(MCT) CHICAGO — As the afterglow of a three-game sweep over the Yankees fades, White Sox fans are forced to revert to reality.
A season that began with promise is limping toward Sept. 29 on a 100-loss pace following the team's late-season collapse in 2012. A somnolent offense has had a residual effect on the pitching staff, the manager and the Cell's fireworks operator, who appears to be as lonely as the Maytag repairman.
"I've always said I wanted to know what it's like to be a Cubs fan," said John Shea, a 52-year-old Sox fan from Albany Park sitting in the right-field bleachers on a gorgeous summer night Wednesday. "Now I know."
How to fix this mess is a question Sox fans will debate until October.
Can the Sox afford to blow things up and do a Cubs-style rebuild? Or is there enough talent on the roster to fix things internally and sprinkle in some free agents?
"I've never been a fan of blowing it up," Shea said. "I guess we're halfway there already, trading (Jake) Peavy. I'd like to see Robin Ventura stay, but I don't know if he really wants to. I love (Alex) Rios, and I hope Paulie (Konerko) retires and goes out gracefully. It hurts being this bad, but that's baseball."
The Rangers on Thursday reportedly claimed Rios off waivers. The Sox either can work a trade with the Rangers within 72 hours, allow Texas to take on Rios' contact via the waiver claim or pull him back from waivers.
Over in Section 125, season ticket holder Stuart Vranek of La Grange Park said the team has the pitching to compete next year but needs an offensive overhaul.
"We need to blow it up," he said. "We have to eat some money. Adam Dunn had a great year last year. Konerko was out of his mind. Rios ...That was the year (to win). I don't know what happened."
The only voices that matter, of course, belong to Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, executive vice president Ken Williams and general manager Rick Hahn, who said there is no reason to rebuild.
"From our standpoint, we're not in a position to either, one, write off any season, or two, (question whether) we have to, because we already are starting with a nucleus of young pitching that puts us ahead of the game and accelerates the timetable for turning things around," Hahn said. "That's obviously the hardest thing to get in the game, and we feel really good about what we already have."
The Sox entered Thursday ranked eighth in the American League with a 3.90 ERA, led by a solid young core of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Addison Reed. But they're last in runs scored (411), 14th in on-base percentage (.301) and 13th in slugging (.377) despite playing in a hitter-friendly ballpark.
What would make anyone believe the hitting will rebound in 2014?
Hahn said "some of that (lack of hitting) is probably a bit of a fluke," pointing out the Sox ranked fourth in runs scored in 2012 with most of the same position players.
"The true talent level probably lies somewhere in between those two (seasons)," he said. "But I don't think you're necessarily just going to see us throw the same group back out there and hope we wind up closer to fourth than 15th. We're going to be more diverse in our offensive attack."
Dunn concurred, saying the team has the offensive personnel to compete with the rest of the AL powers.
"I'm not writing off the hitting," he said. "I know we've got guys that can hit.
"We just didn't do the stupid things. We didn't play well defensively this year. It's little bumps and little stuff that have put us in this hole, and I don't think that's going to happen again."
Whether Konerko returns is the biggest question for the Sox. He's their clubhouse leader and the last player remaining from the 2005 championship team. This season has taken its toll on Konerko, who declined to discuss his future but conceded 2013 has been unpleasant.
"Winning has never been as hard as it has been this year," he said. "This is my 15th year and definitely the moments that have happened this year have been some of the toughest. So that sucks."
Konerko, 37, is in the final year of his three-year deal and will have to decide whether to stick around for less money and perhaps a one-year deal, end his career elsewhere or go out like Brian Urlacher wearing the uniform he loves. Reinsdorf loves Konerko, who famously handed him the ball from the '05 World Series clincher at the championship rally.
As for Dunn, Reinsdorf has little taste for paying players to play for other teams just to clear them off the roster. Dunn, 33, makes $15 million in '14.
The Sox still could find a team to take Dunn off their hands this year, though it won't be easy despite his recent hot streak. Dunn said he wants to stay and believes the team can return to form next season. Will he be back?
"I have no clue," he said. "I don't control that, I can't control that, and I don't want to control that. But they know what I want to do. Everyone in this locker room knows I want to be here because I don't think we're as bad as we've been playing, and I know we're better and capable of playing better. I want to see this thing out."
Dunn said the R-word changes with every team and every situation. What may be called a rebuild in Chicago, for instance, is business as usual in Kansas City.
"What do you consider a rebuild?" he asked. "Everyone gone? If that happens, I obviously won't be here next year and that doesn't affect me. That only affects me if I'm here."
The addition of Avisail Garcia, the outfield prospect picked up from the Tigers in the three-way deal that sent Peavy to the Red Sox, is one reason Hahn doesn't believe an overhaul is necessary. And he pointed to coming players such as shortstop Marcus Semien and right-hander Erik Johnson as prime-time prospects.
There are no easy answers for Hahn, who has the unenviable task of fixing roster problems he inherited from Williams. But the Sox intend to compete in 2014.
"We're really going to approach it from the standpoint that we want to win again as quickly as possible," Hahn said. "That starts with Jerry and Kenny and is obviously the way things have been done around here for a long time. At the same time we're going to go about it in a way that allows us to extend that success for a long period and not necessarily patch it together on the fly."