Commentary: Better luck next year, Sox

Know how people say that “hate” is a very strong word? Well, so is “luck.”

The word implies that a person or group didn’t deserve the success or accomplishments that he/she/they received. It has the connotation of ineptitude, that through sheer outside forces a person or group was rewarded or put in a favorable position.
In that sense, the 2012 White Sox weren’t exactly lucky. They won 85 games this season, and their expected win-loss record is actually a few games better, at 88-74. The Sox were a good team this year.
But they did catch a lot of breaks. They were fortunate enough to play in the American League Central, with three crummy teams (Royals, Indians, Twins) and one should-be contender that didn’t put it all together until the last 13 games of the season.

Detroit leads the division with 88 wins; Los Angeles and Tampa Bay did not make the playoffs with 89 and 90 wins, respectively. The AL Central was a winnable, wide-open division this year.

Chicago was blessed with bounce-back years from their top sluggers and pitchers. Adam Dunn socked 41 home runs after a dreadful 2011 season; AJ Pierzynski had a career high in homers (27) and OPS (.827) at age 35; Alex Rios had a subpar 2011, but led the position players this year in Wins Above Replacement with 4.2, being a factor not only in the batters box, but also in the field and on the basepaths; Jake Peavy had an injury-free season for the first time in awhile, pitched 219 innings and had a 3.37 ERA with a 1.096 WHIP.

The Sox also got unexpected help from their young players. Chris Sale was a Cy Young candidate (17-8, 3.05 ERA). Nate Jones was the club’s best reliever, a righty with a high 90s fastball and a 2.40 ERA. Those two, Alejandro De Aza, Dayan Viciedo, Addison Reed and Jose Quintana all had a huge hand in the success of the team, and they were all either rookies or first-time regular starters.

Having considered all that… expect the White Sox to make major changes for the 2013 season. Or at least they should. Bringing back everyone for a sequel to this season (hoping for a better outcome, naturally) will not go well. Regression to the status quo is almost guaranteed. What are the odds that the rest of the division will be that bad and the older and younger players will continue their surprising 2012 success?

The door is open for re-tooling, if not outright rebuilding. Remember, last winter was the kick-off to a tear down roster project: General Manager Kenny Williams let ace pitcher Mark Buehrle leave in free agency and traded away outfielder Carlos Quentin and closer Sergio Santos. Williams isn’t tied down to this roster.

This winter, Peavy, Pierzynski and third baseman Kevin Youkilis are all free agents. Losing them would be tough for the White Sox’s short term winning chances, but signing them market-value deals will cripple the team financially and block younger players’ paths to the big leagues. Also, the Sox may find that it’s time to sell high on Rios and Dunn –though they have large contracts that last a few more seasons, any player has trade value no matter the price (Carl Crawford and AJ Burnett are the best recent examples).

Though they came oh-so-close this season, the White Sox must kick-start this rebuilding process. It’s time to let go of their big name free agents and clear some money for the future. It’s time to trade other vets for building blocks and improve their weak farm system (30th in MLB according to Baseball America). It’s time to give the current rookies bigger roles and weather the inevitable sophomore slump with little pressure to win. It’s time to give some of their top prospects, like Trayce Thompson and Nestor Molina, some at-bats and innings.

The White Sox caught some breaks this year. They would be lucky to make the postseason in 2013 if they ran back this same core.