Rebuild or reload? White Sox evaluating options
As team struggles, GM Hahn assessing ways to address future
CHICAGO -- Rick Hahn has a decision to make. Make that decisions.
His White Sox are not in position to contend this season. He understands that fact. Even the players and coaches have an idea, despite working hard every day to turn things around.
An easy solution is to tear down the roster and start a massive rebuild. But that really hasn't been the White Sox way since the "Kids Can Play" days of the late 1990s, although they have tried to infuse youth into their lineup and pitching staff in each season over the past four or five years.
Any moves made prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31 probably won't go down before the much-talked about three-year White Sox board is consulted and examined.
If Hahn and his staff believe the White Sox have what it takes to consistently compete over the next three seasons, starting with a strong pitching staff that has been this season's lone constant, then the general manager might be about retooling and reshaping. If a belief exists that the White Sox won't match up to the Tigers or other top teams in the American League and a younger core needs to be heavily strengthened to avoid getting caught with a team too old to be competitive, then it could be about wholesale refurbishing.
Ask the current White Sox about their makeup and they don't doubt for a second the talent is in place. It was a point reiterated by Hahn on Sunday, followed by expressions of stunned surprise as to how this team sits 15 games under .500 and 10 1/2 games behind both the Tigers and Indians.
"I don't think there's any fault in what we have," White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham said. "We've got good players that go and do the work. Unfortunately, so far it hasn't worked out. You have to keep on hoping that it does and just keep on fighting. That's all you can do."
"We want to stay together. That's the main thing," White Sox ace Chris Sale said. "We know to stay together, we have to turn things around."
It's difficult to see a way in which a complete turnaround happens.
As Beckham explained, when the team starts making a small push toward respectability, something like his self-described "stupid" ninth-inning infield run-in with two outs against the Mets leads to a routine popup dropping and a game-tying run scoring. The White Sox walked off to victory on that particular night, but there are countless examples this season of game-changing miscues or fundamental mistakes -- true momentum breakers.
"That just kind of reinforces the fact that we are not going in the right way," said Beckham of his team's inability to put wins together.
Valuable trade-worthy components certainly exist on the White Sox.
Right-handed reliever Jesse Crain, in the final season of his three-year deal, has proven to be one of the game's best relievers this season. Alex Rios is a talented five-tool outfield talent, with one year and an option left on his contract, while Jake Peavy could net the biggest return as an accomplished top-of-the-rotation starter under control for the 2014 season at $14.5 million, with a performance-based bonus for 2015.
Peavy currently is working his way back from a fractured rib on his left side, but he could be on a Major League mound immediately after the All-Star break.
Veterans making good money in the last year or two of deals will be front and center on the White Sox trading block, with "high-impact premium talent" the return target per Hahn's description. But in considering this three-year plan, the White Sox can't afford to trade a veteran contributor just to make a move and can't exclude young players being shipped out as part of the process.
Someone such as Sale, one of the game's top young starters and potentially under control through 2019, would no doubt warrant a huge package of talent in return, and Hahn will have to be overwhelmed just to consider it. Closer Addison Reed, reliever Nate Jones, starter Hector Santiago and potentially even Beckham, could be asked about and Hahn could listen.
In the case of Peavy, he has served as a mentor to young starters such as Sale and could stay around if that three-year plan shows signs of growth.
One point to remember is that this year's squad is the same basic group to hold down first place in the AL Central for 117 days in 2012. As quickly as a team slips, it can turn around just as fast. Take a look at the 72-90 White Sox squad in 2007, which became the 2008 AL Central champs the next season.
Changes need to be made, and the White Sox faithful has shown just as much interest in watching top prospects Josh Phegley behind the plate, Erik Johnson on the mound, Carlos Sanchez on the infield and even Jared Mitchell in the outfield as the Major League talent at U.S. Cellular.
These next few weeks or months will begin to shape the Hahn era, but major moves won't be made without fitting into the bigger picture. It's just not the White Sox way.