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Buy or sell? It’s too early to tell for White Sox

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Updated: June 24, 2013 2:14PM

Following in the footsteps of the man who GM’d the White Sox to a World Series title in 2005, Rick Hahn inherited a tall order when he took over as general manager for Ken Williams after last season.

In 12 years with Williams as general manager — and Hahn as his assistant — the Sox won two division titles, finished second five times and had a winning record nine times. The Series title was the first for the franchise in 88 years.

Following in the footsteps of Williams also means Hahn must tiptoe through a mess of a low-rated minor-league system that was drained by Williams for trades to improve the major-league product. Williams answers his critics by pointing to things like paragraph 2 of this story.

Now it’s Hahn’s turn in the hot seat that is the GM’s chair, and he’s about halfway to that pivotal time to decide whether the Sox are postseason contenders or in need of a makeover. An experienced and effective negotiator, Hahn seems more than equipped to make veterans-for-prospects deals should the team be treading water near the trade deadline.

“[Williams] has never been a friendly guy to negotiate with,’’ an American League Central team source said. “Exchanging lists, exchanging names, that whole trust-and-feel factor that goes into guys making deals, Rick is a master at that. And he’ll get a chance to show what he can do.’’

Sitting below .500 but playing better lately, Hahn said Monday that it’s too early to choose a lane. His scouts, he said, are looking for players who can improve the team now, not later.

“Rick needs to be schmoozing everybody and anybody, all 29 other clubs, to lay groundwork [for deals],’’ the source said. “Come back with a feel, and targeting that organization for its prize every-day player, for its core player.’’

Tradable pieces such as starting pitcher Jake Peavy, relievers Jesse Crain and (left-hander) Matt Thornton and perhaps outfielder Alex Rios and shortstop Alexei Ramirez — to name a few — could be on the block. But it’s unlikely all of them would be moved because the Sox don’t have enough good players in their system, don’t draw enough fans or have deep-enough pockets and revenue sources like the Cubs to afford an overhaul.

“I’ve been in three [rebuilding] situations like that when I managed in Detroit, Colorado and Kansas City,’’ assistant GM Buddy Bell said. “When you retool or blow something up … you’re never in a situation to do that. It takes time. If you look at your farm system, and I don’t care who you are, you never have enough to just all of a sudden be OK at the big-league level.’’

Hahn also is dealing with the effects of the Dave Wilder bonus-skimming scandal that set the Sox’ all-important Latin American scouting operation back at least five years (Wilder was fired in 2008), but it’s recovering under Marco Paddy’s leadership. After spending close to $3 million over a 12-month period on Latin prospects, Hahn said the Sox will spend another $2.5 million when the new signing season begins July 2. New penalties for overspending level the playing field for teams such as the Sox.

Hahn has added scouts in Latin America and the United States, and his approach will be more methodical, perhaps more thorough and less knee-jerk than Williams’.

Williams’ ways were successful. Hahn, who knew what he was getting into when he took the job, will try to make his way work.

“It’s always a big task, especially in Chicago, where people expect to win every year,’’ Bell said. “Winning, that’s the focus.’’

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