The Kids Will Play

“The Kids Can Play.” Behind that slogan, the 2000 Chicago White Sox won 95 games in route to winning the AL Central. Twelve seasons later, the White Sox may be going with a similar slogan. As our good friend Peter Gammons reported Monday, White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams will “let the kids play” next season. The last time the White Sox embraced the rebuilding process, it ended in a division title. The second time around, they might not be so fortunate.

After the highest payroll in franchise history led to nothing but disaster, it appears Williams’ has finally admitted it’s time for a rebuild on the South Side. The rebuild is a long time coming, as Williams has constantly put his faith in aging veterans and free agent signings to keep the White Sox competitive in recent years. With the Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy contracts preventing the team from adding much payroll this off-season, Williams will finally have to put his faith in “the kids.”

Problem is, “the kids” aren’t all that impressive. Due to poor drafting and development, the White Sox farm system rates as one of the worst in baseball. After the White Sox spent first round picks on Lance Broadway and Kyle McCulloch in consecutive years, Williams told his scouts to focus more on high upside players early in the draft. Unfortunately, this strategy hasn’t worked out for the White Sox just yet.

While Gordon Beckham and Chris Sale reached the majors shortly after being drafted, it’s tough to get too excited about their performances. After two seasons of regression, it looks like Beckham may never live up to his promising rookie season. Sale has already established himself as a dominant reliever, but it’s hard to get fired up over a pitcher whose ceiling is 80 innings. According to Williams, Sale will be moved to the rotation next season — making him one of the few “kids” that may be worth watching. Jared Mitchell, the White Sox 2009 1st round pick, was seen as a project when selected. Due to various injuries, he’s still as far from the majors as he was on draft day.

Other members of the youth movement don’t necessarily inspire confidence in the rebuilding plan either. Unless you believe in his September surge, Brent Morel did nothing to show he deserves a starting job in the majors. Tyler Flowers, the main prospect the White Sox acquired for Javier Vazquez, has fizzled since joining the team. Even though Dayan Viciedo has experienced some success in his young career, he’s still a prospect without a position or a proper understanding of the strike zone. Addison Reed looked like a potential stud reliever after posting a 14.73 K/9 in 7.1 innings last season, but his value will be limited by his role.

A rebuild on the South Side is a long time coming, and Williams should be credited for finally tearing down the team and starting from scratch. Unfortunately, no team is more ill-equipped for a rebuild than the White Sox. Their poor drafting in recent seasons have really put them back at square one. The veterans are getting older, and the prospects just aren’t good enough to bridge the gap. While it’s the right idea, it might be a long time before the White Sox find themselves at the top of the AL Central if they choose to go into full rebuilding mode. The kids will play, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can play.

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Chris is a blogger for He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

25 Responses to “The Kids Will Play”

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  1. ICEYhawtSTUNNAZ says:

    What about the Ozzie Guillen haul?

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  2. Dash says:

    They’ll still probably finish rebuilding and become competitive before teams like the Dodgers, Orioles, Astros, etc.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Some college teams could start with what they have and build up to be in the AL Central though…

      The Dodgers could be a playoff team next year with a few moves. .500 this year in a winnable division.

      Until the ChiSox “Let the kids beat Hawk Harrelson like a pinata with swords” I won’t root for them.

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  3. Paul says:

    I think this is going to be a fun story to watch. One of the prospects they picked up from the Marlins is a borderline utility/everyday player who might be able to hold down 2B. Eduardo Escobar will probably be in the mix. And Lillibridge might warrant and every day shot at this point. There are still plenty of teams that will think they can save Beckham before he gets any further down the Khalil Greene death spiral. Will be interesting to see if they cut bait and take a solid offer rather than let the new manager try to fix him.

    I know Stewart’s numbers don’t look great and he was really up and down, but I really liked his stuff. Even with losing Buerhle and Jackson, the rest of their rotation is certainly going to be better than the likes of everybody in the division save Detroit. They can give Stewart plenty of time to develop.

    Also, their bullpen is really deep and effective. I’m not saying they will win the division next year, and there is not question that with their thin farm system they have little margin for error, but they are in much better shape to rebuild quickly, in my opinion, than the Twins, who are widely considered to have a great farm system.

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  4. CircleChange11 says:

    I don’t think anyone can predict the ALC.

    Would anyone be stunned if the ChiSox won the division next year? Probably not.

    Would anyone be stunned if they finished 4th? Probably not.

