In Pirates, White Sox got reminder of what happens when rebuilds don't live up to expectations

Vinnie Duber
NBC Sports Chicago
<p>Playing the Pittsburgh Pirates this week, the White Sox got a reminder of what happens when rebuilds don't live up to expectations.</p>

In Pirates, White Sox got reminder of what happens when rebuilds don't live up to expectations

Playing the Pittsburgh Pirates this week, the White Sox got a reminder of what happens when rebuilds don't live up to expectations.

The White Sox have a bright future. The ongoing rebuild has fans excited for years of planned contention with a legion of highly touted prospects developing in the minor leagues.

But with the Pittsburgh Pirates in town earlier this week - and the White Sox heading to the Steel City next week for two more with the Bucs - it served as a reminder that there's a dark alternate timeline that plenty of rebuilding teams have experienced: What if a rebuild doesn't work?

In the midst of this process, it seems as if Rick Hahn's front office is making all the right moves. The trades of Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana brought back huge prospect hauls. Team those with promising draft choices and one big international signing, and it would seem that the depth of this system should provide plenty of depth and allow for what the general manager has said, that baseball has a cruel way of reminding you that not all prospects pan out.

But the Pirates were once given the tools to rise from the ashes and become a perennial contender, too. And while three straight postseason appearances in 2013, 2014 and 2015 certainly look a lot better than the two decades of bottom-feeding that preceded, are three National League wild card spots and three quick playoff exits enough to consider their rebuild a success?

It's hard to imagine there are many fans out there who would say yes.

Since 1990, the Pirates have made 22 picks in the top 15 of the draft and a large number of those picks had only brief big league careers or never even made the majors.

Chad Hermanson played 189 games, J.J. Davis played 67 games, Tony Sanchez played 52 games, Brad Lincoln played 53 games, Kurt Miller played 44 games, Daniel Moskos played 30 games, John Van Benschoten played 25 games, Bryan Bullington (a No. 1 overall pick) played six games. Bobby Bradley, Mark Farris and Clint Johnston never made the big leagues.

Not one of the Pirates' first-round picks since 2012 has reached the majors.

Pittsburgh certainly had its hits, most notably Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, a pair of first-rounders who broke that mold. And you don't need to be a first-round draft pick to be a top prospect or a good major league player. The Pirates have been a good team during the last half decade and are no slouches currently, second place in the NL Central and coming off a two-game sweep of the White Sox in which they scored 16 runs.

But again, what is the expectation when rebuilding?

Trading present-day wins at the major league level for what Hahn calls a long-term period of sustained success is a big trade to make. And does three brief playoff trips count as a long-term period of sustained success? If that's what the White Sox rebuild yields, that will surely come as a disappointment to many, even as the team's playoff drought figures to stretch to a full decade this season.

Not only that, but the Pirates - despite their current spot in the standings - have embarked on another rebuild of sorts. They traded away the aforementioned McCutchen and Cole this past offseason, and just three seasons after their most recent postseason appearance, made moves that at least seemed to signal a sacrifice of present-day wins for future success.

That's very much what Hahn & Co. are trying to avoid.

There's no sign that things will turn out that way, and there are important differences to point out. The White Sox have acquired a lot of their top talent through trades, while the data above shows the Pirates' unfortunate luck through the top of the draft alone. The two organizations have different player-development infrastructures. And the White Sox play in a larger market and wouldn't, you would assume, have the same trouble luring big-time free agents.

But in the event that things end up going more Pirates than Cubs (who the White Sox face off against this weekend on the North Side), will it have been worth it?

Rebuilding is hardly an exact science, and the White Sox most recent opponent is a perfect example of that.

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