Baseball

Rick Hahn Handcuffed By Jerry Reinsdorf

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When the Chicago White Sox started a rebuild at the winter meetings in 2016, the path seemed so long. The continuous trail of mediocrity and honestly bad baseball from a decent roster had plagued them long enough. Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams somehow convinced Jerry Reinsdorf to tear it down and start over. Trading players like Chris Sale and Jose Quintana signaled to everyone what the intentions were on the South Side.

Tearing it down meant making tough decisions. Chris Sale was the best pitcher in the organization and quite possibly ever to wear the black and white. While trading him was without a doubt a tough decision, it was one that needed to be made. This was only the beginning, as the front office would soon move on from Jose Quintana and Adam Eaton respectively. Decisions were made, and the farm system started to creep up the rankings showing signs of things to come.

The Best Intentions

When Hahn and Williams embarked on this journey, the vision had to be multiple World Series championships. They made moves and gave time to the young guns to develop while adding talent through other deals and drafts. The movement was clear to fans who refrained from turning off the television and staying away from the ballpark until things got better. Additions like Lucas Giolito, Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease, Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez, Luis Robert, and more meant Sox fans would have to wait a while before being ready to compete, let alone contend. Sure some fans would leave and watch from a distance for the process to take shape but surely they would return as the team got better.

They were on the right track, and it sucked. It was hard to watch as players like Matt Davidson and Trayce Thompson got their respective shots, or guys like Melky Cabrera or Wellington Castillo wrapped up their careers. No offense to any of those players but, collectively, it was for the bad baseball. Intentionally low payroll and a bad on-field product were things that other rebuilds had to endure just the same.

Hahn knew what he signed up for and so did the rest of the organization. The constant highlights from Birmingham or Charlotte as time wore on showed what was to come for this franchise. Big things from Jimenez and Robert as they claimed their way through the minor leagues. Watching Robert hit a ball over the bull at Durham Bulls Athletic Park among other highlights encouraged fans to stay tuned. The talent was clear, and it was coming. Giolito was struggling adjusting to major league hitting in Chicago, and Moncada was looking lost at times playing second base for the Sox. Still, the Sox pressed forward and stayed staunch knowing what was to come.

Reinforcements

As the talent at the minor league level was getting closer to Charlotte and inching towards Chicago, fans saw a new Giolito in 2019 dropping his earned run average from 6.13 in 2018 to just 3.48. Moncada made the move to third base and seemed far more comfortable. Moncada playing second base in 2018 slashed .235/.315 /.400. Making the move to third saw an increase to an outstanding slash line of .315/.367/.548. It was clear these two were starting to figure things out at the major league level and just in time. It was time to start bringing the kids up and let them play. As the talent started to trickle in the Sox started to play more exciting baseball.

Players like Tim Anderson, and Jose Abreu who had been through it all started to see the light and brought the excitement back to the Southside. Remembering watching the crowd lose it when Michael Kopech made his debut signaled to everyone the Sox were serious about competing sooner rather than later. Adding Yasmani Grandal as the big-time free agent the following offseason meant all systems go towards a playoff push.

They would stop short of breaking the bank and signing more key pieces via free agency until giving Liam Hendriks a three-year deal worth a guaranteed 54 million dollars. They did get a team option for a fourth year if Hendriks stays healthy and effective. Adding Lance Lynn via a trade with the Rangers for Dane Dunning reinforced the feelings the Sox were serious. Trading away young controllable talent for a stud in the final year of his contract is what contenders do. The Sox were planning to do just that.

Trade Winds

When the Sox finally found themselves on top of the American League Central at the deadline last season, Hahn and company felt it was time to shove their chips all-in so they pulled the trigger on a deal with the Cubs moving first-round draft pick Nick Madrigal and young reliever Codi Heuer for closer Craig Kimbrel. Regardless of the outcome of that trade, the Sox fell short again in 2021 and lost to the superior Houston Astros.

So where to go from here? How can the Sox recover from a bad trade and move forward? Many projected the Sox to be spenders when the market opened up this offseason. While the roster holes everyone talks about the Sox having (second base and right field ) had players available via free agency going into the frenzy we saw before the lockout, the White Sox sat on their hands. Rumors and suggestions flew about possibly trading Kimbrel after the Sox picked up Kimbrel’s 16 million dollar option for 2022. What could his trade value possibly be? Can you get a major league-ready starting second baseman for Kimbrel? Possibly a right fielder?

What Now

What lies ahead for the 2022 Chicago White Sox remains to be seen as owners and players try to get a new collective bargaining agreement prior to missing spring training or even regular-season games. Nothing can happen with major league rosters until a deal is struck. While the Sox are surely hard at work during this lockout, it is anybody’s guess as to what and where they may turn to fill the holes needing attention.

One thing most Sox fans will agree on is that filling the holes in the everyday lineup will not be filled with glamorous big-name free agents. Two problems come to mind immediately when you consider the Sox signing big-time free agents to finish up what is already a solid roster. The first problem is the smaller issue of the two is Marcus Semien already signed a huge deal with the Texas Rangers alongside Corey Seager.

Two possible solutions for the second base hole are already signed to big contracts for next year and beyond. This brings us to the second and biggest problem for the White Sox. BIG MONEY! The White Sox are not notorious for spending big. As long as Reinsdorf owns this club, do not expect that to change. Rick Hahn and company have yet to sign that player who is on every team’s shortlist of must-haves. Grandal may be the closest thing to it in the past few decades and we probably will not get a contract even as large as Grandal’s this offseason.

It is truly unfortunate for Rick Hahn and worse yet for White Sox fans. Reinsdorf does not seem to want to commit the funds necessary to compete in the postseason. Take a look back at the 2021 postseason teams and look at their respective payrolls.

  1. Dodgers – 271 Million
  2. Yankees – 205 Million
  3. Astros – 194 Million
  4. Red Sox – 188 Million
  5. Giants – 171 Million
  6. Cardinals – 171 Million
  7. Braves – 153 Million
  8. White Sox – 140 Million
  9. Brewers – 99 Million
  10. Rays – 70 Million

While the Sox do not come in dead last, they are absolutely near the bottom. Effectively, the Rays do not count because that franchise is absolutely unbelievable at churning out postseason appearances and championship contenders without spending any money. While being at 140 million is not incredibly low, it is obviously not enough. Anyone who watched the series against the Astros will tell you, Houston was simply the better team. The Sox are young and the window is just opening, so I do have a sense of optimism.

Hopefully, Luis Robert will continue to grow into the Mike Trout type player he is considered to be by his teammates. In the same token, Eloy needs to get back to bashing baseballs and Yoan should promptly get back to 2019 form. Jose Abreu is not getting any younger and neither is Reinsdorf’s hire Tony La Russa. Make no mistake the La Russa hire was Reinsdorf’s choice, not Rick Hahn’s. I firmly believe that if the ultimate decisions were left to Hahn, Detroit Tigers manager, A.J. Hinch would be on the southside. If they are not careful, those very Tigers may run them down and contend for AL Central supremacy.

Jerry has seemingly continued to either take the ball out of Hahn’s hands or tie them together with a strict not-to-exceed budget. I just cannot get behind an owner who consistently cuts the legs out from under what I believe to be a very good GM. Hahn has done a great job rebuilding this franchise since 2016 and should be given the tools needed to finish it. They are close and Sox fans still believe in this team. Unfortunately, if given the chance, Sox fans would probably vote for Reinsdorf to sell the Chicago White Sox. It will not happen, but we can dream!


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