of 82, where 100 is set as the league average. That's worse than the Houston Astros, who are currently in their own rebuilding phase. It's worse than the Yankees, who have been playing minor leaguers, and any major-league bench player with a pulse, in the absence of their injured stars. It's worse than the Royals, who are full of awful veterans and disappointing young players (as they tend to be). It's the worst rate in the American League, and if not for the Miami Marlins, it would be the worst in the majors.
There is not a single position where the White Sox are producing at an average rate or better. The closest they've come is right field, where they are only 3 percent below the position's expectations, thanks to Alex Rios. After that, it's centerfield and shortstop, each 4 percent worse than average; designated hitter and first base, 7 and 8 percent below, respectively; and then second base at 10 percent below. Left field comes in 17 percent worse, thanks to Dayan Viciedo failing to show anything resembling an offensive skill set, while catcher, where Tyler Flowers has failed to fill A.J. Pierzynski's shoes, sits at 22 percent worse.
Amazingly, catcher is not the most significant hole. That would be third base, which is a whopping 33 percent worse than average, with a collective .226/.279/.337 on the season. Conor Gillaspie, like Flowers and Viciedo, has failed to use his youth to excite, but he's actually been the team's best third baseman thanks to his .253/.313/.394 line. Things are not going so well in Chicago's lineup.
So, while the White Sox have most of a good rotation in place -- which means they aren't as far off from rejuvenating themselves as their record might indicate -- they do need an almost completely different lineup to get to that point, and that's going to take prospects and time. Dealing De Aza might seem odd, given he's one of their only decent bats, but he's also 29 and will bring back something (or somethings) useful. Rios theoretically should bring back even more, as he still has one more year left on his deal, in addition to a 2015 club option with a $1 million buyout. These two -- plus Peavy, who is just superfluous on a team more focused now on reloading than winning -- are who the White Sox need to move in order to make the prospects part work. The time portion will work itself out with, well, time, as Adam Dunn's contract comes off of the books, Flowers gets a second chance to show he should be a big-league backstop, and the prospects they do have work their way to the bigs.
The next week is incredibly important for the short- and long-term future of the White Sox. Their farm system needs a boost -- or four or five. They have pieces they can move, pieces whose departure will make the present even more painful to watch but also help change the club's direction. If they can bring back some hitting prospects in those deals, and add the right bats this winter to bring the offense back above sea level, maybe the team will turn around in time for people to notice just how promising the young pitching in Chicago is.
Marc Normandin writes and edits for Over the Monster, a Boston Red Sox blog, as well as SB Nation's baseball hub. He's one of many behind the e-book "The Hall of Nearly Great," and has written for BaseballProspectus, ESPN, and others. You can follow him on Twitter at @Marc_Normandin.