Dealing With Expectations

The amount of noise that has surrounded the White Sox during Rick Hahn's supermarket sweep over the past month has been alarming for a fan base that has seen its expectations go from "Win Now" to "Win In A Few Years" during the past few moribund seasons.

As a team that has spent the better part of the past two decades as the poster-franchise for hovering above "not terrible" and below "WORLD SERIES CONTENDER," the past two seasons have left fans shellshocked, not knowing how to come to grips with the idea of caring more about draft position and minor league development than straight wins and losses on the field.

It appeared the White Sox had entered the infancy of its first major, drawn-out rebuilding project in recent memory.

Expectations, we've learned, can change overnight. While it would have been a shock to very few if the White Sox had stood pat for another year, choosing to save money and focus on young player development over dolling out large sums of cash to past-their-prime veterans, the idea of the White Sox turning into contenders overnight seemed mostly farfetched. Teams going from 16 games under .500 to postseason threat or World Series contender, while possible, is more the exception than the rule.

While chatting with James and Nick during Sunday night's podcast, the conversation, while not directly talking about the White Sox's AL Central chances, turned to a bit of a discussion over the team's divisional rivals and their relative weaknesses. That got me thinking.

Am I really wondering about the White Sox contending for a playoff spot in 2015?

That idea seemed unfathomable as recently as a month ago. I'd long ago resigned myself to the idea that it was going to take 2-3 years — maybe more — for the White Sox to build itself back into contention. From 63 wins in 2013 to 73, wins in '14, .500 wasn't out of the question for 2015. But real, actual contenders? I just didn't see it.

I still don't know if I actually see it, but that's not really the point. The point is that it no longer seems impossible.

The problem with this type of thinking is that it's mostly narrative driven. It's the same kind of thinking that comes from storylines such as the praising Ned Yost and Dayton Moore for the Royals' postseason run or questioning whether or not a pitcher who has beaten cancer and pitched in two World Series' can deal with the pressure that comes with pitching for the Chicago Cubs.

It's also what makes White Sox fans choke on their own vomit when the phrase "All-In" is uttered. But it's something we have to deal with. Rick Hahn's offseason has made a lot of smart people wonder a lot of different things about the White Sox, but the topic always revolves around the same question — can the White Sox contend in 2015?

A lot of people have already tried to answer this question some 3+ months before the season even begins. While optimism has broken through like sunshine across Chicago, there are pundits, such as Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan, who — while acknowledging the sound thinking behind these moves — still see the White Sox as well off from contention.

There's nothing wrong with this line of thinking, either. Sullivan is a projectionist and the numbers he runs show that while the White Sox will be improved, they likely won't have improved enough to go from 73 wins to playoff contention.

There are flaws in both sides of this debate, of course. Fans and local pundits alike could be accused of wearing blinders if they proclaim that Jeff Samardzija, Melky Cabrera & Co. can lead the White Sox to an AL Central crown, but the Sullivan types who simply project the White Sox's positional WAR aren't much closer to the truth.

The point of all of this isn't to say which line of thinking is correct. I don't know that, you don't know that and I'd hazard a guess that Sullivan would say he doesn't know that either. The point is that, not 14 months ago this franchise's fan base was looking at a 63-win team with a lot of terrible contracts, a miserable farm system and a future that couldn't look more bleak. Now, we're having debates over whether they can contend.

For the first time in a few years, we have legitimate expectations. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.