So we finally landed a bigger fish than Chris Sale. As so often happens, Marty Maloney lined up another interview for the Sox bloggers of the world and this time it somehow happened to be Rick Hahn. Yes, I did do a little victory dance when I found out this was happening.
Unknown person: You've been with the White Sox a long time. When did you start talking about that this year would be the year you assumed Kenny Williams' position?
Rick Hahn: Kenny first raised it years ago, probably going back to '08 or maybe '09. We had gone back and forth about this structure being a possible way where we could be more efficient, free him up a little bit more to evaluate talent which is one of his strengths, and leave more of the GM responsibilities to me. We really didn't get serious about it until about a year ago in terms of coming up with the timing and talking it through with Jerry about the specifics of how it would work. Each of us just needed to get to a point where we thought it was truly the right thing for the organization. When I joined here, I didn't think I would ultimately be the general manager of the White Sox, in part because I don't think it's healthy to openly covet your boss' job and in part because Kenny was young and successful and he could do it for as long as he wanted. It was really a bit of a process over a number of years and we got more serious about it last December.
Mark Liptak: Does it feel any different?
RH: On the one hand, I have to wear more ties which I don't like. It does feel a little bit different, frankly more so than I anticipated. Obviously I've been working with the people around me for a long time and a lot of the same other clubs when things have come up. And I still have Kenny around and he and I talk multiple times a day, including a few minutes before I got on this call. It's definitely a little bit more all-encompassing. I have more on my plate on any given day and want to be more diligent in making sure that the things we want to get done as an organization are getting done. I think over time I'll be able to let go of more of that and do a better job of spreading the responsibilities around, but this first week has been a whirlwind.
Jim Margalus: You said that the idea first game up in 2008 or 2009. In between that, you interviewed with the Mets and Angels. When you were interviewing with those clubs, did you have the idea of the White Sox in your back pocket as a fallback plan or was it so vague that you didn't know what your future would be with the White Sox?
RH: Out of respect for the processes over the years, I never really commented on how involved I really was or how all in I was in these GM searches. I think a lot of it got exaggerated because it's a horse race. People hear a name that may potentially be involved and debate it without a comment from the individual and it's left to the media to speculate how close someone is to becoming GM of another club.
Over the last few years, I've had a fair amount of informal meals with various owners around baseball just sort of to get to know them better and the opportunities they have, but I'd say there was only really one instance going back to 2007 that was really serious about potentially leaving. It was important to get to that point so that I could parcel through "Why was I doing this?" Was I doing it for the cool job title and more money or was I leaving because it was truly the best opportunity for me and my family?
When I would go through these conversations over the past couple years and meet with these other clubs, it wasn't with knowing that I could be the White Sox' GM at some point so I would weight this against that. It was more that I was in a place I was happy and had a chance to win and am in my hometown which means a lot to me. I would weight the role I was playing with Jerry and Kenny as assistant GM against those opportunities and being here and in this organization had more allure to me, regardless of if it was going to lead to me being GM.
Guy from Sox Talk: Other than third base, what are some places on the roster that you're looking to make some enhancements?
RH: Third base is obviously going to be a priority as there is no clear answer for that on the roster right now. I'm a little surprised we've gotten four questions in without any question of A.J. We'll look at the bullpen, trying complement what we have with some different types of relievers. We obviously need to figure out what we're going to do with the backup infield and backup outfield positions.
If A.J. were not back, if Youkilis were back at third, we may be a little too right-handed and we need to look out for that. There are some moving pieces involved. Third base is probably the one getting the most attention as the positional need to be most addressed.
ML: I hate to use the term "stat guy". You're old school and new school. Let me give you a stat and I'm curious as to what you make of it and how you fix it. In the last ten years, the White Sox have had a worse win percentage after the All-Star Break as opposed to before it eight of the ten seasons. That's obviously cost the Sox. Would you comment on what you think is causing it and how do you fix this?
RH: If there was an easy solution, it would have been addressed already. We've seen it and felt it just like you guys have and it is quite literally on the agenda to discuss this weekend as a group within our full organizational meetings. I do think this past year you can look to the fact that we took some pitchers beyond their traditional innings levels and therefor it is possible that there was a decline in their effectiveness from that.
It's also feasible that a slump that happens from September 15th through the 30th gets a little over-magnified as opposed to one from May 15th to May 30th. And there's also just a bit of bad luck. Given that this is something we've seen before over the last decade, it is something that merits further discussion and if there is a solution, it is something we're going to try to address. That's probably easier said than done though.
