By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — In a race much different from the one the top teams in baseball are competing in, the White Sox are honing in on Phillies for the worst record in the big leagues.
What’s at stake in that pursuit? The obvious benefit is garnering the No. 1 pick in the amateur draft next June. The painful route for improvement usually takes rebuilding teams down to the bottom of the standings for a few years before seeing the players and organization flourish, and that’s certainly the case for the White Sox, who entered play Tuesday having lost 23 of their past 27 games.
The White Sox are in a similar position to the 2012 Cubs, who began a three-year stint in which they averaged 95 losses per season. The Cubs organization and fan base had to endure three consecutive last-place finishes in the NL Central. Derived from that futility were high draft slots that resulted in the addition of third baseman Kris Bryant (2013), outfielder Kyle Schwarber (2014) and infielder/outfielder Ian Happ (2015). Prior to that, the Cubs had also taken infielder Javier Baez (2011) and outfielder Albert Almora (2012) in the first round after poor seasons in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
The White Sox have been in rebuilding mode since July 2016, when they declined to add to a veteran team before the trade deadline. Now having fallen to 41-68 — one game behind the Phillies in the worst-record race — there’s an attempt to lose with dignity on a depleted team.
“We knew there were going to be some challenging spots, especially at the big league level,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “I have the distinction of seeing the coaches and (manager Rick Renteria) with the players before games. I see the energy and enthusiasm they bring every day and making the most of what we have.”
The 2018 amateur draft is considered to be a strong one with premier top-end talent, and the White Sox are hell-bent on obtaining some of the best players available. If getting better in the future means losing in bunches now, the White Sox will engage in that approach.
The 4-23 rut the White Sox are in has notably enhanced their draft slot. Chicago would pick No. 2 if the current standings hold. As recently as July 3, the White Sox were 37-45, which tied for the ninth-worst mark in the big leagues.
“We know with how the team is performing, we are going to have a high draft pick,” Hahn said. “Yes, part of the rebuild is maximizing what players you get in the draft. That does become easier the higher you pick. I will not say we pay attention on a nightly basis where we slot.
“Next year does appear to be a strong year in the draft. Based on our record, we will be in a pretty good position to make the most of it. This is absolutely part of the process. We have done a fair amount of player acquisition over the past 12 months. That pace is likely to slow down based on what we have now at the big league level. Certainly, drafting and hitting on these picks will be a big part of the process.”
The White Sox’s foe in this three-game series, the Astros have executed their own ground-up rebuild quite well, leading the AL with a 71-50 record and looking like a model franchise for such endeavors.
Houston has done as good of a job as any of embracing the rebuild, taking their lumps.The first place Astro’s now are being looked at as one of the model franchises for such a drastic organizational reshaping endeavor.
The most difficult part for Houston amid its rebuild? “Patience,” manager A.J. Hinch said.
“We all want instant gratification from players,” Hinch said. “We want them to be at their best when they get to the big leagues. There is a ton of learning for them when they get to this level. Patience with players is always key, no matter what phase you are in the rebuilding process. Staying with the plan is the important thing. Nobody comes to a big league game as a player and expects to lose. Keeping spirits up and playing the right way is the challenge. It is a grind to go through a season and even more so when you have a lot of development at this level.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.