General manager Rick Hahn’s hot streak at the Winter Meetings is about to cool off.
Unless he has something unexpected up his sleeve, Hahn won’t repeat as the executive who “won” the Winter Meetings in 2016 and 2014. That’s two “titles” in the last three winters.
The first one produced nothing. The last one at least has a chance to furnish something.
Sadly, the White Sox’ collection of wins in October (they’ve had one postseason appearance and won one playoff game since taking Game 4 of the World Series when Hahn was assistant GM to Ken Williams in 2005) pales in comparison to their triumphs in December. They own the fourth-longest postseason dry spell behind the Mariners, Marlins and Padres, prompting Hahn, Williams and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to launch a rebuild by trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton at last year’s Winter Meetings.
Hahn was applauded for the haul of prospects the trades fetched, only two years after he and Williams, working a win-now strategy, were touted as execs of the hour for acquiring Jeff Samardzija in a trade and signing David Robertson to a four-year, $46 million deal. Later that week, Melky Cabrera agreed to a three-year, $42 million contract, and the Sox confidently proclaimed themselves postseason contenders.
“How was your week?” Hahn said at the Chicago news conference introducing those players. He then voiced the organization’s “goal of achieving a world championship in 2015.”
Problem was, the Sox’ core of top talent was championship-caliber, but their roster and organizational depth were not, and nine months later, they finished 76-86. By the middle of 2016, Hahn’s “we’re mired in mediocrity” quote signaled the beginning of a new strategy that is going according to plan — the Sox’ farm system has skyrocketed to No. 1 or 2, according to experts who evaluate them.
It’s a good first step. At the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday in Orlando, Florida, Hahn won’t have Sale, Eaton or Jose Quintana to dangle, so unless he deals Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia, the week figures to pack less Sox punch than usual. The pursuit of expensive free agents (an area this front office must be right about after too many wrongs) is at least a year away in the rebuilding plan.
In an unforeseen proactive move last week, the Sox signed free-agent catcher Welington Castillo, 30, to a two-year, $15 million deal with a club option for a third year. Castillo’s bat and veteran presence could help offset what the Sox would lose should they stockpile more prospects with trades of Abreu or Garcia.
On the other hand, adding Castillo to a lineup with Abreu and Garcia while upgrading blocking, throwing and pitch-framing efficiency behind the plate gives a shot in the arm to a young team that, boosted by call-ups Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer, played .500 ball after Aug. 17. You can be sure full-steam-ahead manager Rick Renteria and his ambitious young team will say, “Don’t count us out” during spring training.
It’s still too soon. The Sox should be better than 67-95 but should also run the streak of no postseasons to 10 long years. If enough prospects develop as projected, they should be equipped to win in 2020 or perhaps even 2019 if things fall right ahead of schedule as they did for the Yankees and Twins in 2017.
But the Sox don’t need to win this week. They only need to win in the draft and player development in 2018. Another victorious offseason can wait.
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