2/17/2014 2:00 A.M. ET
Goals remain high for White Sox amid retooling
General manager Hahn says 'fundamentally, our job is to win championships'
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
The White Sox find themselves in the middle of a reshaping process -- building a younger core for sustained success, while certainly keeping an eye on the 2014 season ahead. In honor of Presidents Day, MLB.com is catching up with a high-ranking official from each club. General manager Rick Hahn, one of the reshaping architects, sat down with MLB.com on the first day of Spring Training to talk about this change, along with the overall state of the organization.
MLB.com: Finish this sentence: This 2014 season will be a success for the White Sox if ...
Hahn: We win the World Series.
MLB.com: That's the only way?
Hahn: I'm pretty black and white about it. If we fall short of winning a championship in 2014, there certainly has to be the potential to be several things we feel good about, in terms of where this organization is heading from an on-field standpoint. But, fundamentally, our job is to win championships -- and we aren't going to sit back and punt seasons in that process.
MLB.com: What is the thing you want to learn most about this team during Spring Training?
Hahn: We are in the midst of a process of sort of retooling who we are as a baseball team. It's an ongoing process, but one that we feel we've made a lot of progress with over the course of the last eight months or so.
This spring, we want to start seeing, as guys are together and they begin the process of playing the game the way we want it played and growing together, we want to sort of start seeing some of that cohesiveness -- that unity and the possibility of reaching some of that upside together. We know we still have some more work in this, but we feel like we got a good start on paper.
Now, it's time to see some of that translate on to the field in performance.
MLB.com: How tough has it been for the White Sox to move into a reshaping or retooling process, going a little younger and not being considered a top team going into the season -- especially with a franchise that has the mindset of going for it every year? Some people wanted you to do this three or four years ago, but is it hard to make that switch?
Hahn: It is a little bit easier said than done, at least from a psychological standpoint. Nobody wants to invest a lot of time and energy and not see results or progress. Certainly, some of these rebuilding processes we've seen around the game have entailed some clubs having an extended period of losing and building up through the farm system and high draft picks and high international bonuses.
Objectively, that makes a great deal of sense. You can see from the outside why they are doing it. At the same time, you know you are still living and dying with every win and loss -- even if you know that the likelihood of you winning isn't that high in a given season. You still want to win as many games as possible. It's a natural competitiveness of the individuals involved and in the game.
From our standpoint, you are right. Starting at the top with [White Sox chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] and [executive vice president] Kenny [Williams], there has been a desire every year to put us in the best position to win that World Series. And we've been fortunate enough to have an extended run of success while Kenny was GM. Now, we've gotten to the point where after the season we've had and where we were from a player-personnel standpoint, it became fairly clear that we had to take a little bit of a longer-term view, in terms of getting things back on track.
It doesn't mean we are forsaking the 2014 season by any stretch of the imagination. We are still going to want to win as many games as possible this year. At the same time, part of what we hope to accomplish is not just the wins and losses, but also the progress of that young group as they grow together.
MLB.com: The White Sox and you personally have been given a great deal of plaudits for your offseason work, probably dating back to last July, when you acquired Avisail Garcia. These guys are players you wanted that helped you get those high marks. But is there part of you thinking, "I hope they all can play?"
Obviously, if they all struggled this year, you aren't going to write it off and switch again. But you certainly hope they show something to get you moving in the right direction.
Hahn: We realize that this isn't going to be a linear process. I don't know which one of our young guys [it will be], but I can pretty much assure you one of them is going to struggle. It's just the nature of the game. And one of them will probably have outlandish success early on and then regress back for an extended period.
Then, the question will be, "Can they make the secondary adjustment to get back on track?" So, it's important, the best we can, to take a broad view of this and evaluate the performance over an extended period of time, as opposed to what Jose Abreu is hitting on April 20. But it's nice that people outside the organization seem to understand what we are trying to accomplish and are as excited about our ability to make progress along that path.
For me, personally, I would rather get positive reviews than negative reviews, I suppose. But I sort of hold myself and our department up to a little bit different standard, and I know that we didn't quite accomplish everything that we wanted to do. Realistically, that's probably not surprising, but it's not like any of us are sitting up there satisfied at this point.
Yes, we are pleased we made progress. It's good. It's going in the right direction. We accomplished a fair amount in a relatively short period of time. But there's more to be done. That's where our focus is, right now, trying to convert on the next one.
MLB.com: You reached the pinnacle in '05 with one of the more underrated championship teams in baseball -- for what you guys did from start to an 11-1 playoff run for the finish. Then, you come to last year, where you lose 99 games. You hear the words "relevant" and "irrelevant" associated with the White Sox. But where does the team stand in terms of overall strength -- in terms of finances, personnel and the direction you are headed?
Hahn: It's a tough question for me, because my focus is so singularly on wins and losses and what happens on the field. I know that [for senior executive vice president] Howard Pizer and Jerry and the folks on the business side of the opearations, [senior vice president, sales and marketing] Brooks Boyer and his staff ... our performance on the field hasn't made their lives any easier. But there still is such a strong core of White Sox fans, there's such pride in the brand identity and the brand equity, that the brand at least remains strong, despite a difficult season.
Now, our job from a baseball standpoint is to get us back to where we were in '05, so that we can be as strong as we were as a brand and from a business side in '06. We are fortunate enough to play for one of the more historic franchises in the game and for the city of Chicago and enjoy strong fan support. Even though we certainly don't want to sit through another season like 2013, the brand and the business side of the operation is certainly strong enough to withstand that.
MLB.com: You talk about working for a historic franchise, but you also work for an extremely accomplished owner and boss. Do you think Reinsdorf has gotten his just due for what his teams have accomplished and everything he has contributed to over more than three decades?
Hahn: I don't know if he has. But again, I'm extremely biased. I try to be objective and look at him as someone who has brought seven championships to the city of Chicago. And before those seven, you know having grown up here like I did, it's pretty rare to have a championship contender -- much less a winner. He sort of changed his organizations and helped change that in the city.
For me, objectively, that deserves a world of credit. I'm lucky enough to know the man and his passion -- not just for sports, but for the individuals. Not just the players, but the staff and the community at large. ... [I] know how much White Sox Charities has accomplished under his aegis and the aegis of the White Sox and how important that has been to him and the accolades that he has received.
It's tough to appreciate Jerry from outside, given that the public doesn't have access to see his generosity and kindness and intellect on a daily basis. But simply, objectively from sheer results of championships and strength of the organizations and the venues they play in, he deserves a great deal of credit.
MLB.com: Your attendance has dropped every year since '06. Your payroll is lower this year than last year, but it's not like you've chopped the payroll in half. You've still been able to make it work.
Hahn: Jerry runs the business very simply ... whatever revenue comes in once we remove fixed costs goes out on the baseball side of the operations. The payroll will be lower this year than it was last year, in part, because it's a function of increases in international spending and Draft spending. So the total baseball expenditures are similar to where they've been recently. And, at the same time, it's also a little bit of a function of the roster.
We do have a younger roster, and younger players come with lower salaries. We are going to want the Adam Eatons and Avi Garcias to play, even though they aren't making huge dollars right now.
MLB.com: How would you characterize your fan base, in general?
Hahn: White Sox fans are extremely passionate and devoted about their club. However, they want to see on-field results. They aren't going to take your word for it that things are better or that things are improving or that we are going to contend. They want to see a new approach or a new attitude on the field. They want to see, ideally, that translated into more wins and, again, more championships.
We saw back in '05 in the parade the breadth of White Sox fandom and it's support and how robust it can be. It's incumbent upon us to get us from a baseball standpoint to the level that merits that kind of support and passion.