Organizational Rankings: #24 – Chicago White Sox

And now, we come to the fundamental problem with lists. Because of the linear growth from #30 to #1, the White Sox are going to appear right next to the Pirates in this rankings series, but there’s actually a pretty massive gap between the #25 and #24 teams on this list. The first six teams we covered all have some pretty serious problems and are unlikely to win now or in the future. Starting now, however, we enter the big blob of teams that make up the middle ground – organizations that could win if things break right, but have enough question marks that they need some luck to have success.

The White Sox are a perfect example of this kind of team (of which there are quite a few). Their pitching staff is very good, led by a rotation that is among the best in baseball. If all of their starters stay healthy, and Jake Peavy can figure out how to keep the ball in the yard in that ballpark, they can make a run at the AL Central title. But while this is not a bad team, neither is it a good team, and the future doesn’t look especially bright.

Their position players leave quite a bit to be desired. Gordon Beckham is a good young player, Carlos Quentin can hit when he’s healthy, Alexei Ramirez is decent, and I still have a little hope for Alex Rios, but there’s not much after those four. And that’s not really a championship core capable of carrying mediocre teammates for long stretches of time. The pale hose are counting on too many mediocrities, guys like Juan Pierre and Mark Teahen who are solid reserves but simply shouldn’t be starting on a team that wants to win.

Unfortunately, their acquisitions were deemed necessary because the farm system just isn’t up to par. As Bryan noted, a string of bad drafts led to shallow minor league teams, and so when the White Sox need a role player, they end up paying market value to bring them in from the outside. In fact, there aren’t too many bargains on the roster, as most of the talent is now making something approximating their overall value. The White Sox have a solid payroll, but not enough to build a winner by paying market rates for everyone, and that’s why they have spent nearly $100 million on a team that is projected to be around .500.

Kenny Williams took some risks in picking up the tab for the remaining contracts for Peavy and Rios, but then saw the market to continue to contract and he had to watch as players who could have helped his team signed elsewhere for peanuts. They already have $66 million in commitments for 2011, and that’s before giving raises to Quentin and John Danks, who are going to be eligible for arbitration. There isn’t a lot of payroll flexibility going forward, and there are still quite a few spots that need upgrading.

Williams is going to have to swing a few quality trades, where he gets more than he gives up. He’s certainly not shy about making deals, so maybe he’ll do it, but it’s not a great position to be in. With the Twins moving into a new park that should increase their revenues, the division will only get more challenging, and the White Sox are in danger of getting left behind. 2010 is going to be a critical year this team. With some breaks, they could challenge for a playoff spot, but they also need to continue to add young talent to the organization. Trying to do both at the same time is not easy.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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We’re fairly numbers savvy here, so if you don’t like the linearity of rankings, add a point system with a higher number, so that, say, Pittsburgh can be 12/100 and the White Sox can be 25/100, even if there are no teams between them.