New GM Hahn faces tough free-agency decisions
Peavy, Pierzynski among key White Sox who could test the market
CHICAGO -- One of Rick Hahn's first moves as the White Sox general manager will be to take a depth chart from the 2004 offseason that he recently found and have it framed to put up on his wall.
On that depth chart, put together just a few weeks after the 2004 campaign concluded, Ben Davis was listed as starting catcher and Willie Harris was listed as the second baseman. By the time that particular Hot Stove period cooled down in February 2005, A.J. Pierzynski was the man behind the plate, Tadahito Iguchi was at second and the rest was cherished World Series championship history.
"It shows you the amount of positive change you can have in one offseason," said Hahn, who was trying to illustrate that key contributors such as Scott Podsednik, Bobby Jenks and Dustin Hermanson, to name a few, also were not part of that depth chart at such an early offseason stage.
During this first offseason in charge for Hahn, with Ken Williams' highly successful 12-year run as general manager ending with him being promoted to executive vice president, there will be a number of tough calls for the organization to make. And since some of these calls involve valuable players' first foray into free agency, they represent a White Sox roster that might not take real shape for at least a couple of months.
Hahn is ready to be patient and right, as opposed to making kneejerk reactions that might not benefit the White Sox in the present or the future.
"You don't get any extra wins during the regular season for having these guys in place on Nov. 20," said Hahn in a chat with the media following Friday's press conference at the U.S. Cellular Field Conference and Learning Center. "If there's a deal to be done three days from now that makes us better, we'll do it. If it takes until December or January, as it did back in '04, with the references I made earlier about signing Iguchi and Pierzynski, so be it."
Club options are held on starting pitchers Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd, third baseman Kevin Youkilis and right-handed hurler Brett Myers, although all four could be declined by the White Sox. The decision for the team is then whether to pursue a new deal with these veterans, potentially starting with buyouts in the case of Peavy, Youkilis and Myers, or move in a different direction as they enter free agency.
Peavy has expressed an interest in staying with the White Sox, but Hahn understands the market might make that proposition a difficult one.
"Look, there aren't a lot of free agent pitchers out there. There is a fair amount of money perhaps to be spent by other clubs, so that one's going to be a challenge," said Hahn of Peavy, who will become a first-time free agent when the White Sox pass on their $22 million option and use their $4 million buyout.
"Pitchers get paid a significant amount and Jake, given his track record, and him answering questions about his health, he is going to be a popular guy," Hahn continued. "We've had good talks already, honest conversations. Jake's preference is to be back in Chicago, but there might come opportunities elsewhere where it doesn't make sense for us to chase."
Pierzynski presents another tough choice for Hahn and the White Sox. Completing his eighth year with the team, Pierzynski has become an organizational staple and is coming off his best season with the bat. The White Sox could choose to let him go and move toward Tyler Flowers, who is recovering from a fracture in his left hand suffered when he was hit by a Chris Perez pitch in the season's final series.
"I try not to handicap these things," said Hahn of Pierzynski's chances to return. "We've had A.J. here for eight years, and he's been a fantastic member of the organization for every minute of it.
"We've signed him to three multiyear deals and two years ago at this time there was a thick level of pessimism about him coming back. I talked to [Pierzynski's representative] Steve Hilliard last week and it was a good dialogue. We'll stay in touch. Until he gets out there and sees what his market is and we explore alternatives and other ways to spend our money, it's impossible to handicap."
These are all part of the ongoing challenges facing Hahn in assembling a team, a team Hahn wants to be no less than a prime American League Central contender.