Analysis

White Sox Fandom No Longer Black and White in Midst of Massive Rebuild

It’s the eve of Opening Day and something just doesn’t feel quite right. When White Sox fans turn on the television at 3:10 CT on Monday, they will be operating under an entirely new script.

Sports are a haven for many people and it is escapism at its finest. Death, taxes, and baseball. Complexity of life is reserved for work, relationships, and the like. Baseball, well that’s simple. A pitcher tosses a sphere toward a hitter who then tries to hit it with a modern day club. If it hits the ground instead of a glove, then you’re in good shape. Or maybe you’re not. See, that’s the thing. The game itself is simple and rooting interests tend to be too; that is until they’re not.

Suddenly in 2017, White Sox fandom is more convoluted than ever before. Do you want the ball to hit the ground? Well, it depends.

That’s because for the first time this century, White Sox fans are rooting to lose. Okay, if they’re not outright rooting to lose, then they’re at least hesitant about winning. Not winning in the sense of a miracle postseason run, but winning in the sense of achieving mediocre status. Maybe nothing is more indicative of the sign of times than #TankForBeer ousting #cesPAYdes as the prevailing fan-generated hashtag. Oh how the times have changed.

Don’t worry, Manny Machado will have his own hashtag come 2019. #MoneyMachado anyone?

The fact that #TankForBeer even exists is a massive myth buster. For years, pundits have said that White Sox fans could never buy into a rebuild. The premise was that fans didn’t even show up when the team won, so a rebuild would turn U.S. Cellular Field into a skeleton. It’s true that now Guaranteed Rate Field may be a corpse in 2017, but it’s not a barometer of fan sentiment.

Generally, White Sox fans are embracing the rebuild in droves. If you use Twitter as a pulse, then scouting director Nick Hostetler is as household a name as Jose Abreu. White Sox fans are die-hards. They get the process, and it’s their understanding of the blueprint that is going to make them so disoriented.

Fandom is no longer black and white. It’s about as grey as the away uniforms with the Chicago script on the front. That’s because there’s no dream scenario where Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera, and David Robertson all raise their trade stock and still sink the club. When losses are the difference between Seth Beer and pick #2, there’s an inherent trade-off between Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada lighting the world on fire and that four game losing streak running to five. These are mutually exclusive events. How in the world do you root for mutually exclusive events? The short answer is that you need to let go. You need to observe rather than be invested in a given outcome.

In some ways this is a release. For casual fans, the inverse rooting formula or general indifference won’t catch hold but for die-hards, it’ll become an old adage. In 2017 there is no such thing as a win or a loss. The measurement is instead growth and philosophy. You don’t have to root for winning baseball, but you do have to root for clean baseball. Clean baseball might hurt draft position margins, but it’s a lot more crucial to long-term success.

Maybe the White Sox don’t get Seth Beer but if they miss out on him because Rick Renteria has instilled fundamentally sound baseball, then that’s still a win. White Sox fans have to be content with an either/or scenario because if you’re not, this is going to be the most excruciating season of your life.

Credit: Camelback Ranch via Twitter

Maybe you’ve reached this point and you’re confounded about why anyone would ever root against their team. The answer is couched in a few reasons.

The first is that any playoff-less season is really a sunk cost. Since 2012, the White Sox have played like a rebuilding team without any of the usual benefits. Those benefits being a perennial Top 5 draft pick, coaching changes, and roster overhaul. The latter two have finally taken shape, but a top draft pick is the next step. The number three pick got Carlos Rodon in 2014 and this class is set to be even more stacked.

We’ll call reason number one the Seth Beer Motive. By the way, Beer is a Clemson phenom who slashed .369/.535/.700 last season and is continuing to tear up Division I baseball in his sophomore stint. The whole idea is that losing enables you to add a guy like Beer to this burgeoning core at no cost beyond the draft bonus. Losing is a sure better price than trading Chris Sale or spending $150 million in free agency to get a cornerstone. That’s why South Side faithful should want the loss discount to come at a guaranteed rate this year.

