Two years ago virtually no one picked the White Sox to contend in the Central Division when the season began.
Six months later they had occupied first place for 116 days and possessed a 3-game lead over Detroit as late as Sept. 18, still tied for first with eight games remaining.
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While trying to forget the misery of 2013, the Sox are pointing to the surprise of 2012 as a reason to consider the possibilities.
"Stranger things have happened with a team that has this kind of pitching," said GM Rick Hahn during SoxFest over the weekend. "It's not unreasonable to think we can contend this year."
Before you think Hahn crazy, he understands the odds are not in his favor. The Sox do have solid pitching, but their offense produced the fewest runs in the American League last year.
For them to contend in 2014, they would need all newly arrived players to contribute in a big way, and it's just unfair to expect inexperienced talent like Adam Eaton, Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia and Matt Davidson to carry the team.
So it would mean getting much more than last year from the likes of Adam Dunn, Dayan Viciedo, Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham and some combination of Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley.
Yeah, Hahn knows what this season will probably be as he continues to rebuild an offense that posted a .680 OPS in 2013, better than only the Astros in the American League, and miles behind Detroit's .780, the second-best in baseball.
The Sox have made major improvements, but finishing .500 would be a monumental achievement after last year's 99-loss season.
"From my standpoint, the bare essential is that we show progress," Hahn said. "It's essential that we show a better approach offensively, that we show the type of development on the position-player side so that we can look at these guys and say, 'Yes, this is gonna be an impact guy for an extended period of time in the near future,' and we see them playing the game the way we want it played and playing together."
Now that is a realistic goal, while talk of contention will probably be considered absurd unless the Sox get the same quality pitching, a huge upgrade offensively and all of their young position players contributing mightily.
"The win total is less important to me if we're not gonna win the World Series," Hahn said. "It's less important than seeing improvement and seeing the core coalescing together and showing progress toward going on that run together."
Gone after this season will be Dunn ($15 million), Paul Konerko ($2.5 million) and perhaps Ramirez ($10 million) and a couple of others, and if the youngsters show progress in 2014 the Sox might be in a position to add pieces next winter.
"I don't want to lose sight of some of the things I'm most proud of over the last two years," Hahn said. "We've brought in Todd Steverson as our major-league hitting coach and to change the hitting-development program and make it more like our pitching program we have throughout the minors.
"We've re-established our Latin American program, added scouting internationally and domestically, added pro scouts at the minor-league level and really beefed up our scouting in every way."
But in their minds is always developing position players. The Sox have had great success scouting, drafting and developing pitchers, which should make them the envy of every major-league team, but they haven't consistently produced position players the last 10 years.
"The farm system is getting to the point where it can help sustain this going forward," Hahn said. "It's true that there hasn't been a lot of that on the position player side, but a lot of the under-the-hood improvements we've made the last couple years are going to start bearing fruit at the big-league level.
"Ideally, you have all that coming together at the same time."
Still, that time is not now and Hahn is not trying to fool anyone. They've made some strong moves in the last six months, but it doesn't mean they can rush the process.
"It's not going to be linear, either. There will be some setbacks," Hahn said. "Joe Crede and Aaron Rowand had to go back to the minor leagues after they got to Chicago.
"We're gonna have players with their first extended experience in the major leagues, and we're gonna have players with their first experience in the United States.
"It's going to take some time, but we want to see progress."
Progress they should see. Contention is another story.
•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.