Panic not part of White Sox rebuilding plan
Organization steadfast in keeping to long-term strategy
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The White Sox could have panicked.
After the 99-loss struggle that was 2013, which was every bit as disappointing as the record, they could have made safe and established additions across the board to ensure the 2014 version was something near a .500 team. Instead, general manager Rick Hahn and his staff took a different route.
Results of that commitment to reshaping and a focus on sustained, long-term success were displayed Tuesday on a back field at Camelback Ranch, as the team played an intrasquad contest prior to Friday's Cactus League opener. There was Adam Eaton at the top of the lineup for Joel Skinner's team, with Avisail Garcia hitting third, Jose Abreu fifth and Matt Davidson seventh.
It's that youthful core, supplemented by players on the rise in the White Sox system, players still to come from the 2014 First-Year Player Draft and, of course, more established young talent such as Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, whom the team hopes will be at the center of constant playoff contention as well as a World Series title or two. But here's a point to consider on this road to reshaping.
What if that planned excellence arrives sooner than the White Sox expected? What if, for example, the White Sox find themselves 16 to 20 games over .500 at the end of May or midway through June?
In a recent interview with MLB.com, Hahn explained that the organization absolutely will devote resources to the 2014 team if it has a viable chance to win. But deciding whether the team is for real becomes the tricky part in veering off from reshaping and potentially giving up some of its youth.
"Our key is going to be making sure it's not fool's gold," Hahn said. "Just making sure this is truly a team that has the fundamentals to compete and win and just hasn't gotten off to a quick start. That's going to be one of the challenges for any club in the mix.
"Making sure you truly understand how good you are and you don't get caught up in the sacrificing of the future for ultimately a futile effort to win in the short term. Given this pitching staff and upside of some of these young players, we certainly have the scenario outlined in our mind. If we are in this thing and we need to augment to win now, we are prepared to go down that path if it's real."
Last year's struggles won't change the marching orders for the White Sox pro scouts this spring. The two scenarios delivered to them will focus on what the team needs to add if it is in contention and loading up on younger players and developing target lists for growth if it is not in the race.
Firm dedication to that reshaping plan, though, leaves the White Sox in a surprising position of power when looking to add on despite this group not being considered a prime contender. Take free-agent hurler Ervin Santana as a hypothetical example.
Santana has thrown at least 200 innings in three of his last four seasons and although he has allowed 65 homers over the last two seasons, he certainly could help the White Sox at the back end of the rotation. But at 31, there's no reason for the White Sox to hand out a three- or four-year deal when the team might not be in true contention until that third or fourth year.
Adding a pitcher of Santana's ilk would make sense for the White Sox only on their terms at this stage of the reshaping. That example certainly doesn't mean the White Sox won't go after any high-end talent.
At six years, $68 million, Abreu stands as the centerpiece of this reshaping. The White Sox also made a significant push for right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who at 25 years old, made sense for a five- or six-year commitment in the $100 million range.
Other teams were going to outbid the White Sox for Tanaka -- the White Sox were certain of that fact entering the negotiations. But the presentation they put together, centered on their ability to take care of their starting pitchers and keep them healthy, certainly was more than a passing effort.
"Kenny [Williams, executive vice president], Robin [Ventura, manager] and I don't get on a plane to go fly out and meet with someone just for show or for a lukewarm interest," Hahn said. "There was a great deal of work done by Brooks Boyer's staff on the marketing side and a few people outside the organization whose help we enlisted with some of the presentation materials. Jeremy Haber in our [baseball operations] department. We were up for several late nights in preparation for that meeting and to make sure we were able to put our best foot forward in the presentation.
"Certainly none of that work was done with any intent other than hoping to sign the player. This was a guy who would have fit in with some of the other things we've been able to do in terms of getting guys in their early to mid-20s and having them under control for the next several years. It made sense to pursue."
Other players pursued will be decided, in part, by the White Sox play. But there won't be a move for a quick fix unless that success is deemed legitimate. The White Sox feel as if they have traveled too far to take a step back.
"Initially when this process started, we knew it would take some time," Hahn said. "It was going to be with a longer-term vision and goal in terms of sustained success. We feel like we've made a lot of progress down that path in the last several months, although we are not by any means finished or complete.
"We've converted on a lot of things we wanted to do. What's tough is not losing sight of that longer-term goal just because perhaps we are further along than we anticipated at this time."