Chicago White Sox: Why There Is Reason for Hope on the South Side

Todd Thorstenson@@Thor1323Analyst IApril 9, 2014

Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu left, talks to Avisail Garcia in the dugout during an Opening Day baseball game against the Minnesota Twins Monday, March 31, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex Arbogast

The 2013 Chicago White Sox were certainly a team to forget.

They finished the season at 63-99their worst record since going 56-106 in 1970which was not quite what first-year general manager Rick Hahn had in mind for his inaugural season.

The team simply couldn't hit and couldn't field, which typically makes the chances of winning a baseball game pretty slim. Offensively, they finished 2013 with a .249 team batting average (11th in AL), a .302 OBP (14th in AL) and 598 runs scored (15th in AL). Defensively, they finished the season with 121 errors (.980 FPCT), which was good for 14th in the American League.

As last season wore on, Hahn acknowledged that there would be a lot of work to do during the offseason to "retool" the club, but he insisted that's exactly what it would be—a retooling, not a complete rebuild.

When Hahn spoke with Scott Merkin of toward the end of last season, he had this to say:

It's not in our nature to write off any season. I don't think that's appropriate in baseball today, you see too many teams make fairly quick and significant turnarounds in the course of one off season. I do feel that starting with the pitching staff we have under control going forward, it would be foolish to say we can't win. That's the hardest thing to acquire and the most important thing to winning. With that said, obviously we have some work to do.

One week prior to making these comments, Hahn had pulled off a huge trade-deadline deal that brought the White Sox the highly touted Avisail Garcia from Detroit. And so the reshaping had actually already begun.

In Garcia, the White Sox were getting a five-tool player who was the second-rated prospect in the Tiger organization at the time. He was drawing comparisons to his mentor, Miguel Cabrera, and at 22 years old was a guy who Hahn could start to build around.

And after hitting .304 with five home runs and 21 RBI in 168 at-bats last season with the Sox, it appears that Garcia is on his way to a long, productive career on the south side.

However, this was just the beginning of the White Sox overhaul.

In October, Hahn followed up the signing of Garcia with possibly an even bigger one when he signed Cuban slugger Jose Abreu. Hahn signed Abreu to a six-year, $68 million contract, which is the largest initial free-agent contract given to an international player.

The acquisition was seen as a risky one by many critics, even though Abreu did put up better numbers in the Cuban league than counterparts Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig, both of whom made the jump to the big leagues over the past two seasons and have had big success.

Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu bring both talent and youth to the White Sox lineup.
Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu bring both talent and youth to the White Sox lineup.Barry Gutierrez

So, in the matter of three months, Hahn had completely revamped the middle of the White Sox order with the acquisition of two guys—and he wasn't done.

The next thing Hahn wanted to address was the need for a leadoff hitter, center fielder and more team speed. So he sent left-hander Hector Santiago to the Arizona Diamondbacks for scrappy center fielder Adam Eaton.

Eaton is definitely the kind of guy who fits the White Sox mold of a "grinder" and a guy who loves to compete, which is exactly what this team needed. He has been compared to former White Sox center fielder Aaron Rowand in terms of his passion for the game. He is a true leadoff hitter with good defensive skills in center field and a guy who can steal some bases. 

Check off another box for Hahn in his quest to reshape the White Sox roster. But there was more to come.

One of the other concerns was the situation at third base, where Conor Gillaspie and Jeff Keppinger split time in 2013. Hahn wanted to find a young, long-term solution at the position, and so he once again went to the Arizona Diamondbacks for help. He traded closer Addison Reed for hard-hitting prospect Matt Davidson.

And while he didn't break camp with the team, Davidson is expected to be up at the major league level at some point this season and hopefully for years to come. He has big power and a solid glove at third base and just turned 23 years old. 

So in a little less than a week, Hahn had taken the third- (Eaton) and fourth-rated (Davidson) prospects in the Arizona organization and made them a part of the White Sox's future. He did have to give up a solid closer in Reed as well as a guy with some potential in Santiago, but in doing so he addressed big needs for the team.

Despite the busy offseason and the hope for improvement this season, Hahn knows that his work is not done. The team may be in the market for a catcher by next season, depending on how Tyler Flowers fares this year. In addition, the bullpen and the back end of the rotation may need to be addressed by next year as well.

However, what he has done is put the White Sox in position to be competitive and possibly even contenders in the near future. The recent acquisitions coupled with the talent and youth that is now present in a once-maligned minor league system should give Sox fans serious hope for the future.

I don't typically like to look ahead too far, but I can't help thinking about what the team's lineup might look like in a few years. It's possible they could have an infield of Abreu at first, Micah Johnson at second, Marcus Semien at shortstop and Davidson at third.

Add that to a potential outfield of Eaton, Garcia and possibly a guy like Jordan Danks, and you have a lineup with a lot of speed, power and youth.

On the mound, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks form a solid trio of lefties for the next few years, and if Erik Johnson can reach his potential, the rotation looks to be an above-average one.

As I mentioned earlier, the bullpen is an area that will probably have to be strengthened, but there are some good, young arms there now including Nate Jones, Daniel Webb and Jake Petricka.

The 2014 season is still young, but the White Sox already appear to be a much-improved team. There is a new excitement and buzz surrounding the team, and as a fan you can't help but be optimistic about the future.

The expectations for this season may need to be tempered a bit, but the White Sox appear to be a team that will have to be dealt with sooner than later.

In the meantime, sit back, relax and enjoy this summer—it should be a fun one on the south side.







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