Column: Nothing is obvious in the Chicago White Sox rebuild — including who might be traded for future’s sake

Chicago White Sox starter Erick Fedde was part of the Washington Nationals rebuild in 2022 that saw them lose 107 games.

It was a difficult time but also a learning experience for the young pitcher.

“We went for it in 2019 and ’20, and then we traded everyone in ’21,” Fedde said Saturday night before the Sox beat the Cleveland Guardians 3-1 at Guaranteed Rate Field. “If anything you just feel guilty when you know you could’ve played better to keep those guys around and become buyers instead of sellers.”

Two seasons later, after a year starring in South Korea, Fedde is at the helm of another rebuilding team on the South Side, while the Nationals’ rebuild has seemingly turned a corner with a 19-19 start.

The Sox’s talent level isn’t close to the Nationals’, and it won’t be an easy fix for general manager Chris Getz.

After starting 3-22, it looked as if their rebuild was going nowhere. But the Sox have played much better the last two weeks, going 9-6 and getting solid starting pitching from Fedde, Garrett Crochet and Chris Flexen while third-base prospect Bryan Ramos and newcomer Tommy Pham provided a spark to the lineup.

Mike Clevinger was effective in his second start, allowing one run over 4 2/3 innings, and John Brebbia notched the save while closer Michael Kopech had a forced rest. The win Saturday was their season-high fourth straight, and most of the crowd of 26,152 stayed until the end.

“It’s fun,” second baseman Nicky Lopez said. “Winning cures everything.”

Lopez drove in his first run of the season with an RBI double in the two-run second inning and fouled a ball off his face, which gave everyone reason to laugh when it was apparent he was OK.

“It was one of those like, ‘What just happened?’ ” Lopez said. “I fouled the ball off my chin and then the helmet hit me in the nose, but we’re good. Good thing I have a wife.”

After the horrible start, it was nice to see the players smiling again.

“It’s a really cohesive group here,” Clevinger said. “We feel it feels a lot more like a family and less like a team, if that makes sense.”

Three straight wins against the Guardians might say more about the visitors than the Sox, but at least no one was comparing them to the 1962 New York Mets anymore.

“Think about it, we went through probably the worst 25 games in White Sox history,” manager Pedro Grifol correctly said. “And they were games that we very easily could have won at least a handful of those games. That hurt. They were heartbreakers.”

The question now is whether the Sox can turn the corner in as few as two seasons, like the Nationals seem to have done from that 107-loss season in 2022.

“You hit on a few trades, hit on a prospect or two and you’re right back in it with free agency,” Fedde said. “Of course we can do that. They’ve got a lot of young guys there playing well, and that’s the whole plan of a rebuild — give those guys time to grow in the game. The big leagues are tough, and the only way to get better is to play games.”

The Nationals come to town Monday for a three-game series, so Sox fans will get a firsthand look at how a rebuild can work if it’s executed correctly. Fedde is scheduled to face his former team Tuesday night.

Nationals President Mike Rizzo, a Chicago native who built Washington into a world champion in 2019, was forced to make moves he didn’t want to make for various reasons, mostly economic. Rizzo attempted to keep outfielder Juan Soto, offering the superstar a 15-year, $440 million deal.

But when Soto rejected the offer, Rizzo had little choice but to see what he could get for him. In a blockbuster trade with the San Diego Padres in summer 2022, the Nats received a package of prospects that already is bearing fruit.

CJ Abrams, 23, has become one of the best young shortstops in the game, while left-hander MacKenzie Gore, 25, is a key part of the rotation and center fielder James Woods, 21, is a budding star on the cusp of the big leagues, hitting .344 with a .995 OPS at Triple-A Rochester.

Whether the Sox have a threesome in the minors as talented as Abrams, Gore and Woods is debatable, but they do have a promising third baseman in Ramos, who already has proved to some he deserves a prolonged shot.

It seems obvious Ramos will stick around even when Danny Mendick returns off the 10-day injured list.

“It’s not obvious,” Grifol countered.

OK. Never mind.

“He’s got to continue to play,” Grifol said. “This is not a four out of seven (series). This is a long haul. He’s doing really well right now. We’re taking it day by day with him. We’re not going to be quick to evaluate — ‘He’s staying the whole year’ or ‘He’s going down.’

“That’s not how this process is going to work. Right now he’s doing everything he’s capable of doing to show he belongs here. He’s putting good at-bats together and playing good defense, but at the same time he’s extremely young. This is his first taste of the big leagues.”

Ramos made two defensive gems Saturday, and his teammates appreciate what he has brought to the club.

“He’s as humble as it gets,” Lopez said. “Speaks unbelievable English for someone who came over from Cuba. He works really, really hard, and you can tell a lot of people like him. He’s a great addition and he’s going to be playing in the big leagues for a really long time.”

Grifol said Ramos is “energetic” but didn’t credit his call-up as a main factor for the recent improvement of the lineup.

“That happened prior to him (coming up) as well,” Grifol said. “He just adds to a group of guys that are really hungry to play good baseball.”

Grifol, fortunately, doesn’t have the final say on Ramos. That belongs to Getz, who made the bold move of calling up Ramos from Double-A Birmingham, where Ramos was struggling, hitting .182. But he was rated the No. 4 prospect in the Sox system and looks like he could be counted on in the rebuild. Is Mendick the future?

Of course, the Sox can just as easily go back into a funk as quickly as they came out of it. Two weeks doesn’t make a 3-22 hole disappear.

So the next two months likely will be about finding trade partners for veterans such as Pham, Clevinger, Kopech, Eloy Jimenez and perhaps even Fedde. Getz will have to consider everything, including trading Luis Robert, to get this franchise back on its feet.

The players and Grifol dug this hole, and no one should feel safe.

Fedde believes plenty of things can happen between now and the trade deadline, so he’s not worried.

“I still think we’re a long way away,” Fedde said. “The trade deadline is a couple months away, and one good month of pitching can undo one bad month pretty quickly. Head down, one start at a time. We’ll deal with that when the time comes.”