Sox GM Hahn: No quick fix
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You don't have to read between the lines to understand where the White Sox go from here.
You just have to read the lines.
The Sox are rebuilding. No, it's not a rip-it-to-shreds rebuild along the lines of what the Cubs are going through, but it's a reconstruction nonetheless.
The pitching staff is solid, with the third-best rotation in the American League, but the offense is the worst in the American League, and that's not something solved with a winter-meetings makeover.
"We realize we have a fair amount of work ahead of us as we reconfigure the offense and become more diversified," White Sox GM Rick Hahn said Saturday morning from his car, as he made the trek to the ballpark. "We need to improve our ability to get on base, improve our baserunning and shore up the defense.
"We're starting with a base of young starting pitching under control for a significant period, as well as economic flexibility. It's going to take some time, but we have a pretty decent head start on turning this around and minimizing the time it takes to get it right."
No, that's not a teardown, but it's more than a fixer-upper. Hahn will need at least another year to let bad contracts expire, allow pitching to mature and bring more young players into the organization and into the major-league mix.
He could trade pitching to improve the offense, but that would weaken the staff and defeat the purpose. He also could spend significant money in free agency to improve the hitting, but that usually doesn't go well, and the Sox could find themselves in the same position they are now, with bad contracts and a bad offense.
No, it's going to take some time to knock down the busted parts of the White Sox' house and get a solid foundation under it.
"But one of the benefits of a dreadful season is that you do get to spend a lot more money on amateur talent domestically and internationally," Hahn said. "Once we have that fully funded, we'll turn toward building up the major-league payroll.
"It doesn't mean we'll exclude a look at major-league free agency, but our goal is not a quick fix. We want to build something more sustainable."
The Sox began this season with a payroll of $119 million. Gone already are Jake Peavy ($14.5 million), Alex Rios ($12.5 million), Matt Thornton ($6 million) and Jesse Crain ($4.5 million).
"Also departing will be Paul Konerko ($13.5 million) and Gavin Floyd ($9.5 million). Even if the Sox re-sign the injured Floyd, it will be at a fraction of what he collected this season.
That's already a reduction for next season by $60.5 million off this season's total, or a full 50 percent. Alexei Ramirez ($10 million in 2014) is a trade candidate, and Adam Dunn ($15 million) is entering the final year of his deal, so there's another $25 million of savings and two more players who might bring the Sox something of value in a trade this winter or next July.
But spending all of that available money in free agency now would not get the Sox even with the Tigers, and might just put the Sox back where they've been, stuck with bad deals and unable to compete.
It certainly doesn't sound as if Hahn intends to go down that road, not until he's had a chance to add some young players to an organization that has lacked depth in the minors for a long time.
"You've seen some pretty quick turnarounds and you don't want to write off any season, especially when you enter a season like we will next year with the pitching we have under control," Hahn said. "Detroit is obviously in their window to win and they'll be formidable next year.
"We're taking a longer-term view than one off-season. We'll not write anything off with our pitching ó stranger things have happened with quick turnarounds ó but we'll be taking a multiyear focus and not try a quick, Band-Aid approach."
So the Sox will continue to get younger by trading veterans and salary, gain financial flexibility and add stock in the minor leagues, but don't look for a Chris Sale deal as part of that process.
"It's not part of the plan," Hahn said matter-of-factly. "It's important that we stay open-minded and stay flexible, and if an opportunity too good to pass up presented itself, we would explore going down that path.
"But we expect young, high-impact guys that we have under control, like Chris Sale, to be part of the next championship team, and we don't look at them as pieces to move to get more young pieces.
"You never say never to any potential transaction, but to have a young ace under control for a long period like Chris who's accomplished what he's accomplished, you'd be hard-pressed to find good value trading that kind player for unproven prospects."
So there you go, White Sox fans. There's your plan for the next couple of years. The 2014 season sounds like a wash, but 2015 could possibly bring better days.
The Sox have managed, for the most part, to remain competitive for more than a decade, without rebuilding and constantly reloading.
But the rebuild is officially here ó and it was inevitable.
•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.
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