    The veterans are getting older, and the prospects just aren’t good enough to bridge the gap.

    That’s been the story for 6 straight years now.

    Everyone keeps looking for a reason to blow the team up, and 2011 might have been that reason.

    Sale has already established himself as a dominant reliever, but it’s hard to get fired up over a pitcher whose ceiling is 80 innings. According to Williams, Sale will be moved to the rotation next season — making him one of the few “kids” that may be worth watching.

    C’mon. Sale as starter is a worthwhile move and WILL be worth watching. FG said so when they jabbed the CWS for using him as a reliever.

    Still, it’s not easy feeling good about the next year or two on the South Side.

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    • Chris Cwik says:

      “That’s been the story for 6 straight years now.”

      That’s true, but now it looks like there aren’t going to be any major free agent upgrades to bolster the team. If Kenny really is going young, this could be the season it all falls apart.

      “C’mon. Sale as starter is a worthwhile move and WILL be worth watching. FG said so when they jabbed the CWS for using him as a reliever.”

      Chances are, I wrote that article. I agree with you, moving Sale to the rotation is definitely something I’m excited about next season. At the same time, Keith Law still has concerns about Sale holding up as a starter and there are some concerns that he will show a platoon split due to his odd release.

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      • ponderous says:

        Randy Johnson had a funky low 3/4 release too. He had no problems with rightys. Granted, Chris Sale isn’t Randy Johnson, but mid-90s fastball, good slider seems like he should be OK. Doesn’t he have a change-up that he scrapped when he went to the bullpen full-time, as well?

        To me, what is the worst case scenario? It doesn’t work and he goes back to the bullpen.

        Also, I think you have to see what you can get for Quentin, Thornton, one of Danks/Floyd. Rios and Peavy are unmovable (now that Tony Reagins is out of a job).

        I think how quick it turns around rests squarely on Morel and Beckham. If Morel’s September was for real and Beckham can shed his case of rectal vision, they get back in the race sooner, rather than later.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I completely agree with you. Sell high on TCQ.

        Simple regression for Pierre, Rios, and Dunn will be major improvements (They have to regress to positive norms, don’t they?).

        Getting some positives from the kids combined with their pitching and regression could, surprisingly, be enough to be in contention for the division title.

        So even while “letting the kids play”, they aren’t really in rebuilding mode. I think rebuilding for KW means, as you explain, there won’t be major free agent signings. That could be a good thing given how signings and acquisitions hgave worked out the last few years.

        Gordon Beckham may need a dose of “Alex Gordon” and actually go to MiLB and be able to work on some things without being in “survival mode”, get some confidence and refine his approach, and come back up with some success.

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      • ponderous says:

        Pierre is a free agent…if KW resigns him, he should join the ranks of the unemployed…

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      • ozzie says:

        keith law always has concerns about white sox prospects

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  5. mister_rob says:

    amazing the job security a ring can bring you. Kenny has had the 1st or 2nd highest payroll in the division just about every year, is lucky to be in a very winnable division, took over a team fresh of a playoff appearance, and yet has only made the postseason twice in ten years

    He should’ve been launched a couple years ago

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  6. bigfun says:

    I know he’s not really a kid, but Alejandro de Aza put up a staggering 2.8 WAR in 171 PA this year and will almost certainly have an expanded role in 2012. Obviously he’s going to come back down to earth, but if they let Pierre walk and play de Aza every day, that’s a nice improvement.

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  7. Richie says:

    Given the paucity of the farm system and their still-weak division, I’d vote for the White Sox to go for it one final year. Not in the sense of signing expensive free agents, though I might re-sign Buehrle for franchise-level reasons. (I believe hanging on to your lifers helps considerably with your fan base over the long haul) But given the choice between ‘one last try at a pennant you do actually have a decent shot at’ and ‘trading those veterans now at a steep discount in order to get a 1-year head start on a rebuild which will be quite long anyways’, I think the former is much the better option.

    I mean, they did finish .500 this year while enduring some massively disappointing and ‘impossible to be THAT! bad again’ performances. They’d have a perfectly reasonable shot at it next season. After which they very likely won’t again for a whole lot of years. Even if they start that project in 2012 rather than 2013.

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    • ponderous says:

      You make some good points, but you have to factor in the rest of the division. Detroit is returning the same team. Minnesota can’t be as bad as this year, either. Cleveland and KC are both improving.

