Forget rivals, the White Sox should look at the Cubs as rebuild role models

Vinnie Duber
NBC Sports Chicago

The White Sox and Cubs couldn't be in two more different places.

Well, both teams play in the same city, on the same CTA line. But let's stay metaphorical here, let's stay high concept.

The White Sox are rebuilding and in the dog days of that process, which even after Sunday's refreshing, change-of-pace win to avoid a crosstown sweep has them at 10-27, the worst record in the majors. There's no shortage of hope for the future, with a wealth of highly ranked prospects developing in the minor leagues, and even the most pessimistic observer would have to consider the rebuild on track for success.

The Cubs, meanwhile, are a team that has not only World Series aspirations but a team that has World Series expectations. Talk during spring training reflected a "championship or bust" attitude, one that was significantly bolstered by the big-money addition of Yu Darvish.

Certainly fans on the South Side would never admit a desire to be like their North Side brothers, but they should look above Madison Street to find a role model, to find a template for how a rebuild is supposed to play out.

It wasn't too long ago that Theo Epstein's front office executed the same strategy Rick Hahn & Co. are now employing. Epstein took over as team president in the midst of five straight fifth-place finishes in the National League Central, three of those under his watch. But the three seasons that followed saw the Cubs reach three NL Championship Series and win a World Series championship in 2016.

Building that champion took a variety of moves including trades (Andrew Cashner for Anthony Rizzo, Scott Feldman for Jake Arrieta, Ryan Dempster for Kyle Hendricks, Jeff Samardzija for Addison Russell), draft picks (Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr.) and big-time free-agent signings (Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward). It took player development, and it took a lot of losing at the major league level while that all occurred.

The White Sox are in the middle of that same process. They've traded Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana and a host of others for what they expect to be cornerstones of future contenders: Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dane Dunning, Dylan Cease and Blake Rutherford. They've spent high draft picks on the likes of Tim Anderson, Carlos Rodon, Carson Fulmer, Zack Collins, Alec Hansen and Jake Burger. They've made two important international signings in Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo.

While there's no guarantee that all those guys will pan out the same way the Cubs had good fortune in their top prospects developing into the core that now powers a perennial contender. But that lengthy list shows where the White Sox have actually outpaced the Cubs, in a way, during their rebuilding process: depth. That list isn't going to be the White Sox exact 25-man roster one day, in all likelihood, but a significant number of those players should make up a core just like the one the Cubs boast now.

The step the White Sox have yet to reach is the one where they add high-priced free agents. Lester and Heyward got huge contracts once the Cubs opened their contention window (even though it took a leap of faith on Lester's part, considering he signed before many of those youngsters hit the big leagues). Zobrist signed for four years and ended up the World Series MVP in his first season on the North Side.

The White Sox should be approaching that point, be it this offseason or the next. With the ridiculous amount of free agents set to hit the market in the next two offseasons - superstars like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and Nolan Arenado - adding someone of that caliber would help the White Sox build a contender on what is expected to be a pretty impressive foundation.

The year before the Cubs made their first run to the NLCS, they finished in last place. This isn't saying that the White Sox are going to rocket to the postseason after a season in which they're currently on pace to lose more than 100 games. But timing the arrival of all that minor league talent alongside spending on free agents could rip that contention window wide open, just like the Cubs did in 2015. After Lester signed over the winter, Bryant and Russell hit the majors in April. And just like that … 

Despite Sunday's win for the South Siders, this weekend made it pretty apparent that the White Sox and Cubs are far apart from one another. The Cubs blasted White Sox pitching in the series' first two games, scoring 19 runs in two days. The final score on the three days at Wrigley: Cubs 22, White Sox 11.

But in that display, the White Sox saw what they hope to be over the next few years. The Cubs were once piling up losses and languishing at the bottom of the standings. That's how a rebuilding process works. The White Sox are going through that right now. And there's an argument to be made that their rebuild, spurred by trading the high-end major league talent the Cubs didn't have at the time, is moving along at a better clip than the Cubs' did. Of course, it doesn't matter how long it takes to get there, the destination is what's important, and the Cubs already reached the top of the mountain.

But baseball's mountaintop rarely has one occupant for very long. The White Sox are mid-climb and hope to reach the summit as soon as all that player development will allow. Thankfully for them, they can follow the path taken by the rebuilding success stories that came before them - including the Cubs.

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