Hahn: White Sox will reshape, not rebuild
GM sees Chicago improving certain areas while maintaining strong pitching core
CHICAGO -- A plan does exist to bring the White Sox back into contention on the heels of this disappointing 2013 campaign.
It's unknown how many bullet points are part of this plan or if there are bullet points at all. The nuts and bolts of the matter have been formulated by general manager Rick Hahn, who is keeping the details between himself and the front office. As Hahn said on a conference call after the non-waiver Trade Deadline, there's no reason to put a title on the ideas or print up T-shirts announcing the future.
But there seem to be a few things that are known about the future of the White Sox.
For starters, Hahn's plan is more of a reshape, not a full-on rebuild, at least at this point. Hahn reiterated that point to MLB.com during an interview earlier in the week.
"It's not in our nature to write off any season. I don't think that's appropriate in baseball today," Hahn said. "You see too many teams make fairly quick and significant turnarounds in the course of one offseason.
"I do feel that starting with the pitching staff we have under control going forward, it would be foolish to say we can't win. That's the hardest thing to acquire and the most important thing to winning.
"With that said, obviously we have some work to do."
Some areas that need work have become clear cut. The offense ranks last in the American League with 411 runs scored. The defense ranks fourth from the bottom with a .982 fielding percentage, and the baserunning has been consistently cringe-worthy.
Despite this year's shortcomings, many on the current roster believe that following a basic framework could take the White Sox from worst to at least near the top in 2014, similar to the paths taken by Boston and Cleveland in 2013. The trades of Jake Peavy, Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton also give the White Sox some payroll flexibility to work with, but Hahn's focus is far broader than just one year.
"We aren't going to enter the season saying, 'All right, our focus is strictly on the season,'" Hahn said. "It's going to be incumbent upon us not to dilute ourselves and throw good money after bad, or rush prospects or move guys out too quickly if the development doesn't go as quickly as we hope. But at the same time, [we will] not write off any season in advance."
"Having the guys we have in this clubhouse, I really don't understand how this year turned out the way it did," said John Danks, one of the members of Chicago's pitching backbone. "I don't know what they are going to do this offseason. But I'd be willing to bet a lot of money that the White Sox aren't going to let us have a 'rebuilding year' next year."
Ask almost any White Sox player about the clubhouse chemistry, and he will talk about how well everyone gets along. One school of thought is that the team is too comfortable, which certainly doesn't translate into a lack of hard work, but is more about missing that little bit of extra drive brought by a player such as A.J. Pierzynski The Sox certainly miss Pierzynski's production behind the plate.
In addition, there are not always viable alternatives to replace or spell everyday players who are continuously making the same on-field mistakes, so there isn't a great deal of pressure being exerted from below.
Hahn doesn't necessarily buy into that line of reasoning, though, and he won't be specifically looking to add that edge as part of the reshape. Ultimately, the comfort theory seems to be more of an excuse that emerges when a team unexpectedly struggles.
"It's funny, because I think when you are winning and you have a clubhouse like the one we have, it's like, 'Boy, these guys really get along well,' like last year," Hahn said. "It's easygoing -- a lot of good guys and they pull hard and play hard for each other.
"When you aren't winning, there's a lack of fire. There's not enough controversy. They are all too comfortable. It's not a necessity to have discontent in the clubhouse in order to have success. There are guys who contribute on the field who may not be the best in the clubhouse, but the on-field results are such that it doesn't matter.
"These guys still play to try to win that game," Hahn said. "The focus is still on that. Even more selfishly, there's an element of statistical performance translated into future compensation that matters."
An interesting balancing act awaits Hahn. This is a team that has gone all out for the top prize on a yearly basis over the past decade, resulting in a 2005 World Series title, a 2008 division title and a number of near-misses.
Nobody really expected the White Sox to be in the cellar in 2013, but the excuse phase has long passed. The trick for Hahn is building a perennial playoff team while adjusting the core, without forcing players into roles where they don't belong.
Only Hahn and his staff know the next steps, but the players under Hahn's leadership believe the talent at the heart of the reshape is far better than the current 43-69 record.
"People try to sweep stuff under the rug. ... I feel like I don't want to be that guy," veteran Adam Dunn said. "I try to call it like I see it. If I thought that we were as bad as we were, I would say it. I don't."