White Sox

GM Rick Hahn hints that rebuild could be on horizon for White Sox

GM Rick Hahn hints that rebuild could be on horizon for White Sox

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.”

In Astros' dominance, White Sox fans might catch a glimpse of their team's future

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USA TODAY

In Astros' dominance, White Sox fans might catch a glimpse of their team's future

It might end up an ugly week for the White Sox in Houston. But try to find some beauty in what this Astros team looks like. Because it's what the White Sox hope to look like, eventually.

While White Sox fans were likely staring with a frown at Brad Peacock mowing down their team's lineup and at a couple home runs absolutely blasted out of Minute Maid Park in the first of this four-game series Monday night, know that the inverse of that feeling is what the White Sox front office is hoping to deliver in the coming seasons.

The Astros, along with the Cubs on the North Side of Chicago, are the template for what the White Sox are trying to do with their ongoing rebuilding process. Houston experienced some hideous seasons on the way to becoming a perennial contender and a World Series champion in 2017, losing a combined 416 games in four seasons from 2011 to 2014. In 2015, the Astros made their first postseason appearance in a decade. Two years later, they were the world champs, and they remain an annual title contender and are currently the best team in baseball two years after that.

The first part of that should sound familiar, as the White Sox have lost a combined 195 games in the two seasons since this rebuild officially began. Things are better now than they were during last year's 100-loss campaign, but it's expected to be another season of more losses than wins and another season without a playoff berth on the South Side, which would be the franchise's 11th straight to end without a trip to the postseason.

The second half of the Astros rags-to-riches story is yet to come for the White Sox, who are still waiting for young players to develop at both the major league and minor league levels, still waiting for the entire core to assemble in the big leagues. That includes, right now, waiting for certain players to recover from serious injuries. That includes watching growing pains up and down the organization. It's not unexpected for such things to happen in the middle of a rebuild. But when mired in the losing years, they become constant sources of frustration for fans.

Just like no one in Houston looks back fondly on the 100-loss seasons of 2011, 2012 and 2013, it's unlikely South Side baseball fans will look back fondly on these loss-heavy campaigns. But it's part of the process, as maddening as that might be to keep hearing.

Fortunately, there are examples of what the end of the tunnel looks like, and the White Sox are up against one of those examples this week. The Astros are dominating the competition so far this season, their young core of sluggers and a few overpowering starting pitchers fueling the best team in baseball. George Springer and Jose Altuve might have been out of the lineup Monday night, but Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman were still on display. And none of those guys were the ones to blast home runs halfway to Oklahoma off the White Sox on Rick Renteria's otherwise successful bullpen day. Peacock was traded a few times before landing in Houston, and Justin Verlander and Geritt Cole were trade acquisitions, as well. All of those guys have made the Astros a formidable force once again.

The White Sox are likely going to have to make a few outside acquisitions, too, before they can finally reach baseball's mountaintop. General manager Rick Hahn says that's the plan. But the homegrown portion of those rosters of the future could resemble what the Astros have put together in recent seasons. Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Nick Madrigal, Zack Collins. That's the planned core on the South Side. And Hahn has a number of young pitchers who could make up a fearsome rotation, too, in Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito. There are more names White Sox fans are familiar with who could play big roles, too.

That's a lot of talent, and while White Sox fans might remain skeptical until the wins start coming at an increased rate, the blueprint is there for those pieces to come together and create something special. The blueprint is what's across the field from the White Sox this week in Houston.

The Astros might cause some bad feelings for the White Sox and their fans over the next few nights. But if they look closely, they might catch a glimpse of the White Sox future if this rebuild goes where Hahn & Co. envision it going.

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Eloy Jimenez returns to White Sox a little more than three weeks after spraining ankle

Eloy Jimenez returns to White Sox a little more than three weeks after spraining ankle

Things looked grim when Eloy Jimenez, the White Sox top-ranked prospect and a centerpiece of the South Side rebuilding plans, was down in pain on the warning track.

But a little more than three weeks later, Jimenez is back in the lineup, returned from his stay on the injured list for the start of a four-game series against the Houston Astros.

Jimenez made a leaping attempt to catch a home-run ball in the April 26 game against the Detroit Tigers. In the process, his foot got stuck in the padding of the left-field wall, and the 22-year-old suffered a high ankle sprain. He limped off the field and needed help getting into the dugout and clubhouse. Thoughts of "here we go again" flashed through a fan base that's watched top prospects suffer one significant injury after another in recent seasons.

The White Sox said Jimenez would be reevaluated in a couple weeks, while cursory Google searches revealed recovery times of more than a month for this type of injury.

But Jimenez seems to have healed quickly. He went on a minor league rehab assignment last week, playing in five games with Triple-A Charlotte before being deemed ready to return Monday.

This is phenomenal news for the White Sox and their fans, of course, who in the time Jimenez has been sidelined have seen another key piece go down with Carlos Rodon's Tommy John surgery. Jimenez hasn't got off to the rip-roaring start some predicted — he's slashed .241/.294/.380 with a trio of home runs in his first 21 major league games — but all playing time for the youngster is good playing time as he continues his development in his first big league season. Throw in Jimenez's four-game stay on the bereavement list prior to that game against Detroit, and he's had just one at-bat since April 21.

So maybe expect some rust, and manager Rick Renteria said Jimenez could perhaps be eased back with a game at DH here and there as he continues to work on improving his defense in left field.

Jimenez did go 7-for-22 (a .318 batting average) with a homer and a double in his rehab stint in Charlotte. Now he's back in the major league outfield, a good thing for everyone following along with this rebuild.

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