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The Prospects Are Already Here

By the time Nick Swisher hit the blast halfway up the right-field bleachers off Addison Reed around 12:30 a.m. early Saturday morning, there were no f-bombs, airborne shoes, groans or moans in my man cave. I'll admit maybe to a grimace, but then laughter. What else could you do?

In 137 years of major league baseball, no two teams had ever played as long as the White Sox and Indians on Friday night and continuing into the wee hours of Saturday morning.

While doubleheaders are pretty much a part of baseball history - this one only was necessary because of an earlier rain-out - there have been thousands of them over the decades. The seven hours, 37 minutes - featuring 46 runs, 59 hits, 18 pitching changes, and, of course, two Sox losses - wound up just before 1 a.m., factoring in a 25-minute rain delay added to the scheduled half-hour break between games.

The attendance of 28,628 no doubt included some of the revelers who made their way to the South Side after joining almost two million of their closest friends for the rally to honor the Blackhawks. Possibly others simply wanted to witness this sorry bunch of White Sox create new, innovative ways to blow a ballgame.

If the early-morning ending fatigued the Sox, the Indians were much less affected as they came back to edge our guys 4-3 on Saturday and 4-0 Sunday, making Chris Sale, the American League's least-supported pitcher, a victim once again.

So now the buzz around the White Sox - people are watching; they drew 27,022 again on Sunday - centers on which players will be gone in a few weeks as the trading deadline nears at the end of July. The conversation has evolved into which players have value. The fact is the Sox don't have much of anyone of value. If they did, they wouldn't be 15 games under .500.

Alex Rios often is mentioned as someone who could help a contender. Would you trade for Rios to replace rightfielders like Nick Markakis, Shane Victorino, Nelson Cruz, Jay Bruce, Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Beltran, Jason Heyward, Torii Hunter, Jose Bautista or Hunter Pence? These ten all play Rios' position for teams with a real shot at post-season play.

Rios is slumping. His batting average is down to .268. He had one homer and eight RBI in the month of June. Any general manager who would offer the Sox two or three promising prospects for Rios would lose his job.

Maybe the Sox would like to get out from under Adam Dunn's contract, which will pay him $15 million next season. The big guy has come to life recently, and his power numbers- 21 home runs and 52 RBI - are respectable.

However, with runners in scoring position, Dunn strikes out approximately 40 percent of the time, and his average is .227, which, granted, is higher than his season's mark of .198. But visualize a big game in September with a playoff position at stake. You want to depend on Adam Dunn to drive in a run? He'll come through a bit more than once every five at-bats. Those aren't great odds.

Alexei Ramirez is tied with Starlin Castro for the most errors of any shortstop in baseball with 14. He bats second, can't bunt, and has one homer. Who would want him?

Alejandro De Aza, the team's leadoff man for the past two seasons, is hitting .264, not great but acceptable. Yet he's struck out 81 times, has an average arm at best, makes frequent base-running mistakes - after leading off the bottom of the fourth with a base hit on Sunday and the Sox trailing 2-0, he promptly got picked off first - and more than a few times this season, he's lost track of the number of outs. Again, you think he will bring value?

Gordon Beckham, who missed almost two months with a broken hand, had a solid June offensively, although defensively he hasn't performed near the level of 2012.

Nevertheless, at age 26, the former number-one draft choice still has a large upside. If the Sox are destined to improve in the future, Beckham has to be one of the pieces. He has value, and he needs to remain right where he is.

The name most often mentioned in trade rumors is reliever Jesse Crain. Contending teams are more apt to try to add a pitcher than a position player. We all recall last July when the Sox secured Francisco Liriano. That didn't work so great, especially since Eduardo Escobar was lost to the Twins. We sure could use Eduardo now to spell Ramirez.

Crain and his 0.74 ERA will be attractive to a number of teams. Matt Thornton is another relief pitcher who will be mentioned in trade talks.

What can the White Sox expect in return? Most often in these end-of-July transactions, contenders offer lower-classification minor-league prospects in return for guys like Crain and Thornton. Then you wait one, two, or three years to see whether they develop into legitimate major-league players. In some circles, this is called rebuilding or reloading. I call it gambling or crapshooting.

The top five minor league organizations according to Baseball Prospectus are the Cardinals, Rangers, Padres, Twins and Mariners. (The Sox are ranked 28th.)

A perusal of the top prospects of those five indicate that they have kept the vast majority of their highest draft choices and prospects, grooming them for stardom at the major-league level.

Case in point is Shelby Miller of St. Louis, a first-round pick in 2009 who already has won eight games for the Cards this season. Another example is Jurickson Profar, the 20-year-old infielder from Curacao who is getting a lot of playing time this season for the Rangers.

When the Cubs sent Ryan Dempster to Texas last July, they received eighth-round pick pitcher Kyle Hendricks along with Mexican third baseman Christian Villanueva. Both are playing at the Double-A level this season. Hendricks is 8-2 with a 2.17 ERA while Villanueva is hitting .253. Hendricks shows promise. But is he or Villanueva good enough to one day help the Cubs?

The Giants bartered for outfielder Hunter Pence last July, getting him from the Phillies for Nate Schierholtz, who played out his option before signing with the Cubs for 2013, and two minor leaguers, pitcher Seth Rosin and catcher Tommy Joseph. Pence helped lead the Giants to a World Series championship, so it was a good deal for them.

Meanwhile, Joseph is hitting .203 in Triple-A, and Rosin is 6-4 with a 3.96 ERA at Double-A. Will either eventually be a regular in Philadelphia? In my mind, it's less than a 50-50 proposition.

Crain will turn 32 on Friday, a prime age for a pitcher. He becomes a free agent at the end of this season. Other teams know that the Sox would rather get something for him than lose a bidding war for him over the winter - if the Sox even decided to make Crain an offer. Meanwhile, general manager Rick Hahn's best move would be to get two or more teams negotiating for Crain so that the Sox can get the best possible prospects.

Like the deals for Dempster and Pence, Crain would depart, and then the Sox would wait a couple of years to see how their new prospects develop.

Or they could decide to hold onto Crain and try to bring him back over the winter. That's an enticing idea but not likely to happen.

Hahn says that only Sale and Paul Konerko are untradeable. That's crazy. The White Sox already have prospects on the major league roster. Addison Reed and Nate Jones, to name two, qualify. Both are young, pitching in just their second seasons with the Sox. Each throws hard and has obvious ability. Trading either of them for prospects who might develop in two or three years to where Reed and Jones are now would be stupid.

The same can be said for Dayan Viciedo, who's just 24. He's still raw and just learning the game. He has a huge strike zone, and he's another one who occasionally loses track of the outs. But what an upside. If Hahn puts Viciedo on the block - which I highly doubt - there will be plenty of takers. OK, send him back to Charlotte to work on his game, but he remains a prospect even though he's playing at the major-league level.

There remains a different alternative to reloading or rebuilding or whatever you want to call it. How about teaching and coaching.

Rick Hahn can go ahead and make some trades, but unless the incoming prospects and the young players already in the system learn how to bunt, run the bases, block low pitches, hold runners on, throw to the right base, hit the cutoff man, run out every ground ball . . . you get the idea. This is why the team is so deplorable, and regardless of who leaves, who stays, and who arrives, nothing will change until they learn how to play the game.


Roger Wallenstein is our man on the White Sox. He welcomes your comments.


1. From Jared Grizzle:

The last paragraph of your article is amazing. I'm not sure I've heard a better summarization of this team's problems. Keep up the good work.

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