Upton to the Tigers is...bad for the White Sox, actually

One benefit of the outfield market moving like a particularly unmotivated glacier is that by the time the gut-punching news hit of Justin Upton coming to the AL Central for the perpetually spending Tigers, all hope of the White Sox actually reaching out and signing the best free agent hitter left on the market had all but evaporated. 

Upton signing a six year, $132.5 million deal is shocking, since the Tigers are now almost assuredly entering the luxury tax territory that supposedly scuttled a pursuit of Chris Davis and was supposed to keep them from being active in general. But it's the continuation of the sense of dread that outfield options were disappearing around the White Sox while they publicly stood obstinate at an absurd year limit, not the beginning. That process began with Alex Gordon, a more intimately known commodity demanding a shorter deal who always seemed more feasible for the White Sox, returning to Kansas City to keep a World Series core intact.

In terms of threats to the 2016 season, the Tigers adding Upton is more mild. In deep to a handful of guys in their mid-30s for hundreds of millions of dollars, Detroit has gone from possible also-ran, to possible Wild Card/fringe Division contender. They need Victor Martinez to rise from the dead, a resurgence from Anibal Sanchez, healthy years from Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, a Nick Castellanos awakening, and enough ifs and maybes to make them sound like the typical White Sox team being pitched to fans at SoxFest.

The damage is more existential. Theoretically the competition for Yoenis Cespedes has intensified, but that would likely not be a factor if the Sox were aggressively trying to lock him down rather than wait in hope of an improbable bargain and collapse in the number of years he demanded. What could once be favorably characterized as wisely gauging an underwhelming bidding for elite outfield talent, now looks like the Sox being one signing away from standing around while two division rivals grabbed the best outfield upgrades, which the Sox needed more than anyone. The former could still be the case, since all that has happened is a player they were never connected to signed elsewhere.

Keeping up with the Jones' is always a flawed way of looking at the Sox actual roster. If Dexter Fowler was enough of a defensive upgrade to make the Sox competitive team on Monday morning, he still makes sense after the Tigers have made themselves look OK-ish. Even as a staunch advocate of owners taking on financial risk to make their teams competitors, one glance at the Tigers payroll commitments is enough to make the mind reel. Mike Ilitch's mindset of paying anything that will make his club be a winner is the theoretical ideal, but it's hard to look at their current state and demand the White Sox do the same. The problem is this franchise just doesn't offer their fans a lot to hang their hat on.

They're not reprehensibly cheap, but they would never lead the league in offseason spending, or take down a top target like, say, Justin Upton for a recent example. Their farm system is in an infinitely better place than it was five years ago, and Tim Anderson could be the positional stud they have lacked for a decade, but it's not a killer slate of prospects that will soon headline the franchise. Neither situation is dire or even bad on their own, but with the playoff drought at seven seasons and counting, fans look up for a clear sign that massive progress is coming, and soon, and only find the front office moving along at the same strange and unique pace. A religion without its own set of miracles to justify their rituals tends to get derided as a cult.

It's possible that the Tigers move will shake the Sox out of the notion of a soft AL Central and outfield market, and spur them into a bidding war for the last elite free agent bat. I would bet against it, and would have a harder time recognizing such a club — frantically making a rash investment out of panic and in reaction to other teams — than a White Sox team that was focused on their own mid-tier target the entire time. If they ever had/have success, their single-mindedness would seem sage. Instead, they're just the White Sox, who are not known for spending like the Tigers, not known for being low-budget like the Royals, but just too anonymous to be known for anything.