SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- It does Rick Hahn no good from a strategical standpoint to come out and say the White Sox are ready to facilitate the sale of a number of highly-valuable assets this offseason.
But if you look at all the hints the White Sox general manager has dropped since he noted in July that the club was yet again mired in mediocrity, including several more at Tuesday’s GM meetings, the franchise appears to have a clear direction on the horizon.
The White Sox could be on the verge of a historic roster teardown that includes the trades of pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, among many others. With a free agent class thin on talent, especially among starting pitchers, and a top-heavy 25-man roster that has several critical, expensive holes to fill, the common belief is the White Sox are well-positioned to build for a bright future if they make their players available.
And while Hahn took every opportunity Tuesday to qualify that he wasn’t defining which direction the White Sox are headed during a 45-minute media session, he also continued to hammer home that the franchise is ready for a change.
“We’ve always been focused on putting ourselves in the best position to win,” Hahn said. “At the same time, I think we’re veering away from the standpoint of looking for stopgaps. A lot of what we did in the last few years had been trying to enhance the short-term potential of the club to put ourselves in a position to win immediately. I feel the approach at this point is focusing on longer-term benefits. It doesn’t mean we won’t necessarily be in a good position in 2017. It means that our targets and whatever we’re hoping to accomplish have a little more longer-term fits in nature.”
If they’ve truly reached the conclusion a rebuild is their best plan, the White Sox haven’t arrived at that point easily.
A rotation complete with Sale, Quintana and power-arm Carlos Rodon would lend most teams to the believe they’re only a few players away from postseason glory. But several years of frustration and disappointment -- they haven’t had a winning record since 2012 and have no postseason appearances in eight seasons -- and an honest assessment about what they’d need to compete in 2017 could force them into action.
At the very least, the White Sox as constructed need a starting catcher, a center fielder and a big left-handed bat --- potentially upwards of $30-35 million in contracts --- as well as another reliever.
“It’s very clear we have certain needs on this roster,” Hahn said. “None of those things are in great supply out in the free agent market right now. So in order to add to this group and put ourselves in position to win we’d have to get a little more creative and do it via trade in all probability.”
After several years of trying “half measures” and “stop gaps,” Hahn sounds as if the White Sox have come to the conclusion those wouldn’t do any more. No longer is a team that is too thin at the top of its farm system -- Baseball America’s top-10 White Sox prospect list released Monday included five players drafted in June -- hopeful it can catch lightning in a bottle with players on one-year deals, ie: Mat Latos, Jimmy Rollins and Austin Jackson.
The White Sox would find themselves in an enviable position if they move forward with such a plan.
A five-time All-Star who’s owed $38 million over the next three seasons if his options are picked up, Sale would likely be the best pitcher, possibly best player, available this offseason.
A first-time All-Star in 2016 who has produced 18.1 f-WAR the past four seasons, Quintana is owed roughly $37 million over the next four years if his two team options are picked up.
David Robertson is owed $25 million over two seasons in a year where Kenley Jansen could fetch $70 million. Adam Eaton, who produced 6.0 f-WAR and is a Gold Glove finalist for the second time in three seasons, is owed $38.4 million if his options for 2020 and 2021 were to be picked up. Todd Frazier is in the final year of arbitration and Melky Cabrera has one season left on his three-year deal.
But who would stay and who would go all depends on what’s being offered.
“Should we go to the position of selling off assets and looking more toward the long-term future, the market will dictate how deep of a cut that is based upon the return for some of our players potentially,” Hahn said. “But the market plays a huge role and part of that is being patient and making sure you have a firm understanding of the value of first, what’s available elsewhere, as well as how your players are viewed by the industry.”
The White Sox concluded their organizational meetings at the nearby Biltmore Resort on Sunday afternoon. Hahn characterized the three-day session as a “great benefit to us all.” Not only did the organization have a chance to determine its direction, but manager Rick Renteria also had his first chance to address the group, Hahn said.
Hahn said the White Sox have had discussions about where they are headed for several seasons. Those talks intensified in July when the club determined it wouldn’t try to supplement its 2016 roster with short-term additions.
One reason the club has long cited its continuance of an aggressive win-now approach is chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s desire to bring the club another World Series title. But several months after Reinsdorf promised his front office would be “in lock step” this offseason, Hahn said he thinks the White Sox front office is on the same page about what they must do. And if the White Sox are headed for a rebuild, it would only come with Reinsdorf’s blessing.
“The offseason plans are crafted with his involvement and his approval,” Hahn said. “So it’s not a shock when we come to him and say we need to commit fully to this direction, regardless of what direction that is, because he’s been part of that conversation for a number of years. “Ultimately he’s a competitor, just like the rest of us. Ultimately he wants to win as quickly as possible like the rest of us. But at the same time, he also understands where we sit in the likelihood of getting ourselves in that position, and what it requires to get ourselves in that position in the short term, and if that’s not feasible, the reasons why we have to take a longer-term view.”
As frank as he was Tuesday, Hahn isn’t yet ready to state which direction the White Sox are headed. Given how baseball’s offseason is always a high-stakes game of poker, where posturing and bluffing matter, Hahn doesn’t want to give away his position. But once the White Sox do, Hahn promises their frustrated fanbase won’t have any trouble figuring out which way they’re headed.
“I don’t think it’s real beneficial for us to lay it all out there publicly,” Hahn said. “Once we start making transactions, we’ll explain our rationale behind what we’re doing and why we did it. But at this point, to announce intentions to every other club and agent that’s out there that we may be doing business with, there’s not a ton of strategic advantage for us. However, once we start making moves, which ultimately is what people care about, is what is the transaction going to be and what’s the direction signaled by those transactions, we’ll spend a fair amount of time explaining why we got to where we got to.”