To tank or not to tank, that really wasn’t much of a question as far as general manager Rick Hahn was concerned when he mapped out a plan to rebuild the White Sox.
“Here’s the rub with that,’’ Hahn said. “There’s been a lot of successful rebuilds, even in our town. … Many of them were predicated on bottoming out and getting high picks and spending good money and spending it well internationally.’’
It all makes sense, and fielding a weak roster worked for the Cubs, who lost a lot and didn’t mind and stockpiled talent via the draft, as Hahn pointed out.
“The higher you pick, the better off you are,’’ Hahn said, stating the obvious. “That said, we’re a little bit different from some of the other clubs that had to embark on this process.’’
That’s because the Sox’ roster wasn’t “totally barren of big-league talent” when the rebuild began. Hahn said the rebuild could move more quickly if current players perform well now and enhance their trade value.
“So it’s not all black and white,’’ he said. “We don’t have to pick first, that’s not the intent of this 2017 season. It certainly isn’t the focus of [manager] Ricky [Renteria] and the players.
“There’s value in that clubhouse, that we aren’t just going to give away in the pursuit of the first pick of the draft.’’
The biggest piece of value is left-hander Jose Quintana, who was scheduled to pitch against the Tigers in the first game of the season Monday. Under team control with club options in his contract in 2019 and 2020, Quintana, an All-Star, would bring a hefty return in a trade.
The Sox were close on two trades during the offseason — one on Christmas Eve believed to involve closer David Robertson — that were killed at the goal line by two ownership groups.
“So, yeah, I certainly felt close, at least on those two deals,” Hahn said. ”At the same time, once those two things cratered, there hasn’t really been anything else. Although we’ve gone through the process and gathered the scouts and gone through the video and had our internal debates, it wasn’t anything where we were like, ‘This is a coin flip or we should or shouldn’t do this.’ ’’
And so the Sox take a team into the 2017 season that, while not positioned to win — they were six games under .500 with Chris Sale and Adam Eaton and they are gone — but not looking like a 100-loss team, either.
“There is a lot of talent in this room,” Robertson said. “The White Sox made a lot of trades in the offseason. They acquired a lot of talent. I know they are calling this a rebuilding team but we’re very capable of doing what we need to do to get to the playoffs. I honestly think that.”
Did you say playoffs? Robertson was asked.
“Yeah, what’s wrong with that? Right now we’re 0-0,” said Robertson, who pitched for the Yankees in the 2009 World Series. “If we finish 90-and-whatever we have a good chance. There’s no reason we can’t do it. I’ve seen other teams get in the playoffs that you wouldn’t expect. You just have to have a ticket to get it.”
There’s nothing wrong for the Sox’ big picture with having a motivated team. As Hahn said, the better they perform, the better for their plan.
Robertson has two years left on his contract at $12 million this season and $13 million in 2018. He was signed before the 2015 season as a needed piece for what the Sox thought was a contender.
And he could be dealt to a contender if the Sox find themselves far away from 90 wins at the trade deadline Aug. 1.
“That’s not my decision,” Robertson said. “I’m here to help my team win ballgames. If I am traded, so be it. I can only do what I can do and that’s show up and help finish ballgames.”