SAN DIEGO — Rick Hahn wasn’t feeling well because of a cold, but he couldn’t have felt any better about the state of the White Sox the morning after he traded for right-handed starter Jeff Samardzija and signed free agent David Robertson.
Have the Sox, a lackluster 73-89 fourth-place team in 2014, become instant contenders in the American League Central, which features a four-time defending division champion (the Detroit Tigers), a World Series finalist (the Kansas City Royals) and an improving Cleveland Indians team?
Everywhere you look, it says yes. For starters, with Samardzija (2.99 ERA, 219 2/3 innings in 2014) sandwiched between lefties Chris Sale (2.12 ERA, third in Cy Young voting) and consistent, steady Jose Quintana (2001/3 innings, 3.32 ERA) the Sox have a top three in their rotation that compares with any in baseball. Number-crunching will prove it, and Hahn wasn’t disputing the notion during perhaps his finest hour Tuesday at the winter meetings.
‘‘You are not going to have a break when you come through Chicago and face that rotation,’’ Hahn said.
Sale and Samardzija can make a case as the second-best 1-2 punch in baseball next to Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke.
With free-agent left-handed bat Adam LaRoche hitting for power and good contact behind slugger Jose Abreu (instead of Adam Dunn), the middle of the lineup is better. The Sox should score enough runs.
But the move that topped them all this offseason was Robertson, a strikeout/groundout guy suited well for U.S. Cellular Field and the best free-agent closer in the market. His presence in the ninth inning allows Jake Petricka, Zach Putnam and Daniel Webb to move down a notch where they belong. And with Zach Duke signed in November to three years, the Sox should have at least one effective lefty in the bullpen, which also could include No. 3 draft pick Carlos Rodon’s nasty slider.
In short, the Sox checked off four big needs in an unexpectedly big way by adding Samardzija to a lefty-heavy rotation, LaRoche to a right-handed-leaning lineup, Duke to a right-handed-leaning bullpen and Robertson for the ninth inning.
When Hahn first began retooling his roster 1 1/2 seasons ago by shedding salary, trading for young players such as Avisail Garcia and Adam Eaton, he viewed 2016 as the year to contend while leaving the door open for that in 2015. But when Abreu gave him an MVP candidate to go with Cy Young candidate Sale, there was no time to delay.
With a payroll in the $96-97 million range, including buyouts, executive vice president Ken Williams is saying the Sox are about done spending. Trades are the likely avenue for more upgrades — Dayan Viciedo is a question mark in left because of his defense and underachieving bat, to name one area.
The significant improvements the Sox made have made already at these meetings have their fan base in an almost celebratory mood. For a team that has played before declining attendance every year since 2006, that’s a good thing.
‘‘The reason they were made was it makes us feel real good about where we sit for ’15 and beyond, especially if we can find a way to keep Jeff longer,’’ Hahn said. ‘‘Does it have a positive marketing effect? Or a positive buzz? It probably does, but for me it’s about winning as many games as we can and play deep into October. That’s the kind of buzz we want to create, and we feel these moves put us in a better position to do that.’’