With ‘most difficult year’ behind White Sox, how will it get easier?

Rick Hahn and I agree on one thing — we both said 2018 was going to be the toughest year of the rebuild.

I may not be in 100 percent agreement with how he feels about the immediate future.

Talking to reporters before the last home game of the season on Wednesday, Hahn said, “We’re certainly closer now than we were 12 months ago to being ready to contend.”

Are they, though? In way that doesn’t give the Earth’s rotation the bulk of the credit?

I don’t think that’s an overreaction to a team that hasn’t officially cleared a 100-loss kind of bad. “Certainly” would be much easier to say if Michael Kopech weren’t slated to miss all of 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery, because he’s a rotation-changer. But with him out of the picture, and with Eloy Jimenez only bolstering expectations instead of raising them, there isn’t much on the surface that has changed, at least in-house.

Nobody else is on Jimenez’s early-2019-shoulda-been-2018 timetable to swing projections all that much. Lucas Giolito’s track record is still really sketchy; Reynaldo Lopez has done more, but still hasn’t solidified his form. Carlos Rodon proved he’s healthy, but now what? Yoan Moncada had massive growing pains, Tim Anderson’s second half at the plate offsets some of his gains with the glove, Avisail Garcia and Matt Davidson are still mysteries, and on and on.

Time does allow the White Sox to move on in some regards. Third base and center field are major problems without immediate high-minors help, and Kopech’s injury and Alec Hansen’s slipping into the void dash the dreams of a homegrown rotation by the end of the year.

Hahn pointed to the pitching staff as one area the Sox will need to find additions, and said the nature of arms makes blocking a prospect less of a concern (as opposed to the outfield, which may require some consideration). He said that the Sox have the economic flexibility to spend how they need to spend, which frees them up to start pursuing solutions now, even if they’re still a year or two away from making a projectable impact on the league.

“While we are not yet in a position realistically to be adding so-called finishing pieces, we are in a position where we need to be opportunistic with regards to the free agent market. You can’t always control when certain players become available. You can say in 2020 or 2021 we expect to be this and we know we are going to need ‘X.’ You can’t look at the projected free agent and say that player will be available much less that player will be a White Sock [sic] when the time comes.

“If we see long-term pieces that make sense, in addition to augmenting the pitching staff or filling certain needs for 2019, I think we have the flexibility to pursue them and we are going to be opportunistic and respond to the market accordingly.”

With Jose Abreu’s $68 million still being the biggest financial commitment the Sox have ever made to a player, Hahn will have to prove his front office has the appetite to dream bigger or persuade better. And without anybody transcending their pre-2018 label — Daniel Palka is where Nicky Delmonico was last year — they haven’t yet received the kind of needed boost from within, either.

A rosier picture relies significantly on the value of time and taking lumps, which could very well be the case. For somebody like Rodon, getting to the offseason in full working order should make next year’s preparation far easier. Maybe others will have similarly productive winters, and the White Sox will have benefited from consolidating the worst of their sucking into one season.

However, this front office has now missed the postseason for a straight decade, including a period where they had cornerstone talent, the contracts in place and they supposedly tried their best. If they squandered that kind of head start, it’s hard to assume they have what it takes to overcome development blocks. They’ll have to show their work.

A few other areas Hahn covered:

Jose Abreu

Abreu is done for year, with Hahn saying, “The infection is healing, it’s just not healing at a pace quickly enough to force him back into action these last five games.”

In a one-two punch I don’t think Herm Schneider could have prevented even at the height of his powers, Abreu will end up missing 31 of the White Sox’ last 37 games due to testicular torsion and an ingrown hair.

As a result, Abreu will finish the year with his worst-ever numbers both in terms of counting stats (22 homers, 78 RBIs, ~1.5 WAR) and rate stats (.265 average, .325 OBP). The slugging percentage is only his second-worst, which reflects a return of his power before groinal misfortune sidelined him.

It’s hard to estimate Abreu’s value for his last year of arbitration, as his career/earnings history doesn’t have many peers, and he avoided arbitration for a much lower number ($13 million) than his MLB Trade Rumors projection ($17 million) last winter. Falling short of his historical performance seems like it takes a high-side number out of the running, but the Sox aren’t paying anybody anyway, so an extra few million won’t be felt.

As for the other health issues, Hahn said Avisail Garcia spoiled one of the two immediate offseason procedures by revealing the extent of his knee issues. Kevan Smith is the other one (“Knock on wood”) set to undergo surgery, this one on his ankle.

Yoan Moncada

When asked about Moncada’s future at second base, Hahn was open to the idea of it being subject to change.

“I do think he has made a great deal of progress at second base,” Hahn said. “I do think he also has the athleticism and the skill set to be an above-average defender at other positions, too.”

“It’s a subject for further conversation, but as he sits here today, I am pleased with the progress and the pitch-to-pitch focus and the athleticism and arm strength and foot movement and his hands at second base.”

In case you’re wondering about the previous internal favorite for third base, Hahn said Jake Burger is out of a boot and on track to return to affiliated ball at the start of June, although there are many hurdles to clear in between.

The coaching staff

“All the coaches are assigned for 2019, so at this point I expect them to be back,” Hahn said. “I haven’t sat down with Ricky [Renteria] and gone through our normal postseason process where we evaluate everything, so it’s a little premature to say that, but yes, they all are under control for 2019.”

Hahn allowed the possibility of a change should somebody get a managerial opportunity, as Joe McEwing is a rumored candidate for open positions every other year or so. He also said that he doesn’t expect strikeouts to be an issue in the future the way they were this season, so Todd Steverson could be under more intense scrutiny should that part be just as difficult to watch in 2019.

