In our Q&A one year ago, GM Rick Hahn admitted that he considered a full rebuild for his Chicago White Sox. But with the encouragement of executive vice president Ken Williams and owner Jerry Reinsdorf, he reloaded the team in 2016 for one more run at a title. That effort got off to a scorching start, with the White Sox surging to a 23-10 record in early May that found them second only to the Cubs in all of baseball.
From that point, things went downhill. From bizarre controversies like superstar lefty Chris Sale refusing to pitch in a throwback uni to underperformance from key acquisitions like catchers Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro, by midseason Hahn knew it was time to chart a different course.
The 45-year-old exec was the belle of the ball at the 2016 Winter Meetings, swapping Sale and breakout outfielder Adam Eaton in bang-bang deals that netted Chicago four players who dot Top 100 prospect lists from MLB.com, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America and ESPN: uberinfielder Yoan Moncada and fireballer Michael Kopech from the Red Sox for Sale, and ace-caliber arms Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez from the Nationals for Eaton.
After those lauded swaps, the full rebuild was stopped in its tracks, as 29 other GMs decided to let Hahn’s hand cool at the trading table. With admittedly four deals that still need to be made in 2017, Hahn took his ear from the Batphone long enough to chat a bit about where the White Sox are, and where he hopes they’re heading.
In the first part of our conversation, Hahn addresses the decision to rebuild, and how important it is for him to “win” trades:
After the 2015 season, a rebuild was on the table. But you and Ken, with Jerry’s backing, felt close enough to a title to add to the core. While the 2016 record didn’t show improvement, at season’s end the core was unchanged, and arguably strengthened by Todd Frazier and Tim Anderson. But this offseason you’ve traded your two top WAR players in Sale and Eaton, and the direction is decidedly different. Why?
While obviously this offseason we decided to take the club in a different direction, the decision was the result of the same analysis we do virtually every offseason. Each offseason we attempt to look at where we are as a franchise as objectively as possible.
This involves asking ourselves are we close, realistically, to winning a championship? What are the areas we need to improve upon in order to get to where we want to be, and how available are those pieces—either internally or externally? Based upon a series of these discussions, we felt taking a longer-term view would be more beneficial to the franchise overall than attempting once again to piecemeal the thing together with a shorter-term view.
While we certainly felt the same frustrations as any Sox fan with our recent attempts falling short, the decision to pivot now was based more on an objective evaluation than emotion.
Ken was renown as an all-in GM, and you spent your first four offseasons as GM in some form of win-now mode. Knowing how hard it has been to accept the reality of a rebuild, that to whatever degree it represents organizational failure, was it hard—even depressing—to arrive at this offseason’s rebuild?
As I talked about earlier this offseason regarding the congratulations we were receiving from other clubs at the Winter Meetings after the Sale trade, it’s actually a quite humbling feeling. The fact is that we were not able to win with Chris, among other talented players, heading up the top of our roster. We all regret that fact, and none of us relished the idea of moving him.
However, despite that regret, seeing the talent that is starting to come in the door is exciting. The idea of building something from the ground up energizes not only those of us in the front office, but our scouts and player development people, as well as employees in other departments throughout the club as well. There is a certain level of excitement that comes with new direction, and it’s something we look forward to building upon over the coming weeks and months.
The Cleveland Indians are tough and appear to have used this offseason to get a lot tougher. For a variety of reasons, the rest of the AL Central is wide open. When you see how the offseason has wrangled out, does any part of you want to say, “Uh, Dave Dombrowski, Mike Rizzo — want to flip Sale and Eaton back to Chicago?”
No. We’re trying to build a team that can contend for championships on an annual basis. As much as we want to put ourselves in that position as quickly as possible, last year’s club won 78 games, and to believe that the same group was suddenly going to morph into a perennial powerhouse without augmentation would require a level of wishcasting that we’re trying to avoid.
You’ve been cool at the poker table this offseason. Perhaps too cool, because it seems that while you still have a stack of chips, all the other GMs got a little jittery and left. The Sale and Eaton deals came quick, and then, crickets. You’ve admitted that you intended to continue turning over the roster, but so far, no dice. Ken is famed for his “we were five minutes from going another direction,” and you yourself handled at least one such deal where A.J. Pierzynski had essentially bought his bus ticket to L.A. before you ushered him back to the White Sox for 2011 with some cocktail-napkin negotiations. Were there some deals this winter that were one dropped signal or one email to spam from happening?
