By Laurence W. Holmes-
(CBS) Watching the rebuild of the White Sox has been fascinating. At the end of the 2013 season, the outlook was bleak. The Sox barely avoided a 100-loss season, and the only sure building block was Chris Sale. Since then, general manager Rick Hahn has put together a roster that has the fan base as excited as I’ve seen them since 2006.READ MORE: 'When I Finally Got To Be Elvira, That's When My Life Calmed Down': Mistress Of The Dark Peels Back The Curtain
The buzz about the upcoming season has a bunch to do with what’s happened over the last week, but this team reconstruction started in July 2013, when the purge started for Hahn. Jake Peavy was moved in a three-team deal that brought Avisail Garcia to the South Side. After that, the White Sox got rid of Alex Rios. Before the year ended, they signed Jose Abreu and traded for Adam Eaton. That gave Sale some company. Jose Quintana continued to improve too, and that gave White Sox fans five players to get excited about.
Last year we saw the Paul Konerko retirement tour and the White Sox improve by 10 wins. The retirement of Konerko marks the end of an era that brought a World Series and opened up the door for new possibilities. The 10-win improvement gave fans hope that the rebuild was moving into the right direction, even if that movement was slow.
This offseason, Hahn has hit the fast-forward button.
When I talked to him last week, he explained that the opportunity to play for now presented itself. And with a strong core in place, the White Sox didn’t want to let that get away.
“We thought it was important to enter the 2015 season with a team that was capable of contending, so that the prime of these premium players’ careers wasn’t spent just building up for the future, but was instead contending for a championship,” Hahn said.
In a lefty-dominated rotation, the White Sox needed to balance it out. Jeff Samardzjia is exactly what Chicago needed. He’s a legit No. 2 behind Sale. He’ll eat up innings. He’ll strike people out, and his ground ball rate was a whopping 50.2 percent.
Samardzija’s not a perfect pitcher (he gives up more homers than you expect), but he’s extremely talented and competitive, which was intriguing to Hahn.
“He wants to do everything within his ability to beat you, and we’ve been on the other side of that and it’s not pretty,” Hahn said of Samardzija.READ MORE: Teen Stabbed With Scissors After Argument On CTA Red Line Platform At Jackson Station
Samardzija seems like a good fit with Sale. Don’t get me wrong — the Samardzjia trade comes with risk. He will be a top target as a free agent and due a ton of money. It’ll be up to the White Sox to spend the next 10-plus months trying to convince him to stay before he hits the open market. Putting together a winner would help.
When you look back to the club-friendly long-term deals with Sale, Quintana and Abreu, it allowed the White Sox to be a factor in free agency. They haven’t just spent recently; they’ve spent wisely, filling a bunch of holes that plagued the 2014 squad.
The bullpen struggled mightily last season, so the White Sox went out and added back-end strength with Zach Duke and David Robertson. It also looks like prized prospect Carlos Rodon will bring his 100-plus mph stuff to the bullpen, at least for now. The addition of first baseman/designated hitter Adam LaRoche gives them a left-handed power bat to put behind Abreu, and now with the signing of Melky Cabrera, they’ve found someone to get on base ahead of Abreu.
Sports Illustrated baseball expert Joe Sheehan summed up the Hahn’s offseason with this:
“The White Sox have improved themselves more than any team this offseason,” he wrote.
This team still has holes — second base, third base and catcher are spots that are still in question. The White Sox also need to figure out the back end of their rotation, but it’s clear that Hahn and the team are thinking about being a player for the American League Central right now.
Sixty-three wins seems like a long time ago. In the last 16 months, the White Sox have been reborn — reborn as contenders.
With the Bears being a black cloud for Chicago sports fans, spring training can’t get here fast enough.MORE NEWS: Record 53,000 Rat Complaints Help Chicago Retain Crown As Rattiest City In America For 7th Year In A Row
Laurence Holmes hosts the Laurence Holmes Show on 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @LaurenceWHolmes.