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Sustainability still hard to see for White Sox after winter

Core receives offseason help from Rick Hahn, but only for one or two years at a time

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Ian Desmond ended qualifying offer season with a whimper, signing a one-year deal with the Rangers that's pretty unimpressive, both for the salary ($8 million) and the arrangement (starting left fielder?). After all, up until last season, Desmond was considered a fixture at shortstop, where he won three consecutive Silver Sluggers in the National League.

The Sox won't benefit from the potential upgrade he could have offered, even with considerable risk. However, the signing locks in the White Sox' first-day draft picks, giving Nick Hostetler plenty to play with in June:

  1. No. 10
  2. No. 26
  3. No. 49

It also brings the offseason to a close, more or less, just in time for the start of March. Talented players remain on the market, but the abject weirdness of avoiding starting-quality players has receded. And while the Sox could trade for a corner outfielder, that will remain the case for the foreseeable future. Signing contributors for only money has an actual deadline, which has lapsed.

So where does that leave the Sox? In a curious state, at least for the stated goals. The 2016-17 window has been the target since the Sox turned into the skid back in 2013, and Rick Hahn laid out his vision for this winter back in November:

"Free agency obviously serves a purpose for putting complementary or finishing pieces onto a club,’’ Hahn said on 670-AM Saturday. "Last year we were obviously quite aggressive in the free-agent market and things didn’t pan out the way we anticipated.

"While I expect we’re still going to be in contact with free agents, it’s going to have to be the right fit that will be a difference maker for us to dabble in those waters yet again. Ideally you’re adding younger talent that you can control for a longer period of time that you can grow and be part of a sustainable core.’’

Hahn had no luck acquiring the difference-makers, as the three most-connected outfielders -- Alex Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes and Dexter Fowler -- all returned to their original clubs under increasingly bizarre rumor reversals. True to his word, Hahn didn't look for consolation prizes. The Sox spent just $10.25 $13.25 million on free agents, and one of them doesn't really count, as Jacob Turner's $1.5 million deal was just maneuvering around arbitration restrictions. (If you count Jimmy Rollins' minor-league deal as a major-league one, it's $15.25 million, but still.)

But the other part of the plan didn't quite materalize, either. He did acquire one difference-maker in Todd Frazier, but that trade cost them Trayce Thompson, who was their most intriguing young, MLB-ready talent. Outside attempts to add 20something-year-old players didn't come to fruition.

The core -- Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton -- remains the core. They're in place on ridiculously affordable contracts through 2018 at the very least. But the Sox apparently called an audible in that effort to supplement it for the push. Instead of adding another key player on a multi-year deal, they've instead chosen the other route by spreading the wealth among a cast of short-timers. Some of them should have plenty of baseball left, while others entered spring training with plenty to prove. Either way, it doesn't really fit a sustainable model, because a lot of positions are question marks after these two key seasons ... if not before.

Catcher: Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro. Both are on one-year contracts, meaning that both could be gone after one season for one reason (great performances!) or another (awful performances!). But since the White Sox will have playing time and the budget in 2017, they should be able to retain at least one of them, assuming there's interest.

Second base: Brett Lawrie. He's in his second arbitration year, and he'll be a test for the Sox' pro scouts, as he's coming off a disappointing year in Oakland, and he'll be playing second base as his primary position for the first time in his MLB career. If his FanGraphs' valuation (0.6 WAR) is closer to reality than's version (1.9 WAR), the Sox might not see him as a fixture, either. Carlos Sanchez is a decent fallback option, although he may never develop into somebody you'd want starting.

Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins/Tyler Saladino. The Sox forged a potentially useful platoon, dependent on whether Rollins can function better with more days off, and whether Saladino qualifies as a glove-first shortstop. This also could be DOA, but it'd be a forgivable mistake. Tim Anderson is the rare White Sox prospect who shouldn't be blocked.

Third base: Todd Frazier. He's under contract for the next two years, after which he'll hit free agency in time for his age-32 season. That should be enough time to see if Trey Michalczewski is anybody to clear space for, but he's not the prospect Anderson is. That creates a couple of tricky scenarios -- if Frazier meets the Sox' expectations, you'll hear somebody drumming for a new contract (the media loves him already). If extending Frazier looks like a poor idea, Michalczewski is the first and only in-house option of note, barring a Lazarus act from Matt Davidson.

Corner outfielders: Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia. Considering Garcia won't reach free agency until 2020, he shouldn't fit in with the rest of this group. However, he's already making $2.1 million thanks to his Super Two status, and if 2016 resembles his 2015, it'll be much harder to defend tendering a contract. There isn't an in-house challenger to his status, though, which makes Cabrera's rebound even more important, as the Sox are paying him $29 million over the next two seasons.

Designated hitter: Adam LaRoche. If CrossFit doesn't solve his problems, he could be on the chopping block in the middle of the first half.

Rotation: John Danks and Mat Latos. With Sale, Quintana and Carlos Rodon ahead of them this one isn't nearly as pressing, especially if Erik Johnson can somehow be kept in the fold without wasting a healthy arm in Triple-A.

We've seen teams like this before, and it's not necessarily a bad idea. Isolate the offseason moves from the team's larger tendency to reject position-player transplants, and one can understand why the Sox' offseason might rank in the top five like FanGraphs says. It's just odd to see the Sox' rebuilding efforts end up in a roster that's just as blowuppable as it is sustainable.