We’ve been clear throughout that if we had our druthers, we would knock out four more transactions that would advance the organization towards our goal as quickly as possible. Unfortunately for us, it’s not only our desire that drives the timing of these deals. My eagerness, or Kenny’s or Jerry’s, cannot be a factor in determining when to pull the trigger on a deal. It has to be based upon feeling like we are maximizing the value in a deal—not just forcing something home.
But, yes, we did have two deals—with different clubs, involving different players—die at the ownership approval stage when the other clubs decided in the end that the deal did not work for them. That’s unfortunate, but it happens. It’s also part of the reason that I never handicap the likelihood of a deal taking place when asked—nothing is completed until that final call is made. Far more deals fall apart for one reason or another than ultimately get consummated.
When you look back on these two blockbusters in years to come, what will it take for you to judge either trade a win?
We really aren’t looking to “win” deals. Instead, hopefully, all of our deals work out well for both sides. Given that we are at a different spot in our competitive cycle than the Red Sox and Nationals currently enjoy, there is certainly the chance of them to reap significant benefits now, and for us to do the same later.
In terms of judging deals from our own perspective, we try to look at the process and the decision as opposed to the result. That is, based upon everything we knew at the time, was it a good decision? Now, obviously, it’s pretty much impossible to ignore the performance after the fact, but ideally we use that performance to illustrate what we did right—or unfortunately, at times, wrong—in making the decision to move player X for player Y.
Part two of MLBTR’s Q&A with Rick Hahn will run tomorrow afternoon.
Follow Brett Ballantini on Twitter @PoetryinPros.
I’m guessing one of the deals that fell through was Robertson to the Nationals.
A Quintana deal fell apart on Xmas Eve, likely one that involved the Yankees and Pirates
I say to trade Robertson, Quintana and Melky at the deadline when teams are more desperate. I would love to see the white sox keep Frazier and Abreu.
What would be the point of keeping Frazier? His contract is up at the end of the year and he would be well past his prime when this team is ready to compete.
Probably Quintana to the Astros as well
I would like to know what was being offered vs requested in the Robertson trade. I wonder how far apart they really were. Same with the Pirates and Astros on Q. I heard the rumors about Marte and others, but I would be curious to know at which point one of the sides decided to shelve the negotiations.
I’m still hoping trades are done sooner rather than later, just so the Sox can be terrible and get a better draft pick.
Best guess is that the Sox were close to sending Quintana to the Pirates in a three way deal involving the Yankees
Significant prospects would go from the Pirates and Yankees to the Sox.
Pirates get Quintana
Yankees get Cutch
Sox get a package of prospects from the Yankees and Pirates
Yankees pulled out at the last minute and Sopx and Pirates were not able to get close to a deal again.
The Nats deal holdup is over the money on Robertson’s contract. Ownership is unwilling to take on the $25 million remaining on his deal. Sox refuse to eat any of the contract unless better prospects come back.
The whole “significant prospects” is kind of my point, though. I mean, I know they won’t release all details of their negotiations, nor should they. I’m just saying I’d like to know if, for example, the Sox are willing to eat $8M of Robertson’s contract for a certain package and the Nats want them to eat $11M to get that package. Or Sox wanted Bell and Frazier for Q and Yankees countered with Judge and someone lower-level who the Sox didn’t want. I’m curious if it’s the Sox honestly not getting something close to what they want or them standing firm hoping another team will flinch and fully give in, even when the deal on the table is pretty fair.
I think the “stalemate” between the Nats and Sox right now is squarely due to money owed to Robertson
A prospect framework is likely somewhat close, but the Nationals want the Sox to pick up a significant portion of the contract. White Sox are saying a flat no unless the Nats include better prospects
The Pirates offer topped out at Glasnow and Newman, most likely. And I wouldn’t even do that.
The Pirates offered a very significant package including Glasnow, Keller, Newman plus more and the White Sox rejected that
For Sale, maybe.
If they offered that for JQ and it didn’t happen both Huntingdon and Hahn should be fired.
this goes along with what i was reading. the “plus more” wasn’t anything real significant. still a pretty strong package regardless even if you think newman is a utility infielder in the long run. sox held out for meadows, pirates said no, and no deal happened.
If that was the actual offer, I’m not THAT upset that a deal didn’t go through. As much as I’d like to have Keller and/or Glasnow in the system, I personally wouldn’t do anything without at least one of Meadows/Bell in the deal.
And I’m not sold on Newman as anything more than a light hitting infielder.
Keith Law says Keller’s floor is a #3 starter and his ceiling is a legit ace.
