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White Sox admit the problem, but can they address it?

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Tough decisions ahead for a brain trust that hasn't been good at them

Jon Durr/Getty Images

As the White Sox were coming out of the All-Star break, we discussed the biggest questions the team faced during the second half. The first was, "Will the White Sox add?" A first-half record of 45-43 put them in a delicate position:

It seems like the front office is poised to add, but if the White Sox open the second half with six straight losses ... what might be the point?

After opening the second half by losing five out of six ... there is none.

So, as a homestand opened on Thursday, Rick Hahn came out to tell the family that there was little he could do for the patient after the grisly team crash. Usually, the family responds with a little more sadness. Here, some relatives pumped their fists and whispered, "Finally."

The White Sox didn’t declare themselves sellers, but Hahn created the conditions for it. He said the Sox aren’t going to add rentals, and without Austin Jackson, Alex Avila or Zach Putnam returning anytime soon, the team is what it is — "mired in mediocrity," to use Hahn’s exact phrase.

Relative to the White Sox, that’s a pretty big admission. It only goes so far, though. Hahn called trading Chris Sale and/or Jose Quintana "extreme," which is true — but it’s also the one thing that would keep the years from blending into each other, and there’s enough doubt about the Sox’ viability in 2017 to court the idea. Putting veterans on the block makes sense, but it doesn’t kill the chain of half-measures that have paralyzed the franchise.

When it comes to the idea that Jerry Reinsdorf is "frustrated," that’s not particularly earth-shaking, either.

Hahn said he had an "extended conversation" with Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf on Wednesday, and he's also open-minded to several directions.

"As much as anyone in the front office or probably as much as any fan, he feels frustration and disappointment about where we sit today," Hahn said.

I guess it’s cool that he’s open to the idea that more drastic action is needed, but the Sox have needed stronger plays from the front office and ownership for a while. Three things over the course of the day hammered this point home for me.

No. 1: Robin Ventura is around to witness a potential sale.

Before Hahn rocked the mics, reporters like Jon Heyman and Ken Rosenthal and Chris Cotillo all noted the numbers of vultures circling. Rosenthal, in particular said a team offered a "king’s ransom" for Sale.

The White Sox once had the best record in the AL. Now they’re one of the first plausible contenders to suspend their campaign. How did Robin Ventura survive this? Coming off three straight losing seasons? In a lame-duck season when they hired a potential replacement as his bench coach?

It’s not like the front office fell asleep. Hahn did what he could to swap out underperforming parts, replacing 40 percent of his rotation and bringing up Tim Anderson before the most ideal situation presented itself, and that was on top of all the turnover injuries forced.

All of these variables didn’t stop the slide, which just calls attention to the constants. Based on the process that led to him, Ventura’s managerial career has worked out as well as it deserved to, and I guess they may see it all the way through to the end, now.

No. 2: Jimmy Rollins is doing studio work now.

Prior to the opener against the Tigers, Fox Sports provided us with a Jimmy Rollins update.

Rollins came to the Sox on a minor league contract in February, so it’s not necessarily surprising to see him wearing a tie in July, even if he was the White Sox’ Opening Day shortstop in between.

There were other, better solutions for that position, though. Ian Desmond lasted so long that the Sox were one of the last obvious fits for him. Even as his price dropped to an unthinkable one year and $8 million, the AL West-winning Rangers were the ones to pick him up, even though they didn’t have a set place for his skills. They decided to shoehorn him into the outfield.

The Rangers got an All-Star season out of him. The White Sox got Zack Burdi out of it. The latter isn’t bad, but the former helps you win now, if that’s a thing you’re interested in doing. (Plus, Desmond’s in position to reject another qualifying offer next year.)

No. 3: Ian Kinsler helped beat the White Sox.

Back in January of 2012, the Tigers learned that Victor Martinez tore his ACL, which also tore open a major hole in Detroit’s lineup card.

The Tigers responded by signing Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million deal. It was the equivalent of paying for a robotic arm when you only needed stitches. Buying out the post-prime of an overweight first baseman didn’t seem to be the most prudent decision when Martinez would eventually return and Miguel Cabrera needed to get off third base, but everybody agreed that Dave Dombrowski landed an incredible short-term solution.

Fielder did his thing for Detroit, hitting. 295/.387/.491 with 55 homers and 214 RBIs. He was an All-Star both seasons, and the Tigers made the playoffs both seasons, reaching the World Series in 2012.

But the signs of decline grew apparent. While his 2013 season was respectable by everybody’s standards, it was his worst season as a full-timer. Morever, the second postseason wasn’t as charmed as the first, as he fizzled with a 4-for-22 against Boston in the ALCS.

Those tired of Mike Ilitch’s deep pockets were ready for him to pay the piper. With seven ugly years of Fielder remaining, and massive deals in place or in store for Cabrera, Martinez, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, the Tigers were in a position to be crippled financially for years.

Then Dombrowski found a release valve by trading Fielder for Ian Kinsler. Even though Detroit had to kick in $30 million, it was a clear win at the time for the Tigers, who unclogged the low end of the defensive spectrum while trading a declining Fielder for Kinsler, who, while declining himself, had the skills and body type to last longer.

Somehow, it’s even working out better than they expected. Since the trade:

G PA 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB K BA/OBP/SLG OPS+ bWAR
Kinsler 408 1820 93 14 48 222 34 98 232 .288/.330/.444 114 15.7
Fielder 289 1089 52 0 34 158 0 121 175 .269/.350/.410 104 0.4

Their careers couldn’t be on more divergent paths. At 34, Kinsler is making a run at his best-ever season. At 32, Fielder’s worst season might already be over if he ends up needing his second neck surgery in three years.

I bring all of this up because Kinsler stung the Sox directly on Thursday, hitting a game-tying homer as ugly weather moved in. The homer was Kinsler’s 20th, and it made me wonder: "How did the Adam LaRoche signing end up handcuffing the White Sox more than the Prince Fielder signing hurt Detroit?"

When the Sox signed LaRoche for two years and $25 million two seasons ago, it was an uninspiring move that seemed to carry low risk. If he had a disastrous season -- all too possible, considering his trajectory and the White Sox’ track record — the White Sox could simply spend past it for the second year, which they’d probably be doing anyway since 2016-17 was the big idea.

Instead, the Sox depleted their outfield depth by trading for Todd Frazier, which would’ve been fine if they acquired the other outfielder-with-upside the offseason needed. Instead, the Sox let all the late signings pass them by before settling on Austin Jackson, which still left them one hitter short and with too many roads leading back to Avisail Garcia.

When LaRoche retired, Sox fans simultaneously cheered and slapped their foreheads. His retirement revealed the possibilities that the Sox could have pursued if his contract never existed, but it shouldn’t have even been an obstacle for a team that needed to be aggressive.

Based on the way inaction has undermined words in the past, it’s hard to get too inspired by any kind of statement in July, whether from the front office or from Reinsdorf. It’s good that Hahn is upfront about their chances, which, along with the chain of DFAs earlier in the season, sustains this trend of the Sox’ increased ability to recognize mistakes. However, it’s still unclear whether they recognize the organizational flaws that keep producing them.