As intracity rivals, the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs have very little in common. From different leagues and fan bases to radically different stadiums, the White Sox and Cubs have two different identities.
Is there anything the White Sox can learn from the Cubs’ recent rebuilding efforts, though?
The direct answer is no.
There are several reasons.
First, Cubs President Theo Epstein and general manger Jed Hoyer have—in large part—dismantled the franchise. They have adopted a build-from-the-bottom approach, trading guys like Ryan Dempster, Geovany Soto, Tyler Colvin and D.J. LeMahieu for prospects.
The problem with this approach is that they are leveraging the present against unknown outcomes.
Sure, the White Sox have a roster loaded with bloated contract and underperforming veterans like Adam Dunn and John Danks. Dunn has not performed to his career averages and Danks makes much more money than his production warrants.
As a whole, though, the White Sox are rather good.
General manager Rick Hahn has built the 2013 team around a top-flight pitching staff and an offense that—while certainly limited—has some explosive talent.
And for all the criticism the front office has received at times, they have a team capable of winning the AL Central.
Another reason that the White Sox have nothing to learn from the Cubs' recent rebuilding efforts is that it embraces an already defeated attitude. Epstein told the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh in February that this attitude is what he likes to call “the city’s Midwestern sensibility.”
He was referring to the ability for Cubs' fans to accept failure with the expectation of future successes. Epstein is not shy about it. Take this comment he made to Haugh as an example:
We're going to see where we are and take a real cold assessment in the middle of the season. If we have a legitimate chance to push for a playoff spot then 2013 can become our primary focus. If we think a playoff spot's not in the cards, there will be no concern for appearances or cosmetics whatsoever. We'll continue to address our future and trade off some pieces that would keep us respectable.
Every GM will say that if the team is out of contention before the non-waiver trade deadline, moves will be made with their future in mind. It is an honest statement, and it is real.
Isn't spring training when hope springs eternal? Why would Epstein make that statement before the season even begins?
He was giving the fans forewarning, that’s why.
As a White Sox fan, I want no part of my GM letting me know what is already planned for the middle of July.
One more note on the Cubs rebuilding process.
Part of their plan is to invest heavily in international talent.
Outfielder Jorge Soler and pitcher Juan Carlos Paniagua are just two of the top prospects the Cubs signed in 2012. Add a slew of other young talent and—as Baseball America’s Ben Badler termed it—the North Siders “had an eventful year internationally (subscription required).”
The White Sox already know that investing in foreign talent is an integral part of an organization’s success. They have been doing it for years. Tadahito Iguchi, Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo are just a few of the names that come to mind.
And after suffering the disgrace brought upon by Dave Wilder, the international scouting department was revamped. Former general manager Kenny Williams brought in Marco Paddy from the Toronto Blue Jays to oversee international scouting, and he has been busy.
Badler noted in a separate article that in 2012 alone, the White Sox signed six players to six-figure contracts (subscription required).
Whether these signings pan out is a story for a later day, but the focus is clearly there.
The results of going for it every year may not have always been great—or even good—but that is what the White Sox do. That is also the way it should be.
This may not be a popular sentiment. There are plenty of fans who hated the way Williams operated.
Chief among the complaints was the apparent lack of concern Williams had for the minor league system. The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers went so far as to say last year that “Williams mostly paid lip service to scouting and player development.”
It is a fair criticism, but Hahn is the GM now.
This perspective may change in time, of course.
In four years, the Cubs could become perennial World Series participants. Their minor league system could churn out eight All-Stars.
If that happens, I will write another article about how the White Sox should have learned something during Epstein’s rebuild.
Then again, maybe not.
*Transaction history courtesy of BaseballReference.com.