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Winter meetings transformative for White Sox

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Two major trades put second rebuilding on sounder course than first

MLB: Winter Meetings Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The winter meetings are over, and the White Sox made excellent use of the expo. To paraphrase Captain Bern Hembrook’s rationale to blow up the moon, they traded their two best players. They made a Rule 5 draft pick. What else could they do with it?

Well, they still have Jose Quintana, David Robertson, Todd Frazier, Nate Jones, Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera ... basically, any of the two players Rick Hahn didn’t reference as young, talented players White Sox fans can enjoy. As much as Hahn ate in Maryland, he took plenty of leftovers home.

The drastic action made him the toast of National Harbor, but he appears to understand better than anybody the distressing circumstances that made such newsmakers necessary. In David Haugh’s column:

It felt gratifying. It felt humbling.

Pause to note the correct usage of of “humbling,“ not the one flying around that means “honored.”

"It feels weird, even a little uncomfortable,'' Hahn told the Tribune in an interview. "Later, when Kenny and I had moment to ourselves, we said, 'Man … people are well-intentioned in saying very kind words but we're also thinking, we just traded Chris Sale. That's something that leaves a void. We knew it was the right thing to do because of the returns we got for Chris and Adam (Eaton), but you're still taking away something the organization took pride in. That's where we're at right now."

Speaking of Kenny Williams, Hahn passed up a golden opportunity to spare himself future chain-of-command questions by rejecting the idea that he’s wrestled away control over the steering wheel:

"We get that (but) what people lose sight of is Kenny has deep roots in player development and scouting,'' Hahn said. "This goes back to stuff he was thriving at in the '90s, in terms of looking at amateur talent and building up the farm system. He's as excited as anyone."

Excitement will be difficult to maintain with the White Sox staring at a brutal 2017, and they’ll have to be more disciplined than the last time they won the winter meetings and submarined their first attempt at rebuilding in the process. The upside is that this reconstruction should be far less delicate, as Avisail Garcia isn’t at the center of this one.

That’s not a blindside slam on Garcia, but an acknowledgement that he was a volatile prospect at the time the Sox acquired him. The corollary to Garcia this time around is Lucas Giolito, if you believe the Nationals’ side in this Washington Post article:

Perhaps the most obvious takeaway of the past few days is how quickly and thoroughly the Nationals had soured on Giolito, who is still listed in some places as the third-best prospect in baseball even though anyone who watched him pitch in the majors this year couldn’t possibly reconcile that status with what they saw. Prospects take time, of course, but Giolito’s stuff fell off to an alarming degree. My regret, from late in the season, is that I didn’t more thoroughly examine what was going on here, especially when one Nationals official said succinctly, “He’s not going to be what I thought he was going to be.”

If Giolito were the only player coming back from Washington for Adam Eaton, I’d be holding my breath (and nose). But he’s flanked by Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning, a pair of talented pitching prospects who reduce the risk of Giolito having already peaked.

When you look at the top White Sox prospect lists from that year, the cupboard wasn’t bare, but it wasn’t ironclad (and FanGraphs’ top 10 aged as poorly as we thought it would, by the way). Here’s what the White Sox had for construction materials:

  • Projectable starting pitchers: Erik Johnson.
  • Projectable position players: Avisail Garcia, Matt Davidson.
  • Projectable bench players: Marcus Semien, Carlos Sanchez, Micah Johnson.
  • Projects: Tim Anderson, Courtney Hawkins, Trayce Thompson, Tyler Danish.

In hindsight, that’s ugly for a rebuild. It wasn’t that bad at the time, though, especially considering the Sox were also introducing Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton, both of whom faced the same doubts encountered by the average highly-touted prospect. It suffered hull damage when Johnson started the year missing four ticks, Garcia tore his labrum and Davidson went missing.

Despite the heavy losses, the White Sox still barged ahead by winning the winter, which cost them Semien, the best of their infield prospects. When they flipped the “go for it” switch, they were relying heavily on bounce-backs and the freshly drafted Carlos Rodon. We saw how much depth mattered, and by the time Anderson showed up, it was too late despite him being ahead of schedule.

If this is depressing, that’s intended. The White Sox have fresh mistakes to learn from, and they need to be heeded. So far, this one looks different. By trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, we can remove “hiring Rick Renteria without an open interview process” from the list of questionable choices. He wouldn’t necessarily be my choice to lead a contender, but he has experience in dealing with the headaches a gutted roster can generate, and he represented a significant improvement over his predecessors on the North Side. At the moment, the only thing the Renteria promotion cost the Sox is a 21-spot drop on the managerial handsomeness rankings, although Renteria has a 70 smile as far as I’m concerned.

Assuming Hahn doesn’t stop after trading Sale and Eaton, the foundation after the razing should feel stabler than the last one, too. If the Sox are going to do this right, they have to create an environment where one or two individual setbacks don’t register on the movement as a whole. One or two more trades should get them there, and that’s probably half of what’s left on Hahn’s list.