After a short rebuild, it’s the South Side’s time to compete again…right? (White Sox Preview)

The Kansas City Royals don’t have a “pure” rival like many other clubs in baseball. The San Francisco Giants have the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Boston Red Sox have the New York Yankees. Even the MLB team across the state, the St. Louis Cardinals, have the Chicago Cubs. In baseball, there are very few rivalries that last over the course of time, as two teams who may be rivals at one point, will cease in their hatred of one another before fans know it. (I mean, remember when the Yankees considered the Royals “rivals” back in the late 70’s and early 80’s?).

That being said, while the White Sox and Royals don’t have a “traditional” rivalry like those clubs listed above, they pretty much have the seeds of something “akin” to a rivalry. After all, if the baseball club that represents the “Eastern Side” of Missouri (Cardinals) can have a rivalry with Chicago’s “North Side” team (Cubs), it makes sense that “Western Missouri’s” team (Royals) can have a beef with Chicago’s “South Side” team.

And the similarities between the four teams are pretty eerie if you think about it: while the Cardinals-Cubs play in stadiums robust with restaurants and attractions around them, the Royals-White Sox play in areas where their stadium is the “only” attraction. The Royals have Boulevard and the “Craft and Draft” section, while the White Sox have Goose Island and “The Goose Island” fan section. And lastly, both teams have been in a rebuilding mode since 2015, as neither club has won the AL Central since the Royals won the World Series in 2015 (the division has been dominated by the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins since 2016).

And lastly, the Royals and White Sox have this moment from last year as well which fueled the hatred between these two teams in 2019:

The Royals and the White Sox should consider themselves rivals, at least as of now (and I have made that argument before on this blog). However, after a big off-season by the South Side rivals, and a relatively modest off-season by Kansas City, it is obvious that the White Sox are pushing all their chips in order to try and distance themselves from the Royals in the Central division. With the Indians losing Corey Kluber this offseason, and most likely losing star Francisco Lindor either this year or next, it seems like the White Sox believe they have a legitimate shot to take the AL Central crown for the first time since 2008.

And that will make this White Sox-Royals rivalry more interesting in 2020 and beyond.

For a while, White Sox fans could lord over their North Side neighbors that they were the only team in Chicago that had a recent World Series title, which the Pale Hose won back in 2005 (they hadn’t won one since 1918…which would still have been more recent than the Cubs at the time). The White Sox had broken the curse of “Shoeless Joe and the Black Sox” and though they played in a “non-tourist” area of Chicago, it still felt like the White Sox had it together as an organization. Even after 2005, they always were in contention in the AL Central, having won less than 79 games once since 2005 (72 in 2007).

However, manager Ozzie Guillen and his volatile nature wore thin with the Chicago media, management and faithful. Eventually, he was replaced by former White Sox player Robin Ventura, who had a good career as a player, but was always ultimately remembered for this moment below:

In 2012, the White Sox were in a weird dilemma as an organization: they had a weird mix of young and old, built to contend, but not seriously win, and not young enough to really have much of a future long-term. Yes, the White Sox had Chris Sale, one of the best pitchers in the game at the time as well as a multiple-time All-Star. But beyond that, there wasn’t much young talent to be had, and their farm system, though chock full of athletes (such as Jared Mitchell and Trayce Thompson), wasn’t highly rated or respected by anyone of note (Baseball America rated their system as 27th best in baseball in 2011, and that was WITH Sale).

The years became lean and a struggle after they just missed the playoffs in 2012 with an 85-77 record (an 11-17 collapse in September did it to them, as they relinquished the Central to the Tigers that year). The White Sox didn’t have a winning season under Ventura after 2012, and he was eventually let go by Ken Williams and the Sox after the 2016 season. In addition to posting a losing record as White Sox manager (Ventura went 375-435 as White Sox skipper), the club also ceded a lot of attention and control to the Cubs, who ended up winning a World Series title in 2016.

Ever since the Cubs took the control of the City as the “darling” baseball club, the Sox have been reeling ever since, opting to go for a full-rebuild in the process rather than piecing things together here and there as they had been prone to do between 2006 and 2016.

