‘Put it on me,’ GM Rick Hahn says about White Sox’ disastrous start. That won’t be a problem

If the Sox don’t pull a magical comeback out of their helmets and win their substandard division, the party’s over — Hahn must go.

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White Sox general manager Rick Hahn addresses the media at the introduction of manager Pedro Grifol.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

General manager Rick Hahn ticked off some of the words fans have used in his presence to describe the White Sox.

“Depressing.” “Disgusting.” “Frustrating.” “Shocking.”

But this was last October during Hahn’s end-of-season debrief with reporters. And if you think 2022 was a big ball of negativity throughout Soxdom — and by God, it was — you should be around the team so far in 2023. Better yet, you shouldn’t be. And if you aren’t, by all means, run out and thank somebody. Because we’re going to need some new words to describe this imploding rendition of the Sox, who dragged an absurdly awful 7-18 record into Guaranteed Rate Field on Thursday for the opener of a four-game series against the 20-5 Rays.

Are “embarrassing,” “pathetic” and “a crime against humanity” taken?

Here’s another word to consider about Hahn in particular as he and the team he had the heaviest hand in creating find themselves at a cold, bleak crossroads: “Fired.”

Hahn’s 11 seasons on the GM throne — an eternity and then some, especially given the Sox’ zero playoff series victories in that span — have come to this: If the Sox don’t pull a magical comeback out of their helmets and win their substandard division, the party’s over. Hahn must go.

Of course, there’s what should happen, and then there’s what does happen within Jerry Reinsdorf-owned organizations, and rarely the twain do meet. Perhaps Hahn and executive vice president Ken Williams will be the ones who draw up the blueprints for the next rebuild, whenever it comes. Crazy? Indeed. But conceivable.

But in the home dugout before Thursday’s game, on the heels of a catastrophic 0-6 road trip, Hahn sounded like a man who’s more in touch with his career mortality than he was in October, when everyone knew the Tony La Russa debacle was on Reinsdorf.

“Put it on me,” he said of the Sox’ worst start in 37 years. “That’s the job. That’s the absolute gig. Put it on me. Put it on me.

“I’ll tell you this — and let’s make it real clear — it sure as heck isn’t on Pedro [Grifol] and his coaching staff.”

Clearly, this heaping, steaming mess isn’t on Grifol, the first-time manager hand-picked by Hahn to succeed La Russa. Grifol didn’t assemble a roster with too little defensive versatility, too little depth, too few rotation arms to truly be counted on and way too much out-of-control free-swinging at the plate. Grifol doesn’t oversee a farm system that seemingly offers next to nothing that might help the big-league case. Grifol hasn’t failed to reel in any of the biggest fish in free agency.

Hahn is up against it, or had better be, and he’s at least alluding to as much.

“I think that makes it clear that my job is potentially on the line,” he said. “But I want to make something abundantly clear: I’m not a king. I don’t sit in this chair by divine birthright. It’s an absolute privilege to be general manager of the White Sox, one that I need to continue to earn. It’s pro sports. These things eventually come to an end.”

Williams expressed similar sentiments the other day in a Sun-Times exclusive, saying he was “not in a good place” about the team and that “changes have to be made — it’s as simple as that” if the Sox don’t win the division. Williams included himself and Hahn in those potential changes. Hahn made the dubious claim that he hadn’t heard about the story.

But there’s also a lot of same-old-story to what Hahn (and Grifol, too) is saying about the state of the season. That there are no worries about morale, no finger-pointing. That there’s time to turn things around. That the talent is there. That the desire is there. That no one feels worse about all of this than Hahn, which probably is as comforting to the average Sox fan as a carp fished out of the river and left under their pillow. And that, as Hahn likes to remind, it wasn’t all that long ago when the Sox’ front office was drawing wide praise for the up-and-comer squad it had assembled.

“We probably weren’t quite as smart as we were viewed to be then,” Hahn said, “and perhaps not quite as stupid as we may be viewed to be now.”

Yeah, well, let’s not split hairs.

When the Sox traded prospects, including Fernando Tatis Jr. for James Shields, in June 2016, they were two games behind first-place Cleveland in the standings. They ended up 16½ games back and down a future megastar. Heading into the 2020 season, they gave lefty starter Dallas Keuchel $55 million and catcher Yasmani Grandal $73 million (at the time, the biggest deal in team history), money that could have been far better spent.

They were unprepared for the controversy surrounding pitcher Mike Clevinger when they gave him $12 million to fill a hole in the 2023 rotation. Even more embarrassing than that, they’re now one of only three teams that have yet to go nine figures on a contract. Even the often-brazenly cost-cutting Pirates got into the game this week, extending outfielder Bryan Reynolds for eight years at $106.75 million. That leaves the Sox — whose biggest deal, $75 million for five years, now belongs to right fielder Andrew Benintendi — in the company of only the Athletics and the Royals, which ought to be humiliating.

Are the Sox just a small-time operation that spends a lot of time deluding itself and misleading fans?

Manny Machado was the $300 million man the Sox supposedly were in play for a few years back. Here’s what Machado said Thursday at Wrigley Field about his dalliance with the South Siders before he eschewed them in favor of the more serious, more gung-ho Padres:

“Money-wise, they were a little way off [what was] anticipated. It was one of the biggest reasons. The market has changed. I saw the other day, they have a $180 million payroll and never paid a guy $100 million-plus. So, just different ways of thinking.”

Let’s end with something many people forget, which is that as miserable as last season was, the Sox were 76-71 and only three games behind the Guardians for first place in mid-September as the Guardians arrived here for a huge series. The Sox lost all three of those games, then three more against the lowly Tigers and eight in a row in all, along with their dignity, as the bottom fell out. The players quit. True colors?

The Sox haven’t recovered and might never recover.

It’s on everybody. It’s definitely on Hahn. It’s a disaster.

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