One of the advantages of being even-keeled and slow to anger is that it’s easy to absolve oneself of another’s broad-brushing.
For instance, take Rick Hahn talking to James Fegan about how he sees his infamous “the money will be spent” after not really spending the money:
“The hot takes on ‘the money will be spent’ issue are perhaps among the poorest of White Sox Twitter, in my opinion, my biased opinion,” Hahn said, “I’ve seen that criticism mentioned a few different places, and it’s actually one of the very few that irritates me. Don’t get me wrong: criticism is part of this and to be expected. I just believe they should actually be grounded in fact, which ‘the money hasn’t been spent’ really just isn’t. The fact is that since the time that I made that comment, we’ve made a number of high-dollar commitments.
“That includes guys at or towards the top of the free-agent market like Hendriks, Yas, and (Dallas) Keuchel, as well as long-term commitments to a number of our own core players like Yoán, Eloy, Luis Robert and (Aaron) Bummer. Basically, in terms of either annual salary or total guaranteed dollars, we have significantly surpassed both of those thresholds when talking about ‘the money.’ Plus, no one has said we’re done in terms of potentially adding to this group should the right opportunity arise. And, all this is despite the fact that since the time I made that comment, a global pandemic has wreaked havoc on the revenues of just about every business sector of the economy worldwide. Like I said, criticisms not based in reality bug me.”
Ouch. It must suck to be a hot-take artist on White Sox Twitter. You can’t help but feel sorry for them.
I, on the other hand, carefully consider my reactions for a site so old it predates tweets, so I’m unburdened by such labels. With that in mind, my reaction to Hahn’s admittedly biased opinion:
LOL. Perhaps preceded by a fart noise.
Granted, the White Sox laid all sorts of track for this. When the Sox signed Liam Hendriks, I expressed apprehension that Hahn would make like Welington Castillo and frame it poorly …
That’s what comes to mind when the White Sox signed Hendriks for $54 million during the same winter they signed Eaton for $7 million. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the dollar amounts each player received, but we’ve seen that kind of allocation be used in a manner equal parts self-aggrandizing and self-defeating. Hahn can say Reinsdorf opens up the budget for top free agents, but it just so happens that top closers cost a fraction of what top outfielders and top starting pitchers do. It’s part of a budget that self-governs down to a level lower than most teams. The skyline ends up flat, and while everybody can see the real ornate water tower, it’s just a water tower, and not something that attracts visitors and keeps them there.
… and sure enough, he’s continuing to act as though all tops of markets are created equal. Go back even further to when the White Sox achieved their goal of finishing second in the Manny Machado derby in 2019. Kenny Williams said they couldn’t go nuts signing a premium free agent because of all the talented players who would eventually be earning something closer to market rate.
“Our fans would have been much more disappointed in our inability to keep this next core together,’’ he said. “We would have overextended ourselves had we gone to an uncomfortable level.’’
So it’s not surprising that Hahn would pull the same levers. They’re really the only ones he has, even if they’re terrible for fan satisfaction. The White Sox laid an enviable foundation by acquiring a lot of young and exciting players, many of whom are on savvy team-friendly extensions, and so of course they take the angle that we should be grateful they’d ever consider paying them. Read it another way, and it’s almost extortive. You know: Nice core we got here. Shame if something happened to it.
It’d be one thing if the White Sox had a history of replenishing their own talent, because then Hahn’s comparisons to the Rays (“…pointing to the Rays getting two wins away from a title with fewer resources”) would actually hold water. Then again, if that were the case, it might actually be exciting to consider how to make room for promising up-and-comers, rather than requiring the services of every current projectable player in perpetuity. As it stands, until the White Sox stop being the proverbial poor man who pays twice — or five times at some positions — he’s just using another team’s low payroll as an excuse for cutting corners again. Meanwhile, the reason White Sox fans wanted Hahn to spend is because they’re acutely aware of how poorly he fares when he tries to raid the bargain bin, and everybody wants a bigger margin for error.
Hahn basically sounds irritated that Sox fans paid attention. Maybe it’s because he thought he would have the capacity to spend more at this juncture, but Jerry Reinsdorf doesn’t like to spend money to make money, and the Hahn Era front office has been terrible at making Reinsdorf money to spend. Perhaps everything was building up to a big year that the pandemic thwarted. Now Hahn’s caught in a “Scott’s Tots” scenario, except Michael Scott didn’t blame the kids for taking him literally.
(I suppose this makes Adam Eaton a laptop battery.)
It’s not quite the same because Michael Scott wanted to pay for his promise. He just couldn’t. The White Sox could have added another big salary. It’s more that they didn’t want to. Hahn could probably get more fans to buy what he’s selling if he said that the pandemic made ownership unwilling to foot the bill for anticipated upgrades this year. Even then, that defense has some holes. If Hahn’s going to point to the Rays, we can point to the Padres, who are just as applicable, if not more so.
But most GMs aren’t going to use their boss for body armor, and Hahn and Williams are particularly protective of Reinsdorf because Reinsdorf makes no local appearances himself. It generally works, because each part of the triumvirate ends up with a layer of insulation from consequences and blowback. Hahn runs interference for Reinsdorf. Reinsdorf’s working with a strange combination of “publicly invisible” and “visibly flawed,” so you can’t help but feel some sympathy for Hahn, who has to work within his parameters and around his big-footing. In between the two is Williams, who’s there to take blame for poor talent evaluation but also can’t further open the wallet.
Together, they’re a three-legged stool straight from the school of hostile design. You can chop at any leg or place it on rocky terrain and it’s not going to lose much in the way of stability when threatened. But you also can’t use it for comfort, because instead of a saddle, there’s a spike. It mostly just exists to spite the public.
Fortunately, it could still work out for everybody. The White Sox’s first string has tons of talent, so a good health year could have them atop the Central by plenty. Hahn could very well emerge vindicated from the whole thing, which makes his decision to take shots at the fan base all the more befuddling.
Hell, even if he wins his side of the argument, he shouldn’t expect it to be zero sum. White Sox fans still endured a whole bunch of intentionally short teams after the rebuild trades for no real reason. The Grandal, Keuchel and/or Hendriks signings could have fit in the budgets of most previous offseasons. The White Sox still haven’t matched the payroll they carried 10 years ago. Without a major over-the-top investment, the only reasons to choose to extend the streak of four straight losing seasons to seven were to pay less for a roster, and draw attention away from the years they actually tried and failed. The front office benefited from the arrangement the whole time. The fans are just starting to get their share.
Anyway, given that Hahn twisted the best thing about the White Sox — exciting young players, most of them on stable contracts — into a burden, he pretty much confirmed where the White Sox would’ve been if they signed Manny Machado, as we pondered a couple of weeks ago. I’d still take the megadeal every time, because complaining about all the money spent is better than not spending all the money and complaining anyway.