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The danger in writing a headline that says “can’t” is that sometimes the subject might take it as a challenge.
On Tuesday morning, I wrote that Jake Diekman can’t be the White Sox’s only trade deadline deal, and by Tuesday evening, Rick Hahn begged to differ with his actions.
At least his words were different …
“I’m a little sleep deprived and I’m in a crap mood,” Hahn said. “We’re disappointed that we weren’t able to do more to improve this club. I think you saw a year ago at this time, you’ve seen it for the last several years, arguably the last couple of decades that it’s our nature to try to improve this club at any opportunity we have. And unfortunately we weren’t able to line up on some of our other potential targets. Anyone out there who is feeling a level of frustration or disappointment, I’m there with you.”
… but it’s hard to take Hahn’s pivot to empathy seriously, given that he’s spent most of the last few years striking a confrontational tone with a fan base that dares to desire more.
Regardless of the history, he can’t be “there with us” here because he’s the only party with agency here. There’s no way for me to call up the Arizona Diamondbacks and try to acquire David Peralta on Hahn’s behalf, even though I’d be reasonably well-equipped to do so (I don’t mean to brag, but my printer has a fax function).
It’s entirely on Hahn and his cohorts in the front office, and their inactivity at the deadline reflects a failure at some level(s). Perhaps it’s true that there was no move that required an overpay. If that’s the case, then, sure, no deal is preferable to a terrible one. But if Hahn was surprised by how strongly the market favored sellers, then he failed to assess it correctly. Or he failed to develop a farm deep enough to produce enough players other teams want. Or he failed by hoping the deadline would offer solutions that were more plentiful during the winter.
In the end, a lack of moves is further evidence that “flexibility” is a scam. The smaller, moderate moves never lead to a more decisive action, or more resounding solutions. Instead, the Sox have spent five of the last six acquisition periods making relievers their priority.
2020 draft: Selected Garrett Crochet with the express purpose of fast-tracking him to the bullpen.
2022 trade deadline: Acquired Diekman as the lone move.
(The lone exception was the pandemic-tainted trade deadline at the end of August in 2020, when Rick Renteria wanted a starting pitcher and Hahn only brought back Jarrod Dyson.)
There’s reason to believe the White Sox still have enough talent to win the Central, especially if Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez can ever produce at the same time.
There’s also reason to believe they won’t be able to get out of their own way. Take Gavin Sheets, who hit his 20th career homer in his 128th career game on Monday night. That would normally be a success story for a farm system, except then Sheets yielded a double because he’s an armoire playing right field, which is why his WAR has been underwater the whole year.
Poor defense is one of a few problems plaguing the White Sox the whole season, yet they remain with striking distance of first place. They posted a convincing winning record in July. Given them a couple months, they might be able to win the division by five games.
But the problem is that the Twins made legitimate moves to address their shortcomings. They needed at least one starter, and so they acquired Tyler Mahle from the Reds. They needed multiple medium-leverage-or-better relievers, and they acquired Jorge Lopez from the Orioles and Michael Fulmer from Detroit. The haul required eight prospects, and only one of them was a Day 1 draft pick.
There’s a chance that these moves may not pan out in the way the Twins hoped, but Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were able to patch holes with impact options. They didn’t have Hahn’s problems adding, and now there’s just as real a chance that the gap in action decides the division.
As a White Sox fan — and as a business owner who makes more money when the Sox make the postseason — I’d rather see the Sox prevail. But it’s hard not to be curious about what the landscape looks like in a world where the Sox miss out on October, just because it would be such a profound failure that heads would have to roll … right?
Or wrong. After all, Jerry Reinsdorf didn’t have the appetite to make sweeping changes to the leadership structure when Ozzie Guillen tried to overthrow Kenny Williams in 2011. He refused to make an overhaul when the first rebuild collapsed due to an inadequate roster and multiple embarrassing soap operas in 2016.
Given this track record, I’d rather not be put in a position where we have to rely on Reinsdorf realizing his leaders suck at leading, because there’s no evidence that he notices or cares. Hahn hinted at a greater accountability if these Sox fall short, but he also made it so wide-ranging that it deflects the blame off any specific party …
“There’s nobody in this building that is satisfied right now, and how we get to where we need to be will be a group effort, and if in the end it doesn’t work, in my opinion, there should be group accountability,” Hahn said. “Is there anything the manager and coaches can do to make this team better? Sure. Everyone. Everyone is involved in trying to make this team better, and if we fail to get to the ultimate level we feel is appropriate for this team’s talent, all of us, myself included, should be held accountable.”
… and that’s too characteristic of how the White Sox operate to inspire any faith. The Reinsdorf-Williams-Hahn hierarchy serves the same purpose of a chimney, where the undesirable heat gets channeled upward until it disperses harmlessly at the top.
There might be some catharsis and cleansing if the standings truly reflect the inadequacy of this team, but there’s also a chance that Frank Menechino is the only one fired. I’d rather take my chances with this team winning the division, as wounded as their prospects might be afterward. Somehow, this team is so unlikeable that we’re discussing a postseason appearance as the lesser of two evils.