- Bruce Levine, Chicago baseball beat reporter
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago White Sox are stuck in between going for a division title and building toward their future.
This year’s team, which currently leads the AL Central, has surpassed even team executives' expectations -- optimistically they had hoped for 81-85 wins this season. The good news is the White Sox could make the playoffs. The bad news is that winning could set the organization's player-development plan back a couple seasons.
All that said, this evolving group of players is maybe a little too green to get the job done without adding some depth. Realistically, the White Sox need at least one starting pitcher, a third baseman and a veteran reliever to win 90 games.
With that, economic factors may force the White Sox to do a complete about-face and begin trading off veterans such Jake Peavy and A.J. Pierzynski to build toward a younger, cheaper group of competitive players.
As the Sox close in on the 15th anniversary of the infamous “White Flag Trade” of 1997, would they make a comparable trade, under somewhat similar circumstances, this season?
In 1997, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf gave his consent to then-GM Ron Schueler to essentially drop out of the pennant race -- Chicago trailed Cleveland by 3 ½ games in the AL Central at the time -- and trade three veteran pitchers (Wilson Alvarez, Danny Darwin and Robert Hernandez) to the San Francisco Giants for four prospects. At the time, the move was almost universally panned. But years later, it didn’t look so unwise. Two of the prospects the White Sox received in that trade -- relievers Bobby Howry and Keith Foulke -- were major contributors on the 2000 club that won the AL Central crown.
Many aspects of what made the 1997 club execute that trade seem to be in play with this year’s squad. Like the '97 club, the White Sox’s payroll is bogged down by expiring veteran contracts. The bottom line certainly isn’t helped by attendance figures that rank in the bottom five in the big leagues.
Ironically the most irate player after the ’97 trade was third baseman Robin Ventura. After 10 years with the team, Ventura has said he made up his mind the day of trade that he would become a free agent and move on after the 1998 season.
The loss of left-hander John Danks for another month should give the Sox brass pause in deciding what major moves to make next. Peavy and Pierzynski will be playing elsewhere at some point. It’s up to Sox management to figure out if that departure date will be July 31 or Oct. 4 .
The surprisingly-competitive Sox find themselves in a familiar predicament.