On Friday night, the Chicago White Sox defeated the New York Yankees by a final score of 10-2 and reached the .500 mark. While reaching .500 may not seem like a huge deal to those who haven't watched this team closely, Sox fans everywhere celebrated the victory as a sign of things to come. It comes with good reason to celebrate as the breakout play from young and rising stars Eloy Jimenez, who went deep not once but twice off of Yankee pitching, and Lucas Giolito, who had yet another dominant start, were the keys to sending this White Sox team to a .500 record.
It was also announced that the White Sox would be skipping over Manny Banuelos's next start in the rotation to line up Lucas Giolito for Wednesday's matchup against the crosstown rival Cubs. The Sox are using an off day on Monday to the team's advantage in order to put their best option on the mound as many times as possible. It's a solid and savvy move that shows this team and manager wants to win as many ballgames as possible. It is no wonder the ballpark was sold out on Saturday and Sunday. Fans have been dying to see this team compete.
Enter Odrisamer Despaigne... Yes, you just heard a record scratch to halt there.
When starter Dylan Covey went to the injured list with shoulder inflammation earlier in June, the White Sox elected to bring Odrisamer Despaigne up from Charlotte instead of calling up top prospect Dylan Cease, who is arguably more ready to face Major League hitters at this point in time than Michael Kopech was a year ago. The fact that Odrisamer Despaigne and his career -3.1 bWAR somehow made its way to the same South Side team that let veteran James Shields walk into free agency and gave former All-Star and reclamation project Ervin Santana only three starts before pulling the plug begs us to ask these questions. How the hell does any of this make sense? Is this team trying to win ballgames or not? Wouldn't a veteran starter of James Sheilds or Ervin Santana's ilk be able to or at least be better suited to eat these innings? Wouldn't they, at the very least, provide some sort of veteran leadership to the younger pitchers on the staff? If you ARE trying to win ballgames, why DFA someone only to bring in someone arguably worse? Most of these questions wouldn't even be questions if "the money was spent" on a starter or two this past offseason, but that as the White Sox faithful know, did not happen.
In a year where the White Sox young core has started to figure it out at the big league level, it's hard not to want to see these guys win. Lucas Giolito sits at 10-1 with a 2.22 ERA and has seen his strikeout rate climb significantly. Tim Anderson put up an AL Player of the Month campaign in April and is still only one of two players hitting over .300 with ten or more stolen bases and home runs so far (the only other player is Christian Yelich if you were wondering). Yoan Moncada has cut his strikeout rate down from last year about 6%, raised his average, OBP, and is on pace to meet his last year home run total of 17 fairly soon as he has already gone deep 12 times this season. Add in the arrival of Eloy Jimenez, whose power has already gone on full display multiple times this season, the solid and steady play of Jose Abreu, James McCann's offensive awakening, a solid back end of the bullpen in Evan Marshall, Aaron Bummer, Kelvin Herrera, and Alex Colome, and you have the foundation of a winning ball club.
The foundation is strong and can grow even stronger as the White Sox make additions. On Sunday, the rumor mills began to swirl around a potential call up of former first-round draft pick Zack Collins as catcher Wellington Castillo hits the IL for the second time this season.
Collins would provide a much-needed lefty power bat to a lineup desperately lacking one. Offseason addition Yonder Alonso has done everything he can to warrant the way most fans feel about him. The promotion of Collins is another step in the right direction for this team, so long as Collins isn't on a plane back to Charlotte (a la Seby Zavala) once Castillo has recovered from his back injury. General Manager Rick Hahn has said many times that he wants his prospects to stick in the majors once they arrive, adding that promotions will be based on readiness over the needs of the Major League team. It should be expected, based on those sentiments, that Collins will be here to stay once he arrives. The roster decisions that take place after Castillo recovers will be the interesting part to watch play out. Collins will seemingly take the place of Jordan Stephens on the 40-man roster, as Stephens was claimed off of waivers by Cleveland over the weekend, but what will happen to the 25-man roster? Will Collins go back down? Will Castillo or Yonder see the door? Is a trade of some sort on the horizon?
Trying to decipher what this team will do next is no easy task. While it would be easy to say calling up Dylan Cease, adding a starter, and acquiring an additional bat via trade at the deadline would put this team into contention, it is just not that easy in reality. At the same time, selling off certain assets could be damaging to the team's contention window that is seemingly starting to open right now.
What the Sox should do with Jose Abreu is among the top storylines as the July 31st date approaches. The 32-year-old slugger currently leads the American League in RBIs with 54 and has been a force in the middle of the lineup, but an extension remains unsigned. He will enter free agency after this season should the team not extend him. This makes him an intriguing piece at the trade deadline as teams looking to add a dangerous bat will surely inquire with the White Sox about his availability. The Sox, however, will probably not get anything extremely noteworthy in return for a deal involving Abreu, as the trade market for power-hitting first basemen doesn't traditionally return top-tier prospects. Trading one of the faces of the franchise over the last five years would also be a hard sell to a fan base and young core of players that looks to him as the leader of this team.
The White Sox are still straddling the fence between fully opening the window of contention and remaining just within the safe space that a rebuild provides without fan expectations and accountability for poor performance. From the outside looking in, the window may be opening quicker than Rick Hahn and his front office had planned for.
As Anderson, Moncada, Eloy, and Giolito force the issue of contention, it will be up to Rick Hahn to navigate the tricky waters of a fanbase starving for October baseball and a half-baked roster heading into the July 31st trade deadline. What the White Sox do between now and the deadline, not only on the field, but with their roster, should clear up any confusion, but if it doesn't... well don't be shocked.
Featured Photo: AP