We’ll call reason number two Stay on Course. This isn’t a nod to the “fake rebuild” conspiracy crowd. Although, tinfoil ball-caps would make a great stadium giveaway. It is a recognition that certain factors could make Chicago deviate from an otherwise solid plan. Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera, and David Robertson are all locks to be traded. The former two are pending free agents while the latter can’t extinguish the future heat of Nate Jones and Zack Burdi. Jose Quintana and Jose Abreu are a different story though. For fans who want to see a scorched-earth, only the weakest twigs remaining type of rebuild, then losses are your friend. Winning out of the gate could keep Quintana around or at the very least raise the ask to a point that a trade falls below a coin flip chance.

While there are arguments to be made that Quintana should stay on the South Side, he’s the last way for the White Sox to generate depth in a multiplicative way that only trading premium assets can accomplish. Bottom line; losing and losing in bunches is the only sure-fire way to guarantee Quintana jerseys go on wholesale come August.

Losing big in 2017 also means the timeline won’t be expedited to the point that 2015 is reincarnated. There are certainly free-agents to target ahead of 2018, but the smart play is to wait until the real needle movers hit the market the following offseason. Anything that pushes the White Sox to not prematurely empty the coffers should be of rooting interest. You want to use #MoneyMachado after all, right?

So while fandom may not be cut and dry in 2017, it is going to be all the more intriguing. Whatever the outcome, the season will bring uncharted waters rather than the monotony fans were drowning in. To close, here are some quick tips on how to root in given situations. Use this as a guide of sorts.

Should I root for Jose Quintana to do well when he takes the mound?

 Yes. Draft position shouldn’t even be a consideration here. Quintana blazing through April, May, and June is going to result in the equivalent of a top draft pick in the increased return premium, so cheer on Q regardless. He’s also a no-decision machine, so the two desired outcomes may not be that mutually exclusive after all.

Should I root for Todd Frazier?

Todd Frazier is a class act. Then again, he’s also inexplicably blocked 75% of White Sox fans on social media so this is really a judgment call. If Frazier hits 20 bombs and keeps his average floating above .250 with a .315-ish OBP, he should fetch a Top 100 prospect even as a rental. If you’re concerned a hot start will force the White Sox to extend a guy already past the 30 year-old threshold, then a K-rate above 25 percent might look nice to you. I won’t judge.

Do I want David Robertson to blow this save?

If he’s facing the Royals, then the answer to this is a hard no. Generally, Robertson falls into the same bucket as Frazier. Closers go at a premium in July, so it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Robertson and his cutter racked up saves. Better to root for a Robertson save than getting a marginal step closer to that number one overall pick.

Should I just bask in the losses? Even cheer a three-error game?

There’s nothing Machiavellian about being content with a loss, but the bottom line is to root for clean baseball. It’s okay if the White Sox are sent to the loss column simply because they’re over-matched but not if they play sloppy. The latter should never be cheered.

Should I root for Cody Asche?

Here’s where things get a bit more complicated. Asche probably doesn’t factor into the team’s long-term plans. Ditto Derek Holland. Both will have minimal trade value even if they play competent up until the deadline. The worst thing would be for guys like Asche or org-filler to experience the Phegley-effect and inflate draft position and pay no dividends when it matters. These are professionals. This is their livelihood. It’s fine if they do well, but don’t feel bad if you’re indifferent.

It’s September 28th and the White Sox are neck and neck with the San Diego Padres for the coveted top draft spot. Yoan Moncada is at the plate with a guy on second and the White Sox are down by a run. Should I root for a game-tying single, a home run, a strikeout?

Again, how much do you want Seth Beer? This is the prototypical example of a fan avidity conundrum one might experience during a rebuild. If draft position truly comes down to the wire, then all bets are off. A strikeout can be cheered just as much as a game winning bomb. Okay, vocally cheer the home run but you can at least give the whiff a golf clap.

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