At the risk of bringing up old stuff, Rick Hahn has been the king of Winter Meetings before. Just these past two years have seen him holding press conference to graciously discuss some degree of a coup he had just pulled off. Last Winter he made a deal for Brett Lawrie in exchange for a pair of fringy minor league arms, and a week later he traded for Todd Frazier. Two years ago he traded for Jeff Samardzija and signed David Robertson during the same dinner with his boss at the meetings, and a week later he signed Melky Cabrera. The second and third weeks of December have been the most exciting stretch of the year for the White Sox now three years running.
Two things burned both these previous efforts to build a winner : total flops out the gate from Adam LaRoche, Samardzija and Cabrera, along with mediocrity from Robertson, and more predictable failings for more budget-conscious options like relying on Avisail Garcia, Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez, Austin Jackson, Jimmy Rollins, the catcher platoon, etc.
Hahn needed immediate returns after his owner pushed him to build a competitor and was burned both short-term and long-term when it failed, but now is taming an entirely different animal, and if it seems like it’s a significantly easier process, it’s probably just because the Sox are making it look that way so far.
First, during a buy period, the Sox are pressured to move quickly due to a lack of available resources and competing bids. While selling, Hahn referred explicitly to a practice of setting a minimum price for his trade assets and sticking to it, which has served them explicitly well in a barren market for centerfielders and position players in general, in which the Nationals were willing to dump all their top pitching prospects rather than pay whatever exorbitant deal Dexter Fowler just received.
Second, while pairing the mechanically unstable Samardzija with Don Cooper turned into a season-altering disaster, a mass rebuild has allowed him to continue to collect high-ceiling arms with messy deliveries, accepting large quantities of risk in Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez for the chance of someone hitting their ceiling and replacing the top-end of the rotation.
Third, whereas the tactic of waiting to upgrade questionable spots on the roster at the deadline, after meaningful games had already been lost, was a source of frustration, the Sox sell-off is under no deadline. Jose Quintana‘s four remaining years of control make his value almost impossibly massive, Jose Abreu‘s value if anything would be better served by a hot start after the current glut of first base/designated hitter options clears up, and even Cabrera and Lawrie, despite being on expiring deals, might be easier to deal mid-season as league-average fallback options to replace an injured or underperforming first option.
Only Frazier probably needs to be moved before the season to avoid a significant value drop, and fittingly his deal might be waiting on the Justin Turner market to settle, as the Sox are again positioned against a limited free agent class. Even David Robertson is drawing trade interest from playoff contenders who might be left out of the bidding for Kenley Jansen, even though it seems like his value is at a nadir at the moment.
Everyone knows that the White Sox are selling, and willing and eager to move anything to start their next stage now, and it will be interesting how their impressive returns are affected by dealing something less than a cost-controlled All-Star that they had no pressure to trade. The Sox would not be in this position if they did not have depressed assets.
But Hahn is removed from all the difficult parameters that hampered the last two years, and coincidentally is being lauded for his skills again. Only a handful of these trades, and not even the most important ones, have their leverage altered by a timeline, and they only need to start the rebuild, rather than account for all the holes in the Sox infrastructure on their own. Maybe Hahn always looks best after a big deal, when the public value of the players involved looked lopsided and there’s no whiff yet of the team fitting together on the field and delivering the expected wins. That’ll fit just fine, because for the next couple of years, finding value is the job, and the wins will just have to wait.
Lead Image Credit: Geoff Burke // USA Today Sports Images