12/16/2013 5:15 P.M. ET
Hahn has White Sox trending in right direction
General manager making concerted effort to build a strong young core in Chicago
By Phil Rogers / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- At the Winter Meetings in Dallas two years ago, the White Sox traded their 28-year-old closer, Sergio Santos, for Nestor Molina, a right-handed pitching prospect. In the media debriefing, Ken Williams referred to the team beginning a rebuilding process.
Then, almost immediately, he backtracked, saying this was really a retooling, not a rebuild. And to demonstrate the point that the Sox are often the most dangerous when you don't see them coming, they went out and won 85 games, leading the Tigers for almost four months of the season, including most of September.
The long-dreaded collapse quickly followed, however -- a 4-11 fade to black in 2012 followed by a 99-loss season in '13, the first for Rick Hahn as the general manager, with Williams moving into an advisory role.
You'd think that might have convinced chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to follow the example of the cross-town Cubs and start writing off seasons with an eye on a distant prize. But that, clearly, is not how these guys operate.
Thus a six-year, $68 million signing of Cuban slugger Jose Abreu -- possibly the biggest move of the offseason -- and an unwillingness to deal Chris Sale, the 24-year-old ace who is signed through 2017, with options in '18 and '19 that could make him the best bargain in baseball. And Hahn was just getting started there, as he's proven over the last week with a pair of deals with Arizona's Kevin Towers, who is feeling the heat to keep up with the Dodgers.
Power-hitting third baseman Matt Davidson has joined leadoff man/center fielder Adam Eaton as part of Hahn's ultra-impressive overhaul of an over-the-hill lineup that was last in the American League with 3.7 runs per game this past season, the 29th worst total in the Majors (thank you, Marlins). Davidson was acquired Monday at the cost of closer Addison Reed, who saved 40 games last year but also blew eight chances, matching Fernando Rodney for the second most among closers.
Factor in 22-year-old right fielder Avisail Garcia, added at the non-waiver Trade Deadline this past season for Jake Peavy, and you've got a group of young hitters Hahn calls "the new core." He has taken a team that was difficult to watch and made it into a patchwork quilt of intriguing parts.
While the decision to re-sign Paul Konerko -- who, by the way, took an $11 million pay cut to come back as a part-time player and full-time organizational resource -- seems to have gotten more attention than anything else Hahn has done, you've got to give him credit for doing what Ron Schueler once did so well with the White Sox.
"When this thing gets right, the development is complete, we will have these guys coming along on the same path," Hahn said. "It is what we have been striving [to put together] for a while here. We want to have a young core."
Consider this a case of back to the future.
Through the First-Year Player Draft and trades, Schueler built a competitive organization with staying power. The Sox had gotten away from that after their World Series triumph in 2005, executing a long line of short-sighted moves designed to make magic while allowing the farm system to decay.
That era is clearly over. The White Sox have restocked the lower level of the farm system through the last two Drafts and hold the third overall pick in June, with an eye on adding an arm like the one scouting director Doug Laumann and Williams landed when they reacted quickly as Sale fell to the 13th pick in 2010.
Put another impact arm behind Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks (upwardly mobile again after two and a half seasons ruined by a shoulder that required surgery), and the White Sox could have a team set up for another long ride. The Reed-for-Davidson trade could turn out to be a modern version of Mike Cameron-for-Konerko, the 1998 Schueler trade that came at an equally low point.
To the shock of baseball, Reinsdorf and Schueler added Albert Belle as a free agent after 1996. But when the tandem of Belle and Frank Thomas failed to produce immediate results, Schueler made the infamous White Flag Trade at the Deadline in '97 and then offloaded Belle and allowed Robin Ventura to leave after '98.
The White Sox seemed dead in the water but bounced back to win 95 games and the AL Central two years later. Will we look back on recent moves in the same way a few years from now?
Davidson, a big man with a long swing who is still growing into his power, is the kind of young hitter you dream on -- the kind that is becoming more and more scarce at every level of baseball. And in a lineup that features Abreu (capable of 30-plus home runs and a Rookie of the Year season in 2014) and Garcia, he won't have to shoulder the load by himself.
That was the way it was for Konerko when he arrived in Chicago, after stints in Cincinnati and Los Angeles. He hit alongside young run-producers like Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee, with guys like Aaron Rowand and Joe Crede contributing.
That's the kind of lineup that Hahn hopes he is putting together.
Oh, he's not done, either.
He'd love to find a team to take on 34-year-old Adam Dunn, who has hit 75 home runs and driven in 182 runs the last two seasons. Hahn also has a middle infielder to trade -- if the Yankees ever get around to understanding what a valuable piece Alexei Ramirez could be on a team with long-term questions at second base and shortstop. He's got an extra outfielder to trade -- he'd love to get a young catcher for Alejandro De Aza or Dayan Viciedo -- and has a surplus of middle-infield prospects driving discussions, with elbow surgery the only thing slowing Micah Johnson (a Minors-best 84 stolen bases last season).
Sure, the White Sox could be better, but these days they are trending the right way, thanks to Hahn's deals.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.