Glasnow’s ceiling is a #1 starter, though his floor is much lower.
A team like the Pirates can’t trade away prospects with those ceilings. It’s the only way they can get a #1.
Newman projects to be Jordy Mercer….if Jordy Mercer could compete for batting titles. So, he’s a valuable piece, but one you could live with trading.
Can’t trade Keller. Shouldn’t trade Glasnow.
Let the Astros have JQ.
Keller still has a ton to prove beyond the low minors that he can be a #2 or #3 starter
He has good control and quality stuff, but one good minor league season does not cement him as a future #2 starter.
Quintana is a proven top 20 mlb starting pitcher on a great contract. Sox are not taking any deal that does not include Meadows + alot more
In the article GM Rick Hahn was asked, “Were there some deals this winter that were one dropped signal or one email to spam from happening?”
His reply was, “…yes, we did have two deals—with different clubs, involving different players—die at the ownership approval stage when the other clubs decided in the end that the deal did not work for them.”
Clearly one of those deals involved Jose Quintana, most likely to the Pirates because of their “cheap” ownership and the need for Pittsburgh as a “smaller” market team to maintain a strong farm system and develop their own prospects in order to be viable. I believe the other deal involved closer David Robertson to the Nationals that reportedly fell apart last week.
Francis Marte, pitching prospect from astros with musgrove and someone else was an offer that didnt get done. Not starling Marte of the pirates
Yeah, definitely meant Francis, not Starling. Sorry for the confusion.
Francis Martes, the RHP who is currently the Astros top rated prospect.
Best sources had last Pirates offer at Glasnow, Keller, Newman and Diaz. Sox aren’t high on Glasnow. Want Meadows.
The 2 deals that Hahn is referencing was 1) a swap of Q to the Yankees (The Pirates were not involved) and 2) last week’s Robertson to Nats trade.
The rumored headliners in the Yankees’ trade were Frazier and Mateo. No one knows who the secondary pieces were or why Yankee ownership nixed it.
Thanks for the info. It’s more detailed than I had read. Don’t blame them for preferring Meadows to Glasnow and don’t blame the Pirates for not wanting to do that.
No thanks to glassnow. Strictly my opinion but I believe he will be a bust. White sox must acquire position players from other teams.
No doubt. Glasnow has the sound of baseball Cutler. Very encouraging if Hahn is blowing off the rankings/hype. Can’t afford to mess up when trading Q in particular.
Cutler? That’s cold. It’s one thing to suck, but Glasnow’s a stupid jerk, too? Lame.
Curious what you base that on, though…
Guy was beyond dominant at every level of the minors and has pitched only a few dozen innings in the bigs.
Does he have a well below average spin rate on his fastball like Lucas Giolito? Because that would be very concerning.
It’s good to like your prospects. But you have to realize that there are a lot of people with doubts.
Even Pirates’ blogs are talking about moving him to the ‘Pen.
Control issues, an inability to develop a third pitch and trouble holding runners on are the biggest knocks.
Couple that with a Pirate’s organization who is known for their ability to develop pitching, now willing to give him up in trade and there are enough red flags to take notice. The Sox are also well known for pitcher development. So, if Coop and co. take a pass, I trust their judgement.
Sorry not everyone loves him, or Newman, as much as you do.
I’d rather roll the dice and take the chance he can be a #1 and lose than not roll those dice and trade him (and a few other top prospects) for a #2 that hasn’t had his TJ yet.
Still not sure what warrants a comparison to Jay Cutler, though. That’s low.
“I’d rather roll the dice and take the chance he can be a #1 and lose than not roll those dice and trade him (and a few other top prospects) for a #2 that hasn’t had his TJ yet.”
You’re going to get your wish. Sox and Pirates don’t match-up on Quintana.
That’s what I keep trying to tell Sox fans.
You mean you keep telling Sox fans that you don’t want them to match-up. You seem to think the Pirates offered too much for Q.
You seem to be arguing with my agreement with your own statement?
The Sox and Pirates don’t match up on Quintana.
Life goes on.
Apologies. The Cutler reference was for WS fans not wanting a centerpiece that has talent without the mechanics/ability to fully capitalize on it. Thought correctly at time he was Jeff George and getting that vibe here. Seen Glasnow pitch albeit limited and reinforced by reports/justified questions within Pirates organization. Sounds more like a future high leverage bullpen arm with some work. Nothing wrong with that if starter role doesn’t suit (could be wrong on him), but too risky as even a 2nd piece for Q. See you are against them dealing for Q now anyhow if it means Meadows/Keller like NH is, so probably all moot. Hope your Pirates or Rockies start out great where Q makes sense later to be willing to part with near can’t miss position players Sox badly need to accumulate.
