From 2012 to 2013, the White Sox dropped 27 games in the standings, thanks to losing 22 more games this past year. The Sox also somehow saw their run differential swing by 197 runs down to -125, the third worst mark in the American League. Needless to say, there will be changes this winter.
The White Sox already filled one of their biggest needs this offseason by inking Cuban slugger Jose Dariel Abreu to a six-year, $68 million contract. Abreu will be replacing the most-likely retiring Paul Konerko at first base and will inject some offense into a lineup that hit just .249/.302/.378 in 2013. Abreu is probably going to be Chicago's lone big move this winter, even with the salaries for Konerko (even if he returns, it wouldn't be at $13.5 million) and Gavin Floyd coming off the books. But aside from Abreu, what did the White Sox even need to do? I'd expect them to sniff around some catching help and maybe a starting pitcher, but that's about it.
OK, the White Sox won't be doing much shopping. But if it's a catcher they desire, there are plenty out there to consider: Brian McCann, Carlos Ruiz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and so on and so forth. I think the return of the Josh Phegley/Tyler Flowers pairing could be in the cards for 2014, but the duo (along with small contributions from Hector Gimenez, Miguel Gonzalez, and Bryan Anderson) hit a paltry .195/.237/.323 in 2013. Nearly any catcher on the market would represent an upgrade over that, but the price might be too high for the White Sox.
Now this is where things get interesting for Chicago. I'm sure GM Rick Hahn would love to get out from under the $15 million owed to Adam Dunn in 2013, especially thanks to the presence of Abreu and fellow Cuban Dayan Viciedo, who is an outfielder in name only. Chicago also owes shortstop Alexei Ramirez $20.5 million over the next three seasons (including a $1 million buyout on a 2016 club option), and while Ramirez's glove remains top notch, his bat remains disappointing. The White Sox would also love to move Jeff Keppinger and the $8.5 million he's owed over the next two years despite just signing him last winter. Keppinger struggled immensely in 2013, and might have more value to a team as a super sub off the bench as opposed to a starter with the White Sox.
Of course, I'm not done yet. Gordon Beckham has done nothing but disappoint since his great rookie season of 2009, and he might even be a non-tender possibility going into his second year of arbitration. Starting pitcher John Danks is still owed $47.25 million over the next three years and has made just 31 starts (with diminished velocity) over the last two seasons thanks to shoulder surgery. Getting a team to take the bulk of that contract would allow Hahn some maneuverability.
There's also the nuclear option: Chris Sale. Since moving to the rotation last year, Sale has been one of the very best pitchers in baseball. He's 24 years old, and was signed to a contract extension that can take him through 2019 at a handful of affordable salaries. Yet with Sale, there's always the thought that he can blow his arm out and be finished as a starter - think Tim Lincecum. With the White Sox not ready to contend, would it make sense to trade their best player for an absolute bounty of young talent to help replenish a weak farm system? Some will argue yes, some will argue no. But if Hahn doesn't at least listen to offers, he's doing the franchise a disservice.
Young talent, and lots of it. Trying to trade for a player like David Price or Chase Headley would be counterproductive, since the club isn't going to contend next season. I highly doubt they even have the prospects to even come close to sniffing a trade for one of those players unless they get involved in a three-way trade that sees them dump Ramirez or Sale to a third team. The White Sox aren't in the position to trade young talent for established veterans, like they have in the past for guys like Javier Vazquez, Jim Thome, and Nick Swisher. The White Sox need to be in the position that the Diamondbacks, Phillies, and Athletics were in those situations: dealing veterans to acquire young talent for the future. The Diamondbacks got Chris Young from Chicago in the Vazquez trade, who would be a six year starter in the outfield for them. The Phillies got Aaron Rowand in the Thome trade from the White Sox, and he served as a solid placeholder for the team until Shane Victorino was ready to take over every day in center. The Phillies also got Gio Gonzalez in that deal, who they traded back to the White Sox a year later (with Gavin Floyd) for Freddy Garcia. The White Sox shipped Gonzalez to Oakland for Swisher, and then traded Swisher for a pile of junk a year later while Gonzalez had two great years for the A's and was traded to Washington for even more young talent.
I think you get the picture now. In the past, the White Sox had a much better farm system and were in a good position to acquire pieces to win now. Right now, the team needs to worry about 2015 and beyond as opposed to 2014. If they're going to blow it up, they need to go all-out and not just roll along with aging players and younger players who still haven't tapped their potential. The White Sox have one foot in the pool and one foot out of the pool. If they're going to trade players, they might as well think about the future instead of about now. If they're not looking to make deals, they might as well make the best of what they have, but the best might not be much better than what we saw this year.