By Bruce Levine–
BOCA RATON, Fla. (CBS) — As the GM meetings continue in Florida, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has explained that his team is going through a minor teardown and build-up this offseason. But make no mistake about the complete picture: The franchise is going through a significant restructuring.
Hahn’s currently staring at a team that with built with the idea of contending for a couple seasons in mind. That plan failed, one year in after a 76-86 campaign in 2015.
Now, Hahn will look at a longer road to continued excellence going forward. Last offseason’s signings of first baseman/designated hitter Adam LaRoche, outfielder Melky Cabrera and closer David Robertson were attached to the trade for one-year of control on right-hander Jeff Samardzija and the two years left on shortstop Alexei Ramirez’s deal. The 2015 White Sox were constructed for a short-term run at a World Series.
With a solid pitching group of controlled and club-friendly contracts, Hahn and his executive partners feel a turnaround doesn’t have to take close to a decade. The White Sox have been going in a new direction over the past three seasons, with a commitment to the minor leagues and Latin America again. In the previous decade, the team used the trade market as well as throwing its economic resources to the big league payroll.
It appears the White Sox will be spending less on payroll in this coming season, while building up their youthful cache of younger players.
“Our goal over the past several years was to get to the point where we are self-sustainable,” Hahn said Tuesday. “We want to get where we are only dipping into the free-agent market, to get those complementary pieces to a solid developing core.”
With a 79-year-old owner in Jerry Reinsdorf who loves to win, the White Sox took a chance by adding payroll on a veteran roll of the dice last season.
“Last year we saw the opportunity to be aggressive and address certain areas of need,” Hahn said. “We wanted to build around the core we had. In the future, you would want your core to be bigger and activity in free agency being a little less.”
The White Sox have $25 million coming off of their $119-million payroll from 2015. The team is willing to add payroll but only on contracts it can control on a younger group of players.
The White Sox are in the market this offseason for three infielders, to improve second base, shortstop and third base.
“We are trying to do this (rebuild properly) as soon as possible,” Hahn said.
“If you look at the teams right now that you would praise or emulate — Houston, Kansas City, the Cubs and Pittsburgh — they all spent a minimum of five years under .500. They did it by the draft, trades and international signings. So there is a template out there that shows it takes time.”
The White Sox feel they’re ahead of the type of schedule that takes a decade to rebuild. That’s how long it took the Royals, as general manager Dayton Moore took over in 2006 and built a core that led them to the 2014 World Series and then the 2015 championship.
That thinking is based on the advantageous signings of young players like Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu to team-friendly contracts, by today’s industry standards.
“Our efforts are to minimize that period of time (to get to a championship level),” Hahn said. “When you are starting with a 99-loss team (the White Sox were 63-99 in 2013), it will not happen overnight. It is a process, one that I assure you Jerry, Kenny (Williams) and myself want to minimize the length of time it takes. Historically, it has taken some time.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.