I’m not sure that the perception that the White Sox got amazing steals is accurate.
The return for Sale was sky high, no doubt. It should have been. That’s a top player with a great contract.
The return for Eaton was sky high, UNLESS (as many people do) y0u think Giolito might be a bust. At that point, the return for Eaton would be Lopez and Dunning, which is pretty fair.
But, the Nats are/were in a unique situation where they chose to value a very good player with a great contract as a great player. Most teams probably won’t do that.
Contractual terms do and should play into the trade value of a player. Verlander wouldn’t have received the return Sale did just because he’s paid so much. As for the Eaton trade, I think the Sox will probably end up getting the better of that deal long-term, but I don’t think the Nationals got fleeced. This isn’t like the Shelby Miller trade or the Josh Donaldson one.
Quintana to the Rockies for Rodgers, Tapia, and Pint
Quintana to the astros for martes, tucker, and fisher or the comp pick
Robertson to the Nationals for fedde or 2 middle/upper level prospects
Frazier, melky, and Lawrie are probably deadline deals
Nate Jones could also be moved if he really steps up if Robertson is dealt
you aren’t getting even close to Fedde for Robertson even if you eat the contract maybe if you eat 20 million you might get soto more likely a lower-level guy
If the Sox weren’t getting Kieboom or Soto as a headliner + a lower level kid with upside, they wouldn’t be talking
They’d hold Robertson and hope he builds value at some point over the next year and a half. They don’t need to dump his salary, Hahn won’t settle for a lottery ticket prospect in return.
Insightful interview with a sharp young front office executive who will hopefully be as successful with the White Sox as Theo Epstein was with the Red Sox and the cross-town Cubs.
We won’t know who “won” the trades for years (Rule of 7). No matter how it looks now, its been awhile since Dave Dombrowski lost in a trade.
Last season, the ChiSox got off to a fast start due to pitching. They couldn’t maintain any momentum because the offense was anemic. They rid themselves of a malcontent in Chris Sales and a player who likely has shown his peak in Adam Eaton.
Overall in 2017, the pitching will be deeper and although the Yankees young players are getting more attention, the ChiSox young players may make a bigger impact.
If Dave Dombrowski was as “perfect” as you suggest, he would still be in Detroit with multiple World Series banners hanging from Comerica Park.
The reasons the White Sox couldn’t sustain their early lead in the A.L. last season were numerous and not merely because of an anemic offense. Mostly, their overall talent was insufficient.
Despite a strong start, their pitching still had plenty of question marks including John Danks and Mat Latos comprising 2/5 of their starting rotation. Their bullpen fizzled and then sustained numerous injuries to key components which wasn’t helped by the lack of quality starts by Danks and a “lucky” Latos early on, the latter who barely gave them 5 innings even when securing some wins in April.
Poor decisions by the front office in signing has-beens like Jimmy Rollins to start at SS didn’t help either. The White Sox had an opportunity to bring aboard two players late in the offseason for bargain contracts in Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond, each of whom may have provided the necessary offense to sustain their fast start, but instead they settled for the likes of even cheaper options like Rollins and Austin Jackson.
And yes, the White Sox offense did blow in the first half of 2016. That was magnified by Rollins not getting on base at the top of the batting order and the poor production from their two sluggers in the middle of the lineup, Jose Abreu and newly acquired 3B Todd Frazier.
Labeling Chris Sale a malcontent and claiming that 28-year old Adam Eaton has likely peaked shows your ignorance as a MLB analyst. Most of Sale’s issues were a result of his temper and competitive desire. He had few, if any problems with his teammates, the manager and the coaching staff. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf was his biggest fan. Executive VP Kenny Williams was the only noted member of the organization who Sale seemed to have a major problem with, culminating in the Adam LaRoche fiasco last spring and then again with the retro uniform meltdown last summer.
Hahn seems to be a good GM, I thought he made some great moves 2 years ago but they didn’t work out. Sometimes it’s just up to the players to perform. Hahn has the right idea moving forward, and I think some of his players will be moved by the deadline this year. All in all, he seems to be making the right decisions.