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oljeto

Definition of insanity–Steverson is coming back.  Wake me when it’s over.
That means that Engel and Madrigal will be swinging for the fences, instead of setting the table. Why?  Because that’s whatthe Cubs do.  We don’t play that way.
Anyone see the article saying the Phillies are going after both Machado AND Harper?  
Sox still eating at the little kids table.
Sell, Jerry!  Sell!

zerobs

The Phillies might be in the position to punt high draft picks now, I don’t see the Sox in that same position yet. They could punt one, but they certainly won’t punt two.

35Shields

The Sox haven’t hit the luxury tax and don’t receive revenue sharing. Signing a single player who rejected a QO would mean the loss of their second pick. Signing two or more players who rejected a QO would mean the loss of their second and fourth pick.

The Sox second pick will probably be in the #42-#45 range due to QO comp and competitive balance picks picks.

The competitive balance round B will include eight teams. The Sox fourth pick would probably be around #105-110.

It would seem weird to be okay with losing a pick in the 40s, but get hung up on losing a pick in the 100s.

lil jimmy

Machado can’t receive a QO. And the pick will be closer to #50 in the second round.

35Shields

Last year, the third pick of the second round was #46. There are only six teams in the Comp Balance Round A in 2019, instead of eight this year. So if the number of QO comp picks are the same as last year, it’d be #44.

lil jimmy

Three teams did not sign their picks last year, so they get to pick again. That adds 3 picks before our second.

asinwreck

Jim, please resist the temptation to use “Groinal Misfortune” in your Twitter handle.

Ted Mulvey

“Groinal Misfortune” sounds like the name of an 80s metal band.

asinwreck

Or an AmRep band from the mid-90s.

MrTopaz

Jim, if it’s not too late to get in on this action, please don’t resist that temptation.

roke1960

With every interview Hahn does, I get more and more convinced that the White Sox will never win under his watch. How can Steverson possibly return? Name one accomplishment he’s had with the Sox. It sure seems like they won’t be big players in free agency. This really, really sucks.

ForsterFTOG

Is most strikeouts ever by a MLB franchise in one season a bullet point on Steverson’s resume?

As Cirensica

At this point, I wouldn’t blame Steverson. It’s all on Hahn.

lil jimmy

I blame it on Global Warming.(except in Florida, where you are not allowed to say it.)

roke1960

I honestly don’t think they have a plan, except for “Our young guys are going to get better”. That’s not going to cut it. Jerry must sell for things to get better.

Patrick Nolan

Sign Machado.

WhereisRobin

Arenado or bust

Blow my Gload

The Sox could sign Machado, Harper and Corbin and still not have a $150M payroll next year.

roke1960

They have to go all in on Machado. There is no guarantee Arenado or Rendon make it to free agency.

Jer-in-Az

100% this and I hope he doesn’t view Donaldson as a great fall back option.  Maybe on a incentive/club option packed contract. 

roke1960

They need a huge upfront salary with an opt out after 3 years.

Jer-in-Az

To get a Machado, yea. A “see if this rebuild” has traction sort of contract.  I don’t know anything about Machados character or anything, but it seems like he is pretty monetarily/spotlight driven. 

roke1960

I think you’re right. He’ll go where the most money is. And Chicago is a great town if you want to be in the spotlight.

knoxfire30

Isnt Rendon one of the guys constantly getting called out for being a huge problem in the Nats clubhouse?

NDSox12

Uh, I’ve never heard that. And I follow the Nats pretty closely. He’s definitely not a vocal leader though. He’s a very quiet guy and seems to detest attention.

Jer-in-Az

That’s the sense I get too, I have a feeling the Nats problems are more systemic rather than any one or few players. 

jorgefabregas

You (pnoles) are correct sir.

Josh Nelson

You mean Dixon Machado, right? *ducks*

I’m curious on what Manny Machado’s market will be. I know logically every team should be involved, but I could see some teams not even participate because of the high cost of commitment and try to sign second-tier options before Machado signs.

lil jimmy

We would like him to play third. If he is stuck on playing SS, that could color his decision.

As Cirensica

Big market teams like RedSox and Yankees won’t sign him because they already have internal solutions, that should make it easier to outbid others…the Dodgers however…they might be able and willing to offer a king’s ransom

As Cirensica

Yes….I will be happy if this is all Hahn does during this off season

knoxfire30

The amount of rope these guys get is ridiculous.

DuhSox

I hate to blame a coach for the lack of player production, especially with ?? hitting skills of many of the individuals that graced our lineups this season, however it is time for Steverson to go. The strikeouts are certainly an issue, but I am not sure that the some players have a purpose/plan/idea of what to expect when they step into the batters box. Poor understanding of strike zone, poor pitch recognition, and seemingly no idea of what the pitcher is trying to throw them to get them out in certain pitch counts. A hitting coach may not be able to improve hand-eye coordination or bat speed, but they should be able to make a player a smarter hitter, give them an fundamentally sound approach to hitting, and help them understand how the pitcher is approaching their at bat.

Josh Nelson

Programming note:

hi5

All the discussion usually seems to focus on this player, that player, etc. If you turn the focus to team stats, you get a clearer picture of how bad we are. Batting wise we led the league in strikeouts, had the fewest walks, and were 28th in on base %. Pitching wise we gave up the most walks, 25th in strikeouts, third worst WHIP, second most caught stealing, fourth most errors, and third most passed balls.

There is hardly anything we were good at.

We need massive improvements team wide.

peejsox

I would love to see them let Shields walk and sign Dallas Keuchel for some veteran rotation stability- but of course that would cost money and Jerry doesn’t spend money so I guess it’s just a pipe dream.