CHICAGO – Listening closely to White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, it’s hard to avoid the similarities he faces with his counterparts on the North Side as he retools a roster coming off a 99-loss season.
While Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the Cubs have openly embraced the concept of rebuilding, the Sox aren’t conceding anything heading into this season. But the Sox, whose front office has tried to stay away from using the r-word as the organization aims for its first playoff appearance since 2008, are following a format similar to the Cubs.
“We know this is a process; it’s going to take some time,” Hahn told the Northwest Herald during Friday’s SoxFest. “We certainly feel we made some good progress. It’s now time to see if some of our internal guys can take that next step and grow with the new guys we acquired and grow into a young group together or if we need to continue to look for external solutions.”
Although the Sox want to replenish a farm system that was depleted of young talent by win-now trades the past few years, Hahn has begun balancing young talent with major-league ready prospects. It’s a formula, combined with investing money internationally and in the amateur draft, that has the Sox optimistic.
“The moves he’s made have transformed the lineup in a very short amount of time – I think that it’s an unproven lineup in a lot of aspects – but there’s a lot of good chemistry and good vibes I’m getting from the new guys we got,” second baseman Gordon Beckham said. “I think they’re going to be a real positive influence on the team.”
Dating to the trade deadline deal that brought 22-year-old outfielder Avisail Garcia to the Sox, Hahn has acquired four young, potentially long-term solutions to an aging lineup. In addition to Garcia, the Sox signed Cuban slugger Jose Abreu and traded for a spark plug outfielder, Adam Eaton, and one of the top third base prospects in Matt Davidson. Both Eaton and Davidson came at a high price and cost the Sox experienced pitchers. Left-hander Hector Santiago, with 27 games started the past two seasons, and closer Addison Reed, with 69 career saves, were the casualties.
The trades surprised reliever Nate Jones, who is good friends with Santiago and Reed, having come up together in the Sox’s system. Despite losing his friends, Jones said he has been energized by the moves and is excited about this team’s potential.
“Everybody’s going to be playing with that chip on their shoulder because nobody wants to see what happened last year again,” Jones said. “We have to come out there and prove what we can do. ... No one really knows what to expect from us, and we’re just going to grind it out, prove everybody wrong.”
The Sox’s pursuit of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka may have surprised some people, given the organization’s propensity to spend money more like a mid-market team. Even though they were outbid by the New York Yankees, Hahn and the Sox’s interest in Tanaka was genuine. Former GM and current executive vice president Ken Williams was known for his aggressive moves, and Hahn said the Sox “are continuing in that same vein.”
Hahn realizes the expectations are low this season and nobody is pegging them to win the AL Central. But he’s convinced if the Sox stay on this path, the talented pitchers and the upside with position players will eventually lead to sustained success.
“We want to get this thing right as quickly as possible, but we want it to be right for an extended period of time when we do,” Hahn said. “So we’re not going to take shortcuts, but we’re going to be aggressive when we see that opportunity, which was the case with Abreu and Tanaka.”