Even for the haul he got I see know reason to get rid of your two best pieces especially when they both have some cost and team control. I’d take Sale or Eaton over any lottery ticket. Should have traded Frazier and Robertson
I don’t think you understand how rebuilds work…
Frazier and Robertson get you mid-level prospects, not guys who can become the face of the franchise. The Sox, as constructed last year, were much farther from contention than a mid-level guy becoming a starter. The trades are risks, as all trades for prospects are, but Moncada, Kopech, Lopez, and Giolito are all more likely to succeed than a “lottery ticket.” With the FO not wanting to spend money to bring in a top-level FA, it was either rebuild or waste another year in mediocrity, which is not good for the players, the fans, or the White Sox profit margins.
As it stands, it still looks a little less like a rebuild than it does shipping the two most vocal troublemakers (in the FO’s eyes- and let’s not forget, a FO Kenny Williams remains a part of) out. Certainly, in the process you collect a few prospects, but that’s an inevitability when moving two players of their caliber.
As a Sox fan, I’d love to be wrong (and perhaps I am), but this is a Jerry Reinsdorf gig. Take a look at the circus that is the Chicago Bulls. They’re going “young”, yet wind up with Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo. Their front office remains inexplicably intact. Up is down and left is right- in both of his organizations.
It’s a nice conspiracy theory, but I think you’re wrong. Sale and Eaton weren’t shipped out because they were the “two most vocal troublemakers.” They were shipped out because they were Hahn’s most valuable assets and two teams were willing to meet (or come very close to) his asking price on each of them. I’m sure he’d happily deal anyone else on the roster if a team would pony up the caliber of prospects he’s looking for. I, for one, am happy that he’s not caving in and getting rid of valuable assets for less than they are worth. He has every right to hold out for better offers if the current ones aren’t up to his liking.
The Bulls are a whole different story. They’ve been a mess for a long time now. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt on the whole Derrick Rose situation since nobody can predict career ruining injuries, but they are a terribly run organization even outside of that whole situation. GarPax are disgustingly bad at their jobs.
Eaton a more valuable asset than Frazier or Abreu?
Yes. Frazier has just one year left on his contract; Eaton has 5 pretty cheap years. Abreu is a better hitter than Eaton, but his numbers have declined each year and Eaton both runs and plays defense much better. Eaton had considerably more trade value than either Frazier or Abreu, and that’s before considering the glut of power hitters available.
Adam Eaton clearly has more current value than Todd Frazier with his overall production and contract.
An argument could be made about the comparison between Eaton and Abreu although I would probably side with “Spanky” here also. His contract is more valuable with 5 years of cheap control while Abreu decided to opt into the arbitration process in the midst of his remaining 3-year original deal. Eaton is the better all around player and actually had a slightly higher WAR than Abreu for the 3 seasons they were together in Chicago. Eaton’s defensive superiority was the difference in that metric, at least in 2014 and 2016.
You’re choosing the comment section of an article where the GM says that 2 moves were nixed by other teams’ FO’s to claim this is not a rebuild? Which 2 other troublemakers do you think KW and JR were forcing Hahn to deal??
C’mon. Leave the conspiracy theories to the political rags.
“Deals that fall through at the last minute”, while common in all of baseball, are nothing new to hear about from the Sox FO at the conclusion of the offseason or at trade deadlines.
Look, it very well may be the rebuild they’re advertising it to be. I’m hopeful that they came to their damn senses and it is. Please excuse my hesitance to fully buy in to it for the time being.
“come to their senses”?
The owners of 2 other teams overruled their GM’s and you’re blaming the Sox.
Hahn did his job. Not his fault other owners don’t agree with their own GM’s decisions.
Hopefully Abreu isn’t one of the 4 transactions he’s looking to make. Despite a slow start reaching 100 RBI 3 straight years is no small feat plus his ability to mentor our young Latino prospects. Q, Robertson, Frazier, Shields & Melky maybe. Quintana being the only one not necessary to trade w/o a huge return due the years still left on his contract & his age. Not signing Desmond last year with the gaping hole at SS & OF uncertainty was puzzling. Designating Latos regardless of whether his early success was sustainable for 3 MIL. Keep him use him as a 6 starter or middle relief & taking on the huge contract of Big “Dame” James a marginally better pitcher when they should’ve been selling is inexcusable. White Sox embodied the temperament of their sleepy, Trestmanesque manager the last 2 years.
If the Sox do not trade Robertson now, they will have to wait til the trade deadline…or about $6-$7M later. I hope eating that amount of money isn’t keeping the Sox from trading their closer. Especially if a decent prospect is available. I have a feeling they are very willing to do this type of deal, just trying to get the Nats to offer a decent prospect…please be Soto.
Would have liked questions about Ventura and when they decided to make a managerial change. And why it didn’t happen before….