Future for Sox looks quite bad

By Se Young Lee

Although the memories of the glory that was the 2005 championship are still fresh in their minds, Sox fans are already getting nervous about their beloved team’s relatively slow start. With the trades of Freddy Garcia and Brandon McCarthy, as well as the impending departures of Jermaine Dye and Mark Buehrle, it seems as if the heyday may soon be gone.

So what is to become of the White Sox?

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At least two more seasons of contention, including this season, with the majority of the core that made the 99-63 season possible remaining until 2008, can be expected. But after 2008, Joe Crede and Jon Garland will become free agents and are likely to leave. By then, the Sox will be left with an aging Paul Konerko and Jim Thome, a 36-year-old ace in Jose Contreras and Javier Vazquez to carry the team.

And, as of right now, there is no great talent from the farm to prevent the franchise from crashing.

The White Sox’ inability to develop home-grown talent is glaring. Aside from Mark Buehrle, Joe Crede and Brian Anderson, there are no players on the current 25-man squad who were drafted and rose through the Sox minor league system.

Of course, there have been players, like Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee, who came up through the Sox system and became everyday starters. And much of the deficiency in drafting quality players has been covered up by the team’s ability to poach prospects and projects off of other teams (Garland, Konerko, Contreras, Bobby Jenks, etc.). But at some point, you have to start wondering when the three best farm players in the past two decades to become stars are Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura and Jack McDowell – all of whom were drafted in the late 80s and are no longer on the squad.

As more money flows into Major League Baseball and salaries continue to rise, it is now more important than ever for a franchise to develop and maintain a steady stream of talent to allow it to remain competitive for extended periods of time. As clubs are wising up and starting to lock up their up-and-coming stars to long-term deals, the free agent pool will continue to diminish. The Sox got lucky with Uribe and Dye. But smart managers do not count on being able to consistently rely on flashes in the pan.

This need is even more pronounced in the AL Central. Cleveland, Detroit and Minnesota have all become very good at churning out prospects who are ready for big time. Guys like Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have all been instrumental to their respective team’s recent successes, and there appears to be no shortage of prospects for the Sox’ three division contenders.

In contrast, the Sox don’t have a whole lot to show for their past drafts as of now, even though the club’s farm system was rated the best in the majors by Baseball America in 2001. The club’s can’t-miss prospects have included Kip Wells, Danny Wright, Joe Borchard, Jon Rauch, Jeremy Reed, Chris Young and Anderson. The last three players probably deserve a few more seasons before passing judgment, but Reed is back in the minors after struggling in the bigs, and Young is struggling in his first year as a starter in Arizona the same way Anderson played out of his starting job last season. And the rest on that list have been remarkably unspectacular. Perhaps the most successful of the former Sox prospects in the recent years is Royce Ring, the Sox’ 1st rounder in 2002 who was dealt in 2003 for Roberto Alomar and has established himself as a solid reliever on the Padres.

Could the likes of John Danks, Nick Masset, Gio Gonzalez, Lance Broadway, Robert Valido and Ryan Sweeney step up to replace the current core of the club? While the Sox execs count on it, I can’t help but be skeptical given their track record. And this team’s certainly running out of assets they can use to trade for the batches of prospects as they did in the winter.

By the way, the last starting catcher the White Sox grew out of their farm was Ron Karkovice. That makes me very nervous.

Se Young Lee is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]