White Sox don’t figure to miss a beat with new GM Rick Hahn
By GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org November 7, 2012 10:45PM
Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams, right, and assistant general manager Rick Hahn, watch batting practice before a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers Tuesday, July 26, 2011 in Chicago. With the trade deadline looming the White Sox still have not identified if they will be buyers or sellers. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Updated: December 9, 2012 7:54PM
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Roland Hemond, the widely respected, longtime executive for the White Sox and several other teams, remembers watching Rick Hahn as a front office newcomer a decade ago and quickly being impressed.
“He always listened very intently,’’ said Hemond, the former Sox general manager who’s now a special assistant to Arizona Diamondbacks’ team president Derrick Hall. “He was a good learner.’’
And the way Hahn worked with people throughout the organization, up and down the chain of command, is a big part of why Hemond sees big things for the Sox under their new GM as Hahn works his first general managers meetings since succeeding front office mentor Ken Williams two weeks ago.
“He has a real good relationship with everybody in the organization, from the scouting people, player development, all the areas,’’ Hemond said. “I don’t say that Kenny did not. But it goes straight to respect for the people working in the field.’’
Hahn, who calls the last two weeks “a blur,’’ has prepared for this moment for years, working nearly every facet of the GM job at some point along the way under Williams and building relationships throughout the game with an engaging personality and sense of humor that might even broaden the Sox’ deal-making landscape.
“I feel he has that type of respect and relationships with the other front-office people,’’ Hemond said, “the general managers, farm directors, scouting directors.’’
Not that Williams didn’t have strong relationships in the game. And not that rival executives see a big culture change coming, given a front-office continuity that includes Williams’ promotion to executive vice president.
But the often strong-talking Williams was perceived as rubbing some people the wrong way, whether agents, other execs or his own manager.
“Their similarities are they’re both extremely intelligent,’’ said Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. “Rick is a real intellectual type of guy with great baseball knowledge. He’s easily approachable and a guy that plays well with others and gets along with everybody.’’
Whether that adds up to anything close to the kind of success Williams had as one of the most aggressive GMs in the game, likely will take a long time to discover.
“Kenny certainly never had any shortage of trade partners,’’ Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. “Kenny’s one of the better traders in the game. And in my experience, Kenny’s always been the easiest guy to deal with — the most direct, the most clear about what he wants to do.
“Rick has probably learned a lot from watching Kenny do that. Kenny was outstanding to deal with. Rick has all the relationships he needs and is very well-liked, and that’ll be a very easy thing for him.’’
For now, Hahn is working on whether he’ll be able to keep his pending free agents and making low-level trades such as Wednesday’s deal with the Padres for lefty-hitting outfield prospect Blake Tekotta for a player to be named later.
“I really don’t think it would be too different,’’ New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. “I suspect the White Sox aren’t going to miss a beat, because Kenny’s still there, and Rick’s going to do a lot of the leg work, but all their strengths are still in place.
“Their titles are different, but their strengths are still there, and their relationship is so strong, it’ll just be like it’s always been.’’
Even if Hahn noticed at least a little difference in how he was received by his peers at the meetings this week.
“I probably catch a little more crap from some guys this time around,’’ Hahn said.
The Cubs don’t see many good fits with other teams in pursuing trades to fill their offseason needs, team president Theo Epstein said, suggesting a greater focus this winter on free agency. “It’s going to be a pretty aggressive market, and we have to be disciplined and do things that only make sense,’’ he said, “for the short term and the long term.’’ … The White Sox’ loss of bullpen coach Juan Nieves to the Boston Red Sox, who hired him as their pitching coach, was “bittersweet’’ said Hahn, who praised the former big-league pitcher and said the bullpen job could be filled internally. … Among topics discussed during Wednesday’s meetings were possible changes to the September roster-expansion rule and a more serious look at expanding use of video replay in officiating. … Though the Cubs have obvious interest in Sox free-agent third baseman Kevin Youkilis, they don’t expect to be serious players in the market for him. … Sox manager Robin Ventura is on the list of three finalists for the A.L. Manager of the Year award, to be announced next week.