White Sox forging path to sustainable success
General manager Hahn points to signings of Abreu, Garcia as start of reshaping club
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Chicago White Sox have become younger and more athletic, in a hurry.
The next item on the agenda would be getting better. Yes, the Sox lost 99 games last season and finished 30 games out of first place in the American League Central standings. But based on moves that the Sox have made since last summer, significant improvement in the standings would seem to be a question of when, not if.
The man with his hand directly on the pulse of this process is Rick Hahn. The general manager has not lost his sense of humor, which in itself is an encouraging development.
"When you lose 99 games, the list of things that need to be addressed is fairly long," Hahn said.
No doubt. But there was at least one advantage to a deeply disappointing season.
"One of the silver linings was that we were able to get started on retooling this thing," Hahn said. "We were able to acquire [outfielder] Avisail Garcia, we were able to free up a little economic flexibility that then allows us to pursue [first baseman] Jose Abreu before the postseason ends and quicken the process of turning this thing over.
"We certainly haven't addressed all of our issues. We knew that it was going to be a process and it was going to take some time. Starting with Avi Garcia and Abreu, and then [outfielder Adam] Eaton and [third baseman Matt] Davidson, we feel like we've added some young building blocks to this offense that will turn this thing over, hopefully more quickly than people expect."
There were, Hahn freely acknowledges, some previous miscalculations that went into the 2013 season. The 2012 White Sox had led the AL Central for most of the season, and for most of September, for that matter, before finishing second. Looking ahead, the White Sox would have a very different team by '15, when the contracts of Alex Rios, Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko and Jake Peavy would be expired.
The question was how to get from 2012 to '15. White Sox management decided that it could bridge that distance by remaining a contending team. Thus for 2013, the '12 roster was merely tweaked.
"Obviously, that didn't work at all," Hahn said.
But the early departure from contention last year did allow the Sox to get a head start on finding a suitable future. And Hahn has moved in that direction with admirable quickness and clarity.
"I do feel like we've moved the chains, but we're certainly realistic here," Hahn said on Tuesday at Camelback Ranch. "We know we're not in the red zone yet. That being said, with our pitching, and with the upside of some of these young guys, we're not writing off 2014. We're trying to prepare to contend for the 2014 season, while realizing this is a process. From where we were to where we want to be is probably going to take more time. "
One thing about this task is that time won't be an infinite commodity. Hahn said that the desire to "get this thing right as soon as possible" is a reflection of the disposition of White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and executive vice president Ken Williams. Hahn's own disposition reflects the same outlook, and if history is any guide, the majority of White Sox fans have exactly that inclination, too.
"But if you look at our moves," Hahn noted, "we're not looking for Band-Aids or quick fixes. Each of the players we brought in we think fits; for an extended period of time, someone you can build around and build something that consistently wins.
"Some of the areas that we perhaps didn't address over the course of the offseason where we had a need was simply because we didn't see that type of player. It wasn't going to be someone who fit into the building of what we were trying to do. So why stopgap it?"
At some point in the not-too-distant future, a restocked White Sox farm system will provide assistance in the retooling process. In the meantime, Hahn believes that the club already has on hand enough pitching to help take the next step forward.
The White Sox have pitchers with impressive possibilities in the bullpen. What they don't have at this moment is a proven Major League closer. But Hahn believes that between the quality of the arms and the organization's track record of developing back-end relievers, the White Sox bullpen will still be a source of strength.
In the rotation, the GM finds a healthy John Danks, 18 months past shoulder surgery, to be a source of optimism. Chris Sale has already made his mark, and a third left-hander, Jose Quintana, has displayed plenty of promise. Erik Johnson, a product of the White Sox organization, appears to be more than ready to pitch at this level. And the club believes that Felipe Paulino is ready to consistently turn promise into performance.
Quintana, it must be reported, gave up nine earned runs without retiring a batter on Tuesday in a landslide loss to the Oakland Athletics. This left his Cactus League ERA over four starts at 30.00.
Quintana said that there was nothing wrong with him physically and pledged: "I'll be good. I'll be fine, when the season starts."
Manager Robin Ventura declined to say that he was concerned about Quintana's performance, noting that Quintana had not lost any velocity.
"Really in the middle of the plate was where he was today," Ventura said.
This bad day at the Ranch aside, the White Sox do not give the impression of being a sad-sack group following a truly difficult season. These White Sox do not appear to be particularly downcast, in large part because this organization has already taken large strides on the road back to success.
"We're pleased with the progress we've made," Hahn said. "But we're not satisfied. We don't think we're done. We know there's more work ahead."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.