After scoring just one run in a three-game sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Angels, the Chicago White Sox find themselves in a tough situation as their road trip continues in Seattle on Monday night.
Thanks to the three straight losses, the White Sox are not only below the .500 mark on the season with a record of 45-46, but they are also now five and a half games out of the second wild card spot in the American League.
To further complicate matters in the race, the White Sox will have to outduel five other teams that are ahead of them in the standings. Two of those teams play in Chicago’s own division, with the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers in hot pursuit of the Toronto Blue Jays for the second wild card spot, and the Mariners are a half game ahead of Chicago entering their three-game series in Seattle.
With that many teams in front of them, and with the MLB trade deadline looming less than two weeks away, the White Sox are coming up to a fork in the road as a franchise. Should they pursue an upgrade at a position of need, with center field and the starting rotation both fitting that description, or should they shift their focus to the future, trading off assets on a market with a ton of buyers?
Their performance over the next week or so will likely make that determination for them, and their schedule should help bring an air of finality to the decision. Both the Mariners and the Tigers are on the docket for the Sox in the coming days, with seven games in seven days against teams they’re chasing in the wild card race serving as an excellent litmus test of where the team is.
If those seven games aren’t enough, then four games against the Chicago Cubs next week could be the final piece of the puzzle as the front office evaluates where they’re at as an organization.
Unfortunately for G.M. Rick Hahn and the rest of the front office, there are some complicating factors whether the team decides to buy or sell. If they decide to be buyers, they’ll have to dip into an already shallow farm system, and the return on any deal may not be enough to lift them over the top in a crowded wild card race.
Players like Carlos Gonzalez could intrigue Hahn because of their impact on the roster moving forward, or the team could go for pitching help with players like Ervin Santana and Jake Odorizzi potentially available, but the asking price could be steep as outfielders and starting pitchers are in high demand among contending teams at the deadline.
Further complicating things for the White Sox is that if they decide they would like to be sellers, then they’ll have a tough time finding pieces that will draw enough interest to provide a substantial return. Bullpen arms are in short supply in baseball, but even in that situation a guy like David Robertson, an intriguing option for a pitching-strapped team, has two years and $25 million remaining on his contract after this season, and that could deter clubs from giving up too much for his services.
Players like Dan Jennings, who has a 1.60 ERA in 41 appearances this season, and Melky Cabrera, who is sporting a .295 average with eight home runs and 41 RBI, could also pique teams’ interest, but ultimately the return may not be right for guys that the White Sox will retain control over for the 2017 season.
There is little chance that the team would be willing to give up any other assets that they feel could help them compete in 2017. That would likely rule out players like Adam Eaton, Jose Abreu, and Jose Quintana, with all three of those players under team control for the foreseeable future.
While both roads forward for the White Sox have their own challenges, one thing is for certain: inaction is not an option. The team either has to go for the gusto this season or cut their losses and attempt to bring in pieces for the future, and their play over the next seven days should give fans and the front office a clear picture as to what that direction should be.