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White Sox patient while eyeing Machado, Harper

MLB.com @jonmorosi

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- MLB general managers rarely announce the start of a rebuild in public. Rick Hahn did so in 2016.

On Tuesday, Hahn made a much more upbeat declaration.

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- MLB general managers rarely announce the start of a rebuild in public. Rick Hahn did so in 2016.

On Tuesday, Hahn made a much more upbeat declaration.

To explain why that matters, let's start with the history. As Hahn's White Sox stumbled through the summer of 2016, a six-game American League Central lead dissolving into a fourth-place finish, he said the franchise no longer could afford to remain "mired in mediocrity." Hahn acknowledged he had to be open-minded about different approaches, including a rebuild.

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Crucially, Hahn did not put a timetable on the moves -- even though his roster included valuable veterans Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, Todd Frazier and David Robertson with the non-waiver Trade Deadline fast approaching.

Hahn was prepared to make moves, but on his timetable, not anyone else's.

So when July 31 arrived that year, Hahn made only one trade -- sending reliever Zach Duke to the Cardinals for Charlie Tilson. The big names stayed, although not for much longer.

At the Winter Meetings four months later, Sale was dealt to the Red Sox, and Eaton was sent to the Nationals. Quintana was sent to the Cubs in a stunning crosstown trade during the 2017 All-Star break. Frazier and Robertson were packaged in a trade with the Yankees less than one week after Quintana's departure.

Collectively, the trades netted many of the prospects who have made the White Sox farm system one of baseball's best. In that way, the first chapter of Hahn's plan lasted nearly one calendar year -- from its unveiling in a July 2016 dugout media session to the busy '17 non-waiver Trade Deadline. In the process, Hahn proved to the industry that he was willing to wait patiently for the right moves to fulfill his vision.

Phase 2 began Tuesday. And once again, Hahn will be methodical.

As Hahn met with reporters on the first full day of the General Managers Meetings, he made no attempt to temper expectations that the White Sox are prepared to spend on star talent.

Free agents, by position
Free agents, by team

Sources told MLB.com earlier this week that the White Sox have interest in free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper and infielder Manny Machado. On Tuesday, sources also said the White Sox will pursue top free-agent starting pitchers, such as Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ.

Video: MLB Tonight on White Sox interest in Harper, Machado

The White Sox, with one of the smallest committed payrolls in baseball for 2019, have the capacity to add a $30 million-per-year player right now. But Hahn won't be pressured into overpaying in order to make that happen, for the same reason that he refused to rush into trades for Sale, Quintana or Eaton more than two years ago.

Now that Hahn has shifted the organization's direction, he'll monitor a number of trends: How winnable is the AL Central now that the recently dominant Indians are beginning to age? How prepared are outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert to make near-term impacts in the Majors? And how fairly priced are the All-Star upgrades that we know are coming ... eventually?

As Jose Abreu enters the final year of his contract and Michael Kopech recovers from elbow surgery, the White Sox are looking for a face of the franchise in a way that many other teams are not. Hahn could sign Harper, Machado or Corbin this winter -- or perhaps even two of the three.

And if that doesn't happen in the coming weeks, there's always next season's Trade Deadline ... or the following offseason. For White Sox fans, what matters is that Hahn knows where he wants to drive. If it takes him a year or two to arrive, it will be worth the wait for a team that hasn't won a playoff series since winning the World Series in 2005.

Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network.

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