CINCINNATI — It was a year ago this month that the White Sox traded left-hander Jose Quintana to the Cubs for Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease and two other prospects.
It was their third big trade for prospects, and Sox executive vice president Ken Williams and senior VP and general manager Rick Hahn stopped and looked at each other in Hahn’s office.
“We said: ‘Can you believe that all the things we wanted to do, plus a couple of other things, have actually manifested themselves?’” Williams said.
The Sox’ rebuild had bolted from the starting block. But where is it now? Slowed by injury and development hits since then, it will test the patience of Williams, Hahn and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, none of whom is patient by nature.
“The patience isn’t about waiting for these young men to be what we think they’re going to be; the patience comes in the major-league club taking it on the chin,” Williams said. “We’re competitive people, and we still want to win like anyone else. Even though we understand where we’re at in the rebuild evolution, I want to win tonight’s game.”
Victories have been hard to come by. The Sox are 30-56 after their 7-4 loss Wednesday to the Reds, a record marked by bad defense, spotty hitting, inconsistent pitching and youth.
More losses mean a higher draft position, but Williams said that’s not the aim. Building a winning culture in a losing environment is, but that’s a challenge for the players, left-hander Carlos Rodon said.
“You have to learn how to win games, but you have to win games to learn how to be a winner,” Rodon said. “It sounds stupid, but that’s how it is.”
Williams said he wants “to see progress in our young players and the players you think you’re going to be counting on in the future, and you don’t want them to get used to losing.”
The losses are sapping fan optimism, which was soaring alongside the farm system’s rapid rise in the rankings last winter. But poor performance at the major-league level, injuries to top prospects Jimenez, Jake Burger, Luis Robert and Dane Dunning and the big-league struggles of Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Carson Fulmer have deflated the Sox’ balloon.
What’s more, top pitching prospects who are healthy, such as Michael Kopech and Alec Hansen, have had their share of struggles.
Projections from outside the organization that the Sox would be winners by perhaps 2019 and for sure by 2020 now are viewed as overly optimistic.
“People said that because of talent they see,” Williams said. “But things happened.”
And now more patience is needed. When will the Sox win again? The talent will “tell us when we’re ready to win,” Williams said.
Williams is sure of this: The Sox are getting what they need about the fundamentals from manager Rick Renteria and his coaching staff. The message is being delivered, Williams said emphatically.
“That dialogue is constant, and I can assure our fans that these coaches’ work ethic is second to none, their communication level is off the charts and we are in good hands with regards to how and what our coaches are communicating,” Williams said.
“The players have to go out and execute. And with young players, sometimes you get the execution and sometimes you don’t. So you evaluate them: Are they focused, committed to getting better? And are they best served [learning in the majors], or should they go back and learn things where there aren’t as many eyes on them?”
Williams sent Joe Crede, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras to the minors, and they came back and helped the Sox win a World Series in 2005. Would the Sox send someone such as Moncada to Class AAA?
“The answer to that question is ‘not today,’ but you want to see growth, focus and commitment,” Williams said, adding it hadn’t been discussed.
Williams, a go-for-it GM who oversaw the 2005 World Series season with Hahn as his assistant, said he prefers “a quieter style of leadership these days” as Hahn stands as the face of the rebuild. He dismissed the notion that Hahn talked him into a teardown.
“I know what I read,” he said. “That’s funny because we jointly came to a decision to do this and have been in lockstep all the way.
“I find it rejuvenating. I literally can’t be more excited about doing this than I am right now.”