MLB: Winter Meetings

Rick Hahn answers some questions

The White Sox made general manager Rick Hahn available via a conference call Thursday afternoon. Here are some snippets of answers he gave to various questions, as well as my thoughts on his answers:

On if the White Sox are willing to go beyond budget caps in international free agency:

“Certainly we are only talking theoretically, yes, we would consider going past the signing limitations and incurring a tax in this year’s signing period. As you know this is the last signing period prior to the new CBA rules taking effect July 2. Although we have not as of yet under the currently international rules moved into that penalty realm on international signings, it is something we have discussed internally.”

While Hahn couldn’t comment on any individual player, the fact that they’ve been linked to 19-year-old Cuban outfielder Luis Robert makes this answer interesting. As he noted, the White Sox have never spent enough in international free agency to incur a penalty, and this is the final signing period before it becomes hard capped. If the White Sox are willing to spend beyond the budget caps for international free agency, it stands to reason that the likes of Robert and perhaps other top international free agents are within the realm of possibilities.

On how the White Sox decide if and when to give a young player a contract extension, as they did with Tim Anderson earlier this week:

“It’s a combination of a number of factors. Obviously the on-field performance is very important because it does go the most distance in dictating what the likely future earnings are of the player. However, we also look at some ancillary factors such as position scarcity at that position.

The other extreme, the softer side of it is how we think the guaranteed money would potentially chance the player if at all. We’ve had these conversations on (Chris) Sale, (Adam) Eaton, (Jose) Quintana, Note Jones, going back years ago Mark Buehrle, who was one of the first we did or at least the first I was part of along these lines. Each of those conversations prior to doing these deals, you have conversations with coaches, and perhaps even with the player himself in some instances about what you believe the impact will be on that talent, on his work ethic, how he approaches his game once he has removed what is sometimes a stress or sometimes a benefit by getting that guaranteed money set aside.

In the situation with Timmy here, every coach and every person in player development to a man immediately indicated that this isn’t going to change how Tim goes about his business one iota. He is motivated not by the cash but more so by maximizing his talent and playing an important role in a championship organization. And that is important.

The fact of the matter is that Tim is young and Tim is still developing. There are still elements of his game that all of us, himself included, want to improve. So feeling some level of confidence that money isn’t going to change how he approaches that development is a big consideration in this.”

It’s not uncommon for a coach or GM to speak of the character of a player when he signs a deal to become a multi-millionaire, but tying it into the decision making process is a unique twist on things and definitely reeked of a bit of candor on Hahn’s part.

It’s impossible to know for sure just how much factors like the ones Hahn speaks on really play a role in whether or not the White Sox would give out the extension. Obviously present and potential on-field performance is first, second, third, fourth, and probably fifth on the list of determining something like that.

But the White Sox have an established and successful history of picking out players who deserve long-term deals and signing them to terms that are incredible team-friendly while also giving that player financial compensation unlike anything they’ve ever seen before. In none of those previous deals Hahn mentioned did it come back to bite them, and hopefully Anderson continues that trend.

On the potential for trades in the near future or if he thinks they’ll wait until closer to the deadline:

“I don’t think it’s real conducive to break off conversations based on artificial deadlines. Certainly when you’re up against the July 31 deadline that has a stronger impact on motivating the speed of conversations. But beyond that one I don’t really think it serves our long-term interests to declare ‘OK, we’re not going to talk to anyone for the next two weeks, or we’re not going to talk to anyone for the next month,’ or we’re going to wait to see how certain things play out.

While there are media stories or the outside perception that these conversations are heating up or cooling off, none of that really impacts how we go about our business and it doesn’t really change the pace of a negotiation, whether it’s rumors or scouts being seen doing their jobs at various places around the league, or the fact that Opening Day is upon us.”

Nothing particularly insightful here. The point of this question was more so to find out if the trade market cools down the closer we get to Opening Day and you can’t really blame Hahn, who is asked the latest updates about the White Sox trade prospects basically any time the media gets an audience with him, gave a similar answer to one he’s given countless times.

Major trades this late in camp aren’t particularly common — Craig Kimbrel a few years ago stands alone in my mind at first blush — but I think while the answer is something we’ve heard a few times, it speaks to exactly the mentality the White Sox seem to be taking: looking for deals but in no rush, opting instead to wait for one that strikes their fancy.

On the failed catching experiment last season and how they perceive catcher defense:

“I think there’s an unfortunate perception out there that we let Tyler Flowers go because we don’t believe in or perhaps are even not aware of framing data. Hopefully people realize it was a little more of a sophisticated decision than that. We certainly have, I believe, owned the fact that it did not pan out with (Dioner) Navarro) and (Alex) Avila the way we had hoped.

We do very much value catcher defense. We spend a great deal of time on framing and teaching framing at the minor league level … In fact, you will recall that Tyler made great advances as part of our organization in his framing metrics.

When it does come to evaluating a catcher’s defensive ability, we don’t limit it strictly to framing. We would like to also have their ability to control the running game be evaluated, their ability with lateral movement to handle passed balls in the dirt, to a lesser extend wild pitches and the effect a catcher has on that, as well as their ability to work with a pitching staff and manage a pitcher’s compliance with their game plan as well.

So it’s easy to look at the decision on Tyler and think it was us not understanding or appreciating framing data, however, nothing could be farther from the truth.”

We can hash and rehash and re-rehash the White Sox catching debacle of 2016, but it really sounds like Hahn has heard enough. The Sox made a mistake and wound up with unexpectedly worse offensive production to go along with the expectedly worse defensive production.

I do think it would be naive to assume the White Sox don’t value catcher defense in a similar fashion to other teams. The point about the improvements Flowers made from the time he entered the system to the time he left is well taken. And now that the White Sox are no longer attempting to contend, giving the likes of Omar Narvaez a chance while also developing him, along with other youngsters, is not a terrible strategy.

Lead Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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