Instead of signing vets and building around the Jermaine Dye’s and Scott Posednik’s (former Royals), and AJ Pierzynski’s (not a Royal, thank God), the White Sox sold players for prospects. Chris Sale, the club’s franchise player, was let go after 2016 for a package that eventually included third baseman Yoan Moncada and pitcher Michael Kopech. The White Sox invested heavily in their draft and international market talent, focusing on developing talent like Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez, Nick Madrigal, Dylan Cease, and Luis Robert, just to name a few. Williams, his “anointed” GM Rick Hahn and the White Sox organization as a whole did not care about the present, and that was obvious as the White Sox have lost 95, 100, and 89 games the past three seasons. But the train of thought was this: when their stars were up and ready, the White Sox would have the talent to strangle the AL Central like the Twins and Indians have recently.

And it seems like they believe 2020 is the year to do so.

The White Sox appear primed to distance themselves from the Royals in 2020 after hovering around the Royals’ level the past few seasons. The lineup is full of White Sox-developed stars who finally have enough plate appearances under their belt to be taken seriously as legitimate Major League players. Anderson looks to be an All-Star caliber shortstop. Moncada looks better at third, boasts great power, and has at least been able to minimize his strikeout issues last season. Jimenez hit 30-plus home runs in his big league debut, and Robert is expected to do the same. And to make matters worse for Royals fans and the rest of the division, the White Sox only loaded up in free agency, adding catcher Yasmani Grandal, DH Edwin Encarnacion, and OF Nomar Mazara to their hitting ranks, and Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez, and Steve Cishek to their pitching staff.

This isn’t a rebuilding club anymore, as it was the past three seasons under manager Rick Renteria, who came over after being let go by the Cubs in favor of Joe Maddon (since Maddon brought a World Series to the North Side, it’s hard to say that was a bad trade). The White Sox smell blood: they smell blood in the AL Central, and they also smell blood in Chicago, as it seems the Cubs are due for regression after missing the playoffs a year ago, and seeing Maddon leave for the Angels. The White Sox are ready to earn back the title of “best team in Chicago,” much like that period around 2005, when it was evident that the team on the South Side represented Chicago baseball the best.

Of course, who knows what will actually happen in 2020, especially with a season that undoubtedly will be shortened. Can Renteria produce a winning record with this bunch? Will the free agents live up to the hype? Will Kopech and Cease take over the 2 and 3 spots in the rotation behind Giolito, who had a breakthrough season in 2019 after a disaster of a campaign in 2018? Will Moncada and Jimenez continue their development, and will Robert and Madrigal have good debuts on the South Side? Will Jose Abreu avoid bottoming out after so many years of production?

Yes, on paper, the White Sox look real good (and they are projected to be good, as Fangraphs projects an 83-79 record, an 11-win improvement from 2019). When Royals fans like myself look at their roster, it is apparent that they should compete for the playoffs, especially in an AL Central division that doesn’t seem as strong at the top as it was a year ago.

SHOULD of course. As we all know, games are not played on paper, and the White Sox still have to “prove it” on the field before anyone can baptize the Pale Hose as baseball’s “next big team.” They haven’t had a winning season in over eight years after all. To think that this organization can turn it around just like that could be foolish thinking…just ask Royals fans, who know how scarce success can be in this current baseball environment.

As the White Sox make this transition from “rebuilding” to “contending” (or maybe “planning to contend” should be the better term), the Royals still sit in their same status as a year ago: clearly “rebuilding.” And that’s not a bad thing: the Royals can’t compete with the Central’s Top 3 now, so why try to frivolously spend, only to fall short anyways? But, when the Royals decide to push “all their chips” in to contend again, it most likely will be against the White Sox, barring injury or extreme regression from Chicago’s star young players. That could be in a year, or two or three. But when the Royals compete for the Central, it will be between them and the South Siders, much like it was between the Royals and the Tigers during their 2013-2016 window.

The Royals-White Sox already have a pretty good rivalry going on now. I wonder how that rivalry will look if the two teams are competing for a Central division crown in 3-4 years.

3 thoughts on “After a short rebuild, it’s the South Side’s time to compete again…right? (White Sox Preview)

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