What started on December 6th, 2016, ended on Thursday afternoon as the Chicago White Sox won the first game of their doubleheader with the Cleveland Indians to clinch the 2021 American League Central Division. The White Sox won their first division title since 2008 and will make their second consecutive postseason appearance for the first time in franchise history. General manager Rick Hahn made the difficult and risky choice of rebuilding a team mired in mediocrity in 2016 with the hopes of building a team capable of sustained success, something that has now been achieved.

The White Sox Rebuild Has Been One Of The More Impressive Ones In Recent Years

Hahn began the lengthy rebuild at the 2016 Winter Meetings when he traded All-Star pitcher Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox for the best prospect in baseball at the time in Yoan Moncada. Included with Moncada in the trade package was pitcher Michael Kopech as the White Sox began to rebuild one of the worst minor league systems with quality prospects. The next day, Hahn would trade outfielder Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals for a trio of premier pitching prospects, which included Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning. Within two days, the White Sox had acquired the best overall prospect in baseball in Moncada with the best pitching prospect in Giolito.

The main reason why Hahn was able to get higher value in return for the veteran he was trading away was due in part to team-friendly contract extensions he had the veterans sign. The most significant contract extension was for pitcher Jose Quintana who was traded in July of 2017. Quintana was traded to the Chicago Cubs a year after they won the World Series, and in turn, the White Sox would acquire power-hitting prospect Eloy Jimenez and pitching prospect Dylan Cease. Quintana for Jimenez trade will go down as the biggest crosstown trades in baseball history, rivaling the Sammy Sosa trade of 1993.

Chicago’s rebuild wasn’t only going to be achieved by trading for talent but also drafting and signing talent. In 2017, the White Sox signed the best international free agent in Cuban centerfielder Luis Robert. Within two years, Robert was ranked as one of MLB’s Pipeline’s top 100 prospects. Before 2014, Hahn and the White Sox organization struggled mightily to draft successful first-round talent. Since 2014, the team’s first-round draft selections have not only made it to the majors but have been a contributing factor to the 2021 team. Carlos Rodon, Tim Anderson, Zack Collins, Nick Madrigal, Andrew Vaughn, Garrett Crochet, and Jake Burger all have made an impact at some point this season.

During the rebuild, the reduction in veteran talent meant a reduction in payroll, which enabled Hahn and the White Sox organization to spend on expensive and critical veteran free agents. Despite missing out on All-Star Manny Machado before the 2019 season, the team was able to utilize the money to sign free agents Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, and Liam Hendriks. All three have been key contributors the last two seasons for the White Sox and are the main reason for their repeat appearance in the post-season.

Everything Came Together in 2021

With all the trades, signings, and draft selection over the last five seasons, each move made by Hahn made a difference in the 2021 season. Despite the projected core playing less than ten games together due to injuries, the White Sox were still able to win the American League Central with more than a week less in the season. It is even more impressive given that nearly 2/3 of the White Sox projected lineup at the start of the season missed months’ worth of time due to significant injuries. The ability to overcome the near-season-ending injuries demonstrates the level of depth and talent this White Sox team has.

Although the White Sox lineup has consistently featured the reigning American League MVP in Jose Abreu, the team has battled to be one of the best teams in baseball this season. Chicago has managed to be consistently 20 games over .500, despite playing .500 baseball for a majority of the season half of the season. They have overcome injuries and individual struggles to remain one of the better teams in baseball as clinching the division was never an if, but when.

Thursday’s division-clinching victory against the Indians has been defined by the core of players responsible for Chicago’s rebuild. 2013 first-round selection Tim Anderson led off the game with a home run and would hit a three-run home run an inning later. Robert and Jimenez hit back-to-back home runs in the second inning, while Lopez recorded the win, with Hendriks closing the game out in the ninth. More pieces of the rebuilding core didn’t contribute to Thursday’s victory but made a difference throughout the season.

When Hahn began the rebuild back in December of 2016, his goal wasn’t just to make the playoffs once but to have sustained success with multiple opportunities to win World Series titles. Last season the main goal for the White Sox was to make it back to the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons. This year the goal is to win the whole thing. Thursday’s clinch of the 2021 Central Division allows the White Sox to win the World Series in October, but it will first begin by beating the Houston Astros, the same team they beat in 2005 to win their first World Series title since 1917.

Eastern Illinois University graduate, Steve earned a Bachelorโ€™s in Journalism with a concentration in sports. While at EIU, Steve co-hosted a weekly radio sports talk show focused on Chicago.