Thanks to an unrelated trip that I could extend a half day, I spent part of Monday at the Winter Meetings just outside of Washington at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.
I was only there for a couple hours, which was long enough to nearly collide with Rob Manfred and sit at a bar next to Jack Morris. It wasn’t long enough to see the White Sox trade one of the most enjoyable players they’ve ever had, or even for the rumors to reach a medium boil. Proximity alone wouldn’t have made it feel momentous, though, because I don’t think I would’ve known about the Mark Melancon and Rich Hill signings if I weren’t checking Twitter throughout. I didn’t expect a fanfare or town crier to accompany transactions once official, but perhaps they should think about it.
“Surprisingly low-key” is also how I’d describe the impending trade of Chris Sale, which is still where we left it with the Nationals in front. I expected the possible departure of a franchise pitcher with three affordable years remaining to spur more acrimony and some will-they-won’t-they plot twists. Instead, there have been zero signs that the Condor will be around for one more run. Silence and inactivity don’t count.
If a Sale trade is going to feel mundane to the finish, at least it will fit the times. Officially abandoning one rebuilding effort to start another should generate more turbulence, but after reading and listening to Rick Hahn’s media scrum on Monday, it’s probably a sign of the White Sox’ irrelevance that everything has a way of sounding the same.
White Sox fans support a rebuild, Hahn said, evidenced by his small sample size of voicemails and e-mails, even with the potential for a lean year or two.
"We're trying to do this for the long-term," he said. "If in the short-term there's potentially some hardship along the way, we know that's the natural price you pay."
The White Sox want to one day be able to provide sound replacements from within their own farm system, something Hahn has preached for years, but hasn’t yet been able to attain. Hahn said he’s encouraged about the potential returns from other teams and the prospect of reloading a thin farm system by trading several of the talented pieces from his roster. [...]
“We don’t want to be caught in between. But again, we’re not going to force that seven things have to get done or it’s not worth doing one. It’s a process.”
These are typical Hahn quotes. He has a way of phrasing things by boiling them down to undebatable chunks, which has been part of his appeal. But when you read them after four consecutive losing seasons, they are saddled with all kinds of baggage.
Take the first quote, in which Hahn says that he believes White Sox fans have a heartier appetite for a teardown than in years past. We’ve known the kind of bleakness it would take to make gutting the roster appealing. This is not something that should be trumpeted.
And how about the second one? Come for the, “Something Hahn has preached for years, but hasn’t yet been able to attain,” and stay for the “We don’t want to be caught in between.”
The first encourages the response, “How is everybody still here?” The second one screams for it. The White Sox didn’t so much get “caught in between” as they walked right into it. Their hyperactive 2014-15 offseason only made sense if 1) their pro scouting could be trusted, or 2) the White Sox were willing to spend past a foreseeable outcome like an accelerated Adam LaRoche decline.
They didn’t have a contingency plan if they couldn’t shake their veteran success rate since the second Nick Swisher trade, which is why the White Sox are on the brink of tearing it all down before 2017, which was previously known as the year in which the first reconstruction was supposed to reach its self-sustaining stride. They literally achieved the opposite outcome, as if the navigator started holding the map upside-down halfway through the journey. Why do they get a chance to try again?
Here’s where one points to Jerry Reinsdorf and suggests that other general managers must be envious of the loyalty shown to Hahn and Kenny Williams. But having just watched that same loyalty force Robin Ventura into taking his own managerial life, I wonder how enviable it actually is. We’re entering a fifth year of “Groundhog Day,” except everybody in Punxsutawney knows their futures ride on Phil Connors figuring it out, and few believe he can. That’s a purgatory that’s its own kind of hell.