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Desmond not the future for White Sox

Chicago better off grooming shortstop prospect Anderson @philgrogers

Is J.B. Shuck attached to No. 20? Would the White Sox fourth outfielder give his number up if his team signed Ian Desmond?

There's only one way to find out, right? But we may never know.

Is J.B. Shuck attached to No. 20? Would the White Sox fourth outfielder give his number up if his team signed Ian Desmond?

There's only one way to find out, right? But we may never know.

Like so many other roads that the Sox have traveled down in this Hot Stove season -- and at least one other they continue on (trade talks with the Dodgers involving Andre Ethier and Alex Guerrero) -- the recent pursuit of the former Nationals shortstop on a short-term contract seems likely headed to a dead end.

Reports on Thursday listed the Sox as one of the teams talking to Desmond, but later in the day a team official told Bob Nightengale of USA Today "that ship has sailed.'' It's clear that general manager Rick Hahn remains intent on putting some finishing touches on his roster before Spring Training but isn't willing to borrow heavily against the future to do so.

If he were, Hahn would have already signed Desmond as a bridge to prospect Tim Anderson, or Dexter Fowler as an outfield upgrade. But that would cost the team a high Draft pick -- the one they're getting for the loss of Jeff Samardzija is currently the 28th overall but would move to 27 if the Orioles forfeit their first-rounder to sign Yovani Gallardo -- and the thought of handing it over makes Hahn a little bit nauseated.

Video: Top Prospects: Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox

Better than just about anyone, Hahn understands how the White Sox put themselves in the position they're in -- of trying to become an immediate contender after suffering through three straight losing seasons.

They ignored their farm system for too long, joining the crosstown Cubs in spending less than their competitors on amateur talent in the years before a system of spending limits evened the playing field. So they have been consistently forced to go out and find established players where they could, too often getting them after they had experienced their best years.

This is a tough cycle to escape, and the White Sox haven't yet.

As recently as a year ago, they sacrificed second- and third-round Draft picks to sign free agents (David Robertson and Melky Cabrera). They traded shortstop Marcus Semien and three others for Samardzija (and pitcher Michael Ynoa) in that same burst of activity, and more recently traded five prospects for Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie.

So on the one hand, there's temptation to say you might as well keep the pedal to the metal and sign Desmond, a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner with 110 career home runs. If not him, then Fowler. Either would improve the 2016 lineup and reduce the heat on manager Robin Ventura and others in the organization.

But just how realistic is it to try to increase 14 or more wins and contend in an American League Central headed by the World Series champion Royals and the seemingly resurgent Tigers? There are more analysts around who like the Indians and the Twins better than the White Sox.

Hahn and executive vice president Ken Williams must go home at night with headaches after spending all day weighing their future against the lessons from their recent history (only one postseason appearance since winning the 2005 Series).

Though starters Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon were acquired through the Draft, the Sox haven't gotten a 3.0 WAR from a homegrown position player since Joe Crede's '06 season. He was drafted in 1996.

For the Sox to re-establish themselves as a consistent winner, they have to do a better job producing players. It's as simple as that.

Just how thin has their talent been lately?

Take a look at it through the lens of Sale's excellence. He's compiled a 2.92 ERA over the last three seasons, working an average of 199 innings with a 10.7 K/9 rate and a 1.047 WHIP. He finished in the top five in AL Cy Young Award voting all three years.

Yet the White Sox were 45-42 in his starts. That's almost unthinkable.

Desmond would be a major improvement over Alexei Ramirez, whose contract option was declined after eight seasons as the South Side shortstop. But to truly get back on their feet, would he or any other 30-something free agent be what the White Sox need?

Probably not. Long-term health comes from developing the ultra-athletic, somewhat-unpolished Anderson into a guy who holds his own in the long line of impressive young shortstops.

Maybe a future stud will still be on the board after the first 26 or 27 picks next June. It's tough to be patient, tough to be disciplined.

The lingering availability of Desmond makes the imagination race for executives as well as fans. But the really exciting possibility is that Anderson will assert himself next month in Arizona and land at U.S. Cellular Field by June or July.

Phil Rogers joined in 2013 and has covered Major League Baseball since 1984.

Chicago White Sox, Tim Anderson, Ian Desmond