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Rick Hahn conference call: On LaRoche, Alexei Ramirez, offseason

GM Rick Hahn, on shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who has been the subject of trade rumors this offseason: “We view him as a valuable piece on a championship caliber club and a difficult piece to replace.”

The White Sox general manager talked on a conference call after the Sox announced the signing of free agent Adam LaRoche. Here’s what he had to say:

Why is LaRoche a good fit for the Sox?

“Adam checked a lot of boxes that we were looking for. That’s why we felt this is an important need to address with him early on in the offseason. He’s a proven performer, slots in nicely in the order in between Abreu and Avi [Garcia]. Provides us with an element of patience at the plate as well as some power from the left side.

“Quite frankly part of the appeal is his presence in the clubhouse. I can’t tell you how many different club officials and scouts and even players I’ve heard from since this leaked out, as well as when doing our due diligence on Adam, that just raved about what he brings to the clubhouse.

“Given that we have a young club, an evolving club, we felt that it was important, first and foremost, to add to what he brings on the field. But also it was very appealing what he can bring the clubhouse and the leadership he could provide to this young club.

What’s the plan for splitting DH/first base time with Jose Abreu?

“I’ll let Robin talk in more detail about how this will play out on a game by game basis. But all of our conversation with Adam as well as our conversations with Abreu male clear that Jose is the first baseman. We think having Adam is going to benefit Jose in the long term both from being a quality first base out there but also getting Abreu off his first on a fairly regular basis, allowing him to recover physically as well as feel stronger as the season wears on. We made no secret about some of the issues he had last year with his feet, as well as the fact it was a long season for Jose. This is going to continue to help him be strong from April all the way ideally through October, by having a quality alternative to run out there when appropriate.

“Robin had a very good conversation with Adam early in this process, explaining to him how he fit. And I actually had the opportunity to sit down with Jose in Chicago when he was here on business aand talk about it face to face. Jose was not surprisingly to those how know him very enthusiastic about the move. He felt that it made us stronger from a lineup standpoint and was going to benefit both he and Adam to have them both in that role between DH and first base.

“The bottom line is we expect Jose to be with us for a long period of time and to play first base for the bulk if not all of that. So he’s going to continue to get the majority of opportunities out there as his defensive skills continue to develop.

Any concerns for LaRoche transitioning to DH?

“There are certainly concerns when you change roles with guys. But you try to do the best you can in terms of evaluating their makeup and their openness to doing that. Obviously Adam had options in this market and felt that we were the best fit in knowing the role when making that decision. He feels it would be beneficial to him at this point and this stage in his career to be able to get off his feet as well on a fairly regular basis and focus on his offensive performance.

“He’ll still be out there a fair amount. Jose played 109 games and it wouldn’t shock me if he wound up in the same neighborhood at the end of this year. We will adjust based on health and performance and other factors, but they still will both be out there fair amount.

What’s next for this offseason?

“We want to hit off more things on our target list. We are not to the point where we are by any means satisfied with what we accomplished. We are certainly pleased with where we are at and did feel we addressed two important needs in the left side of the bullpen and a left-handed hitter in the middle of the lineup as we got in Adam. But we are not anywhere near complete in our minds. Frankly I’m not sure we will ever get to a point where we think we are fully complete and there’s not one more to make.

“We are going to continue to be aggressive over the coming weeks up to and through San Diego and through the holidays. And hopefully continue to address pieced that move the chains and get us closer to not only competing in ’15 but in ’16 and beyond.

What do you mean by the target list? RH starters, relievers, defense, outfielders?

“Those are all important elements to a successful club and areas which we would like to get better. I think you understand why I’m not going to sit here and lay out specific targets or even really specific areas of need. We generally talked about our need to improve our bullpen performance. We obviously are still somewhat left-handed in the rotation right now and there have been other areas such as defense that we want to improve in. What comes next in the coming weeks or months will hopefully address some of those items as well.”

Does signing LaRoche for two years mean [Alexei Ramirez, who has two years left on contract] is less likely to be traded?

“I don’t think it changes anything in terms of our approach. And that is with regards to Alexei in particular, we view him as a valuable piece on a championship caliber club and a difficult piece to replace. It doesn’t mean we don’t list to what other clubs are willing to do. But in order to move an important piece like that, we have to feel a great level of confidence that we are going to get better in ’15 and then certainly in ‘16 and beyond as well.

“It doesn’t really mean the die is cast with any other player. Instead we are going to continue to approach that we have valuable pieces that can help us win now and in the future and in order to alter that, we are going to have to do something that makes us better now and in the future in our opinion.”

What’s your take on all the money flying around in free agency?

“The nature of my position is to usually be surprised of the magnitude of contracts being doled out in free agency, but given that every year someone in my position would have that reaction, I think you eventually need to stop being surprised and just know it’s the cost of doing business. From our perspective it’s difficult to build a championship-caliber club or one that will contend for an extended period of time paying retail prices with every one of your moves. Obviously we are not afraid to do that as we have shown that over the last couple of weeks with specific targets and perhaps others with the coming weeks and months. But ultimately we want to get to the point where we can first grown what we need and then augment it via free agency or via trade.

“We can’t be shocked by what’s going on in the market. It tends to be the reaction each year. It’s part of the reason why we want to be strategic when we do enter the market and not make a regular habit of it.”

Do you sell free agents on contending?

“Part of it sells itself. They see a team that has the reigning rookie of the year and an MVP caliber player in Abreu. He’ll be here for several more years. A Cy Young candidate in Chris Sale. A young center fielder leadoff type and Quintana and Avi and some of the young players we have coming. A lot of this sells itself. Plus being in Chicago and playing for an organization that has a good reputation in the game and a coaching staff that people want to play for. I don’t feel like when I hop on the phone or have a conversation with somebody it’s a sales job per se. It’s more about explaining how we view the group that we’ve assembled. Why that individual fits to advance our cause as well as our nature and our desire to try to get this thing right as quickly as possible and how this acquisition would fit with that.

“Part of it is they see how we have behaved in the market over the years. They understand the time horizon presented by having certain special core players under control and what they want to hear is how they fit as part of it. We are looking for the right type of person in free agency who wants to be part of that, and I think that resonated with Zach [Duke] and Adam.”