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Rick Hahn, Robin Ventura hold out hope for the playoffs

DETROIT MI - SEPTEMBER 21: Chicago White Sox manager RobVentur#23 watches actiduring 12th inning game against Detroit Tigers ComericPark September

DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 21: Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura #23 watches the action during the 12th inning of the game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on September 21, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers defeated the White Sox 7-6. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

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Updated: March 17, 2014 11:47AM



GLENDALE, Ariz. — While lowering the bar on expectations for 2014 by stripping away expensive contracts for proven veterans Jake Peavy, Alex Rios and Matt Thornton, the White Sox managed to raise their fan-approval rating a notch by outlining a believable plan for the future and following through on it with the acquisition of young, unproven players such as Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia, Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson.

It doesn’t hurt that, unlike the Cubs, the Sox aren’t asking fans to wait what seems like forever to be good again. And it never hurts to have a World Series title in the not-too-distant memory. Although it has been nine years already, hasn’t it?

Do the Sox have even a remote chance to be a contender? General manager Rick Hahn is restructuring with contender status in mind for 2015 or ’16, but he and manager Robin Ventura — and why wouldn’t they — are quick to say that contending now isn’t out of the question. Not with ace Chris Sale, solid No. 2 starter Jose Quintana and enough good pitching behind them to complete a staff that can win.

That said, there are so many unknowns with the aforementioned rookies and even Garcia — not to mention legitimate concerns at catcher — that no one is expecting the Sox to be a playoff team. They lost 99 games last season — some in atrocious fashion — so sniffing the .500 mark would be considered success.

But this is baseball, where crazier things have happened, so no one scoffs at Ventura when he says, “Is someone going to pick us to win our division? Probably not, just because of the age and the guys that we have. Does that mean we can’t? No.’’

This spring training, which gets underway Saturday for the Sox, might go a longer way than most recent Sox camps toward determining if they’ll have a chance at being buyers rather than sellers at the trade deadline in late July.

“We start 2014 with the goal, like all 30 clubs, to win the whole thing,’’ Hahn said. “And if we’re in a position to do that, we’ll find additions come the deadline as the needs arise.’’

Many things on that long “if” list Hahn speaks of will begin to take shape already in camp. Here’s a sample:

† John Danks. The Opening Day starter in 2012 must be better than he was in 2013 — his first full season after shoulder surgery — when he had a 4.75 ERA with a career-high 1.8 home runs allowed per nine innings. On the plus side, his 1.8 walks per nine innings were a career low.

† The other two starters. Right-handers Erik Johnson, a rookie, and Felipe Paulino, who missed most of 2012 and all of 2013 after elbow surgery and also underwent minor shoulder surgery in September, are the top candidates for those spots.

† Abreu. Prized Cuban free agent. How will he adapt to major-league pitching?

† Eaton and Davidson. They seem to have bright futures, but the Diamondbacks aren’t losing sleep over losing either one.

† Closer. Key role is up for grabs.

† The best in 2012 (fielding-percentage wise) fell to the worst in 2013. A good spring cleaning could set the tone for 2014.

† Behind the mask. If Rule 5 pick Adrian Nieto doesn’t make the cut, he and Hector Gimenez at least must push Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley to improve.

† Fuel for the fire. Under Ventura, the Sox had no swagger, no edge and not much personality in ’13. They need one to take shape before they break camp.

NOTES: Pitchers and catchers report to camp Saturday, but several position players are expected early, including Abreu, who has been here awhile. The first full-squad workout is Thursday.

◆ The Sox announced 10 spring-training TV broadcasts (nine on Comcast SportsNet, one on Channel  9), starting March 14 against the Indians.

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CST_soxvan



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