CHICAGO -- To rebuild or not to rebuild? That is the question.
If this opening line sounds familiar, it's because this exact topic has been tossed around for most of the second half of the season since the White Sox fell out of contention shortly after the All-Star break. The White Sox have gone for it, in some form or another, for the past couple of seasons and for many years before taking a slight step back in 2013-14, and have come up with not much more than great disappointment.
Now they have to decide if a complete renovation is needed for the organization or if they really can build a championship contender around a core consisting of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, Tim Anderson, Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu, to name a few. It's a plan that appears to be fluid, meaning even if the White Sox move toward a rebuild, they still would have to get exactly what they want for a player such as Sale or Quintana. So the plan in place could change as other teams react to it.
Options: Chicago holds a $3 million club option on RHP Matt Albers, or it can execute a $250,000 buyout. Abreu can opt into arbitration and out of his remaining guaranteed salaries. James Shields can opt out of his contract after the 2016 season.
Rotation: Sale, Quintana and Rodon present a front three that would make numerous teams envious. Sale is an ace in every sense of the word and almost competitive to a fault, but he's the type of pitcher contending teams tend to overpay for to acquire.
The White Sox still control Sale through 2019 and Quintana through 2020, and if they decide to trade one or both, they need to get a Major League-ready starter in return. Gonzalez and Shields will return to complete the rotation, but Carson Fulmer, the team's top pick in the 2015 Draft and No. 1 prospect, eventually could compete for the fifth spot. Of course, he also could be used as part of a trade.
Bullpen: The relief corps immediately improves with the healthy return of Putnam (elbow) and Petricka (hip). Closer David Robertson has two years and $25 million remaining and has been solid for the bulk of the time as the White Sox ninth-inning option, but has had some significant blips. Nate Jones returned to elite form as a setup man after an injury-plagued 2014, but the White Sox will be looking to add another left-handed reliever to the mix. Keep an eye on the 100-mph fastball from Zack Burdi, the 26th overall pick in the 2016 Draft who probably would have been up in the Majors this season if the team was in contention. The right-hander could force the issue in Spring Training 2017.
Catcher: Zack Collins thrilled the White Sox by being available at No. 10 in the 2016 Draft, but he certainly won't be ready for the Majors in 2017, and the White Sox won't rush him. The team needs to find a steady force behind the plate who can play 110 to 120 games. Wilson Ramos and Matt Wieters stand as two of the top free-agent options in an overall weak free-agent class, although Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee during the final week of the 2016 season. Trades are always possible with the White Sox.
First base/designated hitter: Abreu had a rough July, a month during which he didn't hit a home run, but showed in August and September why he's still a major force in the middle of an order. He's a work in progress defensively at first base, and as former manager Robin Ventura pointed out, he now understands the benefit of getting the rest provided by games at DH despite not liking regular starts at the spot. The next DH for the White Sox also will have the ability to play spots defensively, possibly at first base, although Frazier can capably move across the diamond. That DH could be Morneau, although the veteran slugger has yet to decide if he will play in 2017.
Second base:Tyler Saladino went from a versatile utility player to a starting candidate at second base after taking over for Lawrie when he played his last game there on July 21 due to injury. Lawrie is arbitration-eligible, but the White Sox could choose to non-tender him and give Saladino and then Carlos Sanchez the primary opportunity.
Shortstop: One of the few certainties moving into 2017 is Anderson at shortstop. Anderson proved to be a solid defensive option at a position where some pundits thought he might not make it. His offensive prowess and sheer athleticism make him an important part of the White Sox core.
Third base: Frazier is the sort of player the White Sox need, regardless of the direction they choose. He had a productive first season on the South Side, although he's aware of his flaw in hitting below .200 with runners in scoring position. But he's a steadying force on the defensive side and does the same, if not more, in the clubhouse. Matt Davidson (broken foot), who was lost to a season-ending injury after one big league game and two at-bats, has put himself back on the map at third base, and Trey Michalczewski, the team's No. 7 prospect per MLBPipeline.com, is still a few years away.
Outfield: Left fielder Melky Cabrera has one year at $15 million remaining on a three-year deal and could be moved as part of a rebuild, although he provides consistent production, offensively and defensively. Eaton appears to be one of those core players, but he would fall near the Sale/Quintana category in that the White Sox could get a decent haul in a trade. Garcia finished strong but doesn't appear to have a fit with the White Sox moving forward -- they aren't confident in his outfield defense and he didn't respond as a DH.
Keep an eye on Charlie Tilson, acquired from the Cardinals at the Trade Deadline, who had his season end due to a torn left hamstring. Jacob May and Adam Engel have the speed and defense to move them closer to the big leagues.