Hahn’s moves have White Sox fans in a festive mood
By Daryl Van Schouwen Staff Reporter January 23, 2014 11:09PM
Updated: February 25, 2014 6:38AM
Rick Hahn has done the unthinkable.
In his second offseason as White Sox general manager, Hahn has found a way to heal a wounded fan base in the months following a horrible 99-loss season. And he’s done so even though his team won’t be expected to contend in 2014.
All Hahn has done is acquire enough good, young position-player prospects to complement a solid, young pitching staff led by Cy Young candidate Chris Sale, a nice mix that seems to have the Sox — even without Masahiro Tanaka — on the right path to being good again before too long. Perhaps by 2015.
A fan base known for showing its grumpy side will convene for SoxFest at the Palmer House Hilton on Friday through Sunday not completely rid of a bad baseball hangover from 2013, but pretty much sold on Hahn’s transparent plan to make it all better. In Rick they trust.
Hahn has acquired $68 million Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu, right fielder Avisail Garcia, center fielder Adam Eaton and third baseman Matt Davidson in trades and free agency since the middle of last season. Those deals potentially add four new regulars, almost half a lineup, under long-term team control. They also boosted the Sox’ bottom-of-the-barrel prospects rankings to something more respectable.
This is not to suggest those new, young Sox are locks for greatness.
“On paper, there is a future for every one of those moves but there again, nobody is proven,’’ one major-league scout said. “Davidson is not proven. [Garcia] has good talent, but he’s not proven, either. Eaton is your typical leadoff guy center fielder, and his best years should be ahead of him, but he’s not proven. That’s where you have to trust your scouts.’’
The Sox did part with a proven, 25-year old closer in Addison Reed to get Davidson (the Diamondbacks were happy to get him for a third baseman that was behind two others in their system) and versatile 26-year-old left-hander Hector Santiago to fetch Eaton. So their supply of good, young pitching took a hit.
With every gain comes a cost, which Hahn and his staff seem to get if increased spending in scouting means anything. After ranking last in draft spending from 2007-11 and being KO’d from Latin American talent searches because of the David Wilder kickback scandal, the Sox are investing more on both fronts. Hahn’s special assistant in Latin America, Marco Paddy, reeled in a huge international catch in teenage outfielder Micker Zapata, signed for $1.4 million. New strict bonus pools with stiff penalties for overspending put the Sox, who have spent 100 percent of their bonus pools in the last two drafts, back in the game.
“In the end it’s about winning in Chicago, and the acquisitions we’ve made in the last few months are a big part toward that,’’ Hahn said. “But what I feel good about is the improvements we’ve made on the player development side, the scouts we’ve added [pro, amateur, international], the reintroduction of this club to the international signing market, which will help us long term, and fully funding those departments now.’’
Sox payroll figures to fall below $90 million (it was $112 million last year) but chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in December there was room to add for the right cause, which turned out to be a somewhat surprising nine-figure multiyear pitch for Tanaka.
The attempt failed, but hiked the Sox’ approval rating with fans.
“We have enough money to win,’’ Hahn said. “We have enough to build a competitive club and if sometimes we have to be creative or take some chances or make some trades as opposed to just papering over mistakes [with money], so be it.’’
Mistakes? Last season was so riddled by them that fans stopped paying attention at midseason. With a sound plan being executed for all to see, there is reason for hope — and to pay attention again.