Mark Primiano: It seems like over the past few seasons, the team emphasis has been heavily on pitching and that the offense and position players come a distant second. Is this something we can expect to continue (thanks to Cee Angi and this article for the inspiration)?
RH: I understand what you're saying. Obviously there have been offseason where signing Paul Konerko or Adam Dunn have been centerpieces of our offseason moves. I don't know if I fully agree with the feeling that we're forsaking offense for pitching. I will say that if we had our druthers that building a competitive club begins with pitching and defense.
We don't want to go too far in one direction that we cost ourselves in putting together something offensively. While our moves so far this year have been focused on the pitching staff, it's not without being mindful of the offense and the adjustments there that will have to be made. We're trying to skate to where the puck is going to be with these moves with Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd and seeing what moves that can open up for us down the road. Nothing is done in a vacuum.
Quiet man from White Sox Gab: When it comes to Youkilis, Myers, and Pierzynski, will resigning them come down to years, money, or both?
RH: I think they'll both be factors and it's also going to be the players' desires and how they feel they fit. I certainly understand players wanting to explore what's out there, even though the opportunities are likely the same like for A.J. or Kevin Youkilis. Brett Myers is a different animal: he's started, he's closed, and he was obviously a very effective set-up man for us. So with him, the role he plays will be a bigger factor in his decision making. It's not just going to be years and dollars, but it's going to be fit and comfort level. As nice as it would be with any of those three toe be able to pencil them in here on November 1st, we've got to be careful not to make one move with any of them that occludes us from making others down the road.
Paul Banks: Was there any advice Kenny gave you about this job and if so what was the best?
RH: I suspect that I'll continue to get advice from Kenny over the upcoming weeks and months and almost all of it welcome. Having the benefit of the guy who was probably the most successful general manager in franchise history around as a sounding board was a big part of the allure of me taking this position. Had I gone somewhere else, someone who views the world as Kenny does would have been one of my first hires that I would have wanted to complement myself with. We have very different backgrounds, we approach problems differently. I want someone who has that complementary point of view that can challenge my convictions. The best piece of advice he gave me was to keep my sense of humor about me and that there is always going to be an argument for the other side and you have to trust the tools that got you here.
JM: When you talk about the disagreements and differences in opinion that you and Kenny have, you've been working together for a dozen years now, how often do you surprise each other with an idea that you're almost diametrically opposed at the start or there is a spit-take worthy reaction? How many times did you run into differences that were almost irreconcilable?
RH: Very rarely. I'm not going to lie and say there haven't been times over twelve years that have ended with real disagreements on what we should do and obviously with him being the guy sitting in the big chair at the time, we went with what he wanted to do. Some of them worked out real well and some of them worked out otherwise. It's something that is likely to continue. I view that again as a positive.
There have certainly been times that he brought up an idea that irritates me only to the point where I wasn't the one who thought of it. Whether it winds up working out for us or not, I get frustrated that I wasn't the first one to suggest it. Having that level of creativity around is good for everybody.
JM: I think most people were surprised that Peavy accepted a two year deal with and option for a third when the open market would give him three years easily. When you're dealing with another side and you might require a concession from them for your plans, what is the push back like?
RH: This deal doesn't get done without Jake feeling very strongly that he wants to be back here and was willing to compromise in order to be here. I heard from other GMs after we made the deal that they expected his market to be fairly robust. When you're dealing with a veteran player like Jake who knows the business and knows where he wants to be, it's a little easier to get something done. He understood the risk and understood what we were trying to accomplish over the next couple years and why we were trying to maintain flexibility and protection against those risks. Without his cooperation, that deal doesn't get done.
JM: When you pitch an idea that might be under market, do you risk insulting the player with the deal? How careful do you have to be when the deal may be below his market?
RH: There is that risk. Fortunately when it's a guy like Jake who the organization has a relationship with you can have a conversation in that tenor of "look, although your expectations may be higher or your market may be higher, here's what works for us". There have been times, not in this negotiation, where you go "look, I don't want to insult you but I'm not going to make you an offer at that level". You do have to be cognizant of that to not alienate a player. Agents exist for a reason. No one likes to hear those things about themselves or that you're not as highly valued as you'd like to be valued. The agent plays an important role in trying to temper those expectations and at the same time not scorch the earth between the club and the player. It's an easy move to build up the animosity between the two sides. The better agents really try to find that common ground and see why a team is approaching a player that way.
Thanks to those who participated, especially Rick Hahn and Marty Maloney.