If Theo Epstein is the smartest guy in whatever room he occupies, as many of his minions like to say, what happens when Rick Hahn walks in?
Epstein, the Cubs’ president, went to Yale. Hahn, the White Sox’ vice president, did his undergraduate studies at Michigan. Advantage, Epstein.
Hahn has a Harvard law degree. Epstein received his from the University of San Diego while he was the Padres’ director of player development. Perhaps Epstein could have gotten into Harvard Law School. Perhaps he did get in. But Hahn actually has a Harvard law degree. Advantage, Hahn.
Hahn also has an MBA from Northwestern. Drop the mic and walk away, Rick.
There’s only one logical question here: What the heck are these guys doing in baseball?
I don’t know, but fans on both sides of town should be happy that the world is minus two lawyers or two investment bankers or two Elon Musks. Epstein had enough smarts to do what no Cubs executive had been able to do in the previous 107 years: bring a World Series title to the North Side. Hahn is the genius of the moment in major-league baseball, acquiring so much talent over the last seven months that the Sox have enough young players to field both sides of a minor-league all-star game or charter a fraternity (Beta Alpha Tau? Tau Alpha Tau Eta Rho?).
Hahn’s latest trade brought the Sox the Yankees’ 2016 first-round pick, outfielder Blake Rutherford, in addition to two other prospects and reliever Tyler Clippard. In return, the Yankees received David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier, whose .206 batting average will not stop him from being the team’s savior at third base, if New York’s tabloids are to be believed.
What can’t be argued is that Hahn is the most valuable member of the Sox right now. That he’s just about the only member left is beside the point. Time will tell if he turns out to be the guy who has all the answers, but even that’s beside the point. He sure is busy. After years of stagnation on the South Side, the Sox are busy. That’s the point.
The first fruits of Hahn’s rebuild arrived Wednesday night. The Sox called up infielder Yoan Moncada, the No. 1 prospect in baseball, and he started at second base against the Dodgers at Guaranteed Rate Field. Hahn acquired him in the December trade that sent ace Chris Sale to the Red Sox. A rebuilding project usually takes a minimum of three years, so at least Sox fans are getting an early glimpse of the future. Or at least a glimpse of a possible future.
We don’t know if we’ll look back in five years and point to this seven-month minor-league feeding frenzy as that period when the Sox emphatically planted their championship flag. Judging talent is such an inexact science that it’s possible very little of this works out. But Hahn should be the runaway choice for 2017 Executive of the Year, even if it’s based completely on projections. The Sox now have 10 of the 70 top-ranked prospects in MLB.com’s 2017 Prospect Watch. I sometimes wonder if Hahn is under the impression that he’s collecting baseball cards, not baseball players.
I recently wrote a column about the pain of watching three Chicago teams – the Sox, Bears and Bulls – going through rebuilds at the same time. And, of course, I heard about it from Sox fans after mentioning that those teams were following Epstein’s lead. And they’re right in a literal sense: Epstein did not invent the rebuild. But he did make the rebuild cool. He made it OK to tell a fan base that your team is going to trade away most of its assets, lose games in large quantities and need three to five years to (hopefully) build a winner. Given this news in the past, sports fans generally have wanted to do unspeakable things to the executive explaining the plan.
But now? Hahn is a hero among a decent percentage of Sox fans. The possibility of good things ahead is much more thrilling than, say, the memory of his acquisitions that didn’t work out in the past. The Sox traded Jose Quintana, a fine pitcher, to the Cubs last week for more minor-league talent, and Hahn was greeted as a savant. Maybe he is.
We know for sure that he’s book smart. We’re going to find out once and for all if he’s baseball smart. If amassing top prospects is a sign of intelligence, he’s Albert Einstein, who was an intellectual five-tool player.
Can someone be overeducated? Possibly. That raises another question: When does med school start, Rick?