It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity surrounding the different paths the Indians and White Sox have taken this winter, but there is a bright side.
I haven’t sugarcoated it yet, and I’m not about to start now. This has been an incredibly frustrating offseason for the Cleveland Indians, a reality compounded by the fact that it is the second consecutive such offseason.
In addition to no longer employing Corey Kluber, narrowly avoiding a franchise-altering Francisco Lindor trade (for the time being), and doing virtually nothing to supplement the existing roster via free agency, the Indians have also witnessed their two primary competitors in the AL Central make concerted efforts to get better.
Though the Minnesota Twins landed the single biggest acquisition of the winter among AL Central teams in Josh Donaldson, the spending spree of the Chicago White Sox has been the bigger overall story. The Twins won 101 games in 2019; Donaldson just helps improve an already good team.
The White Sox, on the other hand, are a novelty in that they won 72 games last year but are willing to get aggressive and assume financial risk in the name of possibly being a very good baseball team. It’s refreshing, especially in today’s climate where teams much better than the White Sox at the start of this offseason have played things so nauseatingly close to the vest.
The White Sox have committed $151.5 million to free agents this winter, a tally that ranks fifth in MLB. (Directly in front of them at No. 4, and deserving of equal praise, is the Cincinnati Reds.)
If everything comes together for this team in 2020, they’re a threat to contend for the AL Central crown. If that’s setting the bar a little too high, they should at least be in a position to join the wild-card hunt.
Consequently, Chicago’s assertive offseason could also make Cleveland’s path to October a more challenging one. With memories still fresh in our minds of a division once comprised mostly of teams not even pretending to compete; and from a standpoint of simply wanting to make the playoffs without concerning ourselves with whether the other teams in the AL Central are trying to do the same (which is out of our control anyway), suddenly having to deal with two playoff contenders can feel like a negative. But is it?
Without getting into the whole, “playing bad teams all season means you’re not going to be ready for the playoffs” theory, which I’m not sure there’s any quantifiable way to prove, let’s look at the White Sox uprising from a different perspective. Isn’t it going to be thrilling (and life-threatening at times) to endure the ups and downs of a genuine divisional race?
Isn’t it going to be more fun to scoreboard-watch in 2020 to see what the Twins and White Sox are up to? Think about when they’re playing each other, for instance. Minnesota beat the living daylights out of every team in the division in 2019 except for the Indians. It was barely even worth hoping the White Sox would occasionally do the Tribe a favor and steal one from the Twins. Won’t it now be more interesting on a random Wednesday night to check in on those box scores during Indians commercial breaks?
When they’re not playing each other, or the Indians, we get to contort our rooting interests on an almost daily basis to direct our attention to whatever team is facing the Tribe’s division rivals. Chicago at Seattle? Huge Mariners fan here! Baltimore heading north to the Twin Cities? Come on Orioles, win one for the underdog! White Sox versus Astros in a 2005 World Series rematch? Go Houst–actually, you know what, no. Go ahead and let history repeat itself on that one. ChiSox all the way.
Maybe I’m just invested in the game of baseball to the point where it borders on unhealthy, but I absolutely love the idea of getting to care about all these random games.
Also, you might remember that the White Sox were inexplicably the one AL Central team to win their season series against the Indians in 2019. While I’m not sure what’s worse between repeatedly struggling to beat a bad team or knowing you have to play a much better version of that same team the same number of times the next year, what I can forecast is that I’m actually going to be excited when the White Sox come up on the schedule in 2020. Last year I anticipated those matchups with the same preemptively frustrated dread that precedes a trip to a shopping center three days before Christmas.
What we have in front of us is the potential for a three-team, 162-game, round-robin fight to the finish. Every win and loss is going to matter. The head-to-head matchups are going to be must-watch television. Doesn’t that sound at least as interesting as 2019, when, let’s face it, the Indians spent most of the season fighting what turned out to be an insurmountably uphill battle?
Of course, all of this hinges on the Indians, White Sox, and Twins actually being as good as they should be. That rather crucial part of the picture has yet to come into focus, but it’s certainly shaping up as such from afar.
So while it’s fair to lament the Indians’ inactivity as the White Sox loaded up for a run, I think we’re becoming prisoners of the moment if we allow ourselves to believe this year isn’t going to be fun once actual baseball games start being played again. As much as the ultimate objective is for the Indians to make the playoffs and win a World Series, I’m all-in on the idea of an exhilarating regular season, too.