      I don’t think anyone that they should trade would have to be discounted. Quentin, Thornton, Pierzynski, and Danks/Floyd are all replacable from within (Viciedo, Reed, Flowers, Stewart, etc.) and should be valued. I would hold on to Dunn to see if he can reclaim some trade value. Same with Rios. As for Peavy, strange things happen in July for teams looking for pitching.

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      • Richie says:

        I see Cleveland (sorta) and KC (definitely) improving as one more reason for ChiSox to go for it next year. KC in particular will be much harder to compete with in future seasons. Next one, they, Cleveland and Minnesota ought to still be quite takeable.

        Detroit I think ought to regress big-time. The pitchers, Verlander very likely won’t be this great again, Fister CAN’T be and likely won’t be that close, Valverde can’t be this lucky again. The hitters, Avila, Peralta and Magglio (due to age) very likely to regress (probably big-time as a group), VMart and Miggy can’t be much better. I think only Austin Jackson has any reasonable chance to be much better next year.

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      • Richie says:

        As to the ChiSox, I don’t think Thornton will return much of anything in prospects. (Bear in mind GMs value them much more highly now than they once did) Quentin (health and he’s not all that great a hitter for a corner OF) and Pierzynski (age, and again not all that good), I don’t think they’re much more valuable. As to the starting pitchers, isn’t the height of their value at trading deadline time, when every GM and fan base within 5 games of the wildcard lead has stars in their eyes?

        So, hang on to everyone, and if come August 1st you are out of it, then trade your starters when they’re most coveted. Thornton too if he’s re-established himself.

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      • ponderous says:

        There really is no harm in evaluating their options.Nothing says you have to trade them…but seeing what is available is KW doing his due diligence. If Team A decides they are an OF an SP away and are willing to give up a ton before the season for Quentin and Danks…do it. If not, then you’re right. There is no harm to holding on to them.

        I still think competing next year is optimistic. You make several valid points, but the bottom line is, after factoring in regressions, are the White Sox better than Detroit, Minnesota, et al.? I really don’t.

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      • MikeS says:

        @Richie, you underestimate the Tigers and Oveestimate the Sox. Verlander has 8.3 and 6.0 WAR the two years prior to this one. Fister is 28. He could be a 4 WAR player. Avila is 24.

        Sure, anything can happen but I don’t think so. No reason to believe the Tigers can’t win 85 games next year. No reason to believe the White Sox can.

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  8. Red Line Trane says:

    Honestly, the AL Central is such a weak division that just about any team (except MAYBE Kansas City) can win it with a little luck.

    The key for the White Sox is just how much their immobile contracts actually contribute (Dunn, Rios, Peavy). If even two of those guys contribute anything close to their contract, the ChiSox are going to contend.

    But there’s absolutely no way of knowing if that’s the case. With two of those players, they’re in completely uncharted water. No player in recent memory has taken a nosedive as dramatically as Dunn. And Peavy’s injury was so freakish and unique, we have no idea how someone is going perform long-term after having your lat muscle roll up your ribcage like a cartoon curtain.

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  9. Flip says:

    The central is weak, but only after the Tigers. The Tigers are a legit powerhouse that can beat anyone in the East, West, or NL.

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  10. ozzieruinedmysummer says:

    If we expand the definition of “kids” to include the likes of De Aza, Lillibridge, and Santos then 2012 will be a fun year for Sox fans. Also, don’t forget Zach Stewart. He was up and down last year, but had a couple of great starts and that one relief appearance in which he faced and fanned 5 batters. He was BAs #6 jays prospect in 2011 and #1 in 2010–part of his problem is that he has been jerked around between starting and relief. The Sox just need to make a decision on Stewart and stick with it.

    They need to trade Quentin just to avoid a repeat of last year’s RF/DH/1b logjam. He probably won’t return as much as he would have in July, but we should be able to restock a bit in that trade. Due to bad contracts, our other moves are limited. I can see Floyd being an attractive contract for a team needing a middle-of-the-rotatation starter. Beckham may be moved–his defense is very good, but he may need a change of scenery and the Sox could possibly find someone willing to give up good prospects for him. Thornton is the other obvious potential trade, though if they move Sale to the rotation then we will be down to Will Ohman as a lefty in the pen.

    I am a bit more positive on the Sox prospects than many. The problems are limited depths at the upper levels (helped by acquiring Stewart and tradding Ozzie, and likely to be further helped by trading CQ), unblocking top prospects (like Viciedo and De Aza), and getting a manager who trusts young players (we’ll see how Ozzie in Florida works out–he had a horrible track record with young players for the Sox).

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