By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Thumbs up on the teardown.
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn looks to have the guts needed for a gut rehab of a team grown old, stale and bad. Know this — he’s seeing what we’re seeing, and there are more moves to come.
Jake Peavy, Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain out. Top-tier minor-leaguer Avisail Garcia and a handful of youthful possibilities in return. Alex Rios, Paul Konerko, Alexei Ramirez or others could accelerate the remodeling at the deadline or into the waiver-trade period.
Predecessor Ken Williams drained the farm system of viable prospects with year after year of short-term maximization efforts, counting on the development of his draft picks to keep the organization stocked.
Bad bet. One kid after the other maxed out short or fizzled entirely, and the team’s Latin-American scouting/signing mechanism was rocked by the ugliness of the Dave Wilder scandal, a blow from which they are only now starting to recover.
They never spent over slot price on their picks – something forward-thinking teams had been doing until the recent CBA stopped the practice – and didn’t compete for big-ticket foreign talent. Any publication or outlet with such rankings placed their system at or near the very bottom of the MLB list, after picking over the pile of garbage strewn from Great Falls to Birmingham and beyond.
For too long, now, the Sox have spent money on veteran free agents to prop up mediocrity, compelled to sell next season’s hope at the expense of intelligent baseball business: think of maintaining a new, fancy façade each spring while the foundation cracked and leaked, and the support beams rotted.
There had been promotional tail wagging baseball dog, which finally looks to be over.
Last year the Sox averaged 24,271 people at each game, ranking 24th. They spent months in first place in the AL Central, only falling out of contention with a 2-10 record in the final two weeks. This year they are averaging 23,121, still ranking 24th while apparently trying to set records for laziness, stupidity and wasted plate appearances. All while the CTA Red Line service to the park is interrupted for repairs.
We can conclude two things from this. First, a certain number of fans are going to attend games independent of the team’s quality. Second, marketing chief Brooks Boyer and his staff must be competent enough at what they do. Some combination of these two factors should indeed empower Hahn to continue in the direction he has chosen.
The GM puts the team on the field, and the marketing chief sells it.
Move the White Sox closer to the point of sustaining a baseline level of quality that keeps them competing for the playoffs each year, where anything can happen in a small sample of outcomes. Instead of spending money and depleting infrastructure for a single chance to roll the dice, it’s better to devote those resources to earning multiple opportunities in the coming years.
And enough pandering to the dumbest, most gullible fans. Egged on by the constant flow of corny, illogical optimism from the doddering Ken Harrelson, they always buy the next proximity-to-a-chance fallacy. And they aren’t going anywhere, no matter what they moan into their phones while postgame radio ringmaster Chris Rongey smashes his head repeatedly on the console.
Hahn – a graduate of the University of Michigan and Harvard Law School and holding an MBA from Northwestern — seems ready to put the White Sox on a path to sensible MLB business, or at least try. Any fan with an IQ above that of a toaster oven has been clamoring for this.
It’s not complicated, and it has to start sometime. Get some developing young players on a track to big-league spots under contract control, shed whatever dead-end financial commitments you can, and turn it over to Boyer to incentivize attendance as it progresses, using his demonstrated combination of discounts, Sunday specials, entertainment extras and creative food choices. Then get on with the winning.
The White Sox today are smarter, and finally seem prepared to confront the truth about what they are and how they need to improve.
By the end of this season, we should see a team incrementally closer to winning another World Series.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.