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For the White Sox rebuild, now comes the hard part

It’s great to have one of the best farm systems in baseball, but if the White Sox front office can’t efficiently add players in free agency, this rebuild is an uphill climb.

MLB: Winter Meetings Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

My steps this morning had an extra bounce to them. Trading Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle makes the future clearer, because adding Blake Rutherford to the prospect pipeline creates a level of depth in the farm system that is hard to deny. Most of all, I'm just thrilled that Yoan Moncada has been called up and the world can finally see what the game's top prospect can do.

It’s been a hectic year for the White Sox front office, and from his late night press conference, it sounds like Rick Hahn doesn't want to be done moving more players. Perhaps Melky Cabrera, Anthony Swarzak, or dare I say, Jose Abreu. If it’s been difficult for the White Sox to accept this fate and shed quality players off the roster, well, the harder part is still ahead of them.

There seem to be two reactions to last night's trade: an enthusiastic group, and a group ready with buckets of cold water. The enthusiastic village praises all of the work Rick Hahn has accomplished in rebuilding the White Sox roster. Then, there are those who remind people that it was Hahn's White Sox that couldn't manage a winning record with the likes of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, David Robertson, Todd Frazier, and Jose Abreu, which rehashes the question many of us have been ripping our hair out over: "How could that be?"

Nobody illustrated that failure better than larry. Almost 13 months ago, he broke down Hahn's shortfalls in building a competitive team. This paragraph is the most damning.

"Basically, if Hahn had just stopped after getting Abreu and Eaton, the team would be in the same or better place. Feel free to criticize my choice of WAR or my thresholds or my groupings but the plot isn't going to be different. We can sit around and wax poetic about what ownership dictated, what Hahn was left with, who is "really" making decisions, what the manager is doing or not doing, who is developing or not, how the advance scouts are performing, whether some of these guys will bounce back, whatever. Outside of the coaching staff, the thing a front office is most in control of is who they acquire at the major league or near major league level and who they trade away. And this piss poor list just subsumes everything else, good or bad, that Hahn has done. Even though it was clear that those involved in pro scouting were under-performing prior to him taking over, Hahn has stuck with the same guys and things have only gotten worse."

The enthusiastic crowd would sneer at this judgment, encouraging folks to forgive the shortcomings and forget the past. It's time to focus on the future, and boy how bright is the White Sox future these days! I find fault in that line of thinking. Inability to have efficient pro scouting has crushed this team before in poor trades (hello, James Shields) and free agent signings. Hahn could not effectively add pieces to support Sale and Quintana in the rotation. Nor could he find useful bats in the lineup to aid Abreu. As general manager, that is his responsibility, and he failed.

Lucky for Hahn, the greatest free agency class of all-time is on the horizon. The 2018 Winter Meetings will take place at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, which is a most perfect stage for the following players to be put on a pedestal and sign to an obscene amount of money: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Yasmani Grandal, Brian Dozier, D.J. LeMahieu, Daniel Murphy, Jose Iglesias, Charlie Blackmon, Adam Jones, A.J. Pollock, Hunter Pence, Nelson Cruz, Matt Harvey, Dallas Keuchel, Kelvin Herrera, Cody Allen, Brad Brach, Jeurys Familia, A.J. Ramos, and David Robertson. Whatever what may be your team's greatest need, they can find an All-Star quality player in the 2018 offseason.

Let's look at the glass as half-full for a moment. If half of the top 15 White Sox prospects pan out to be average or better major leaguers, that would be a big success for the player development team lead by Chris Getz, especially considering the best positional player they have developed in the last decade was Gordon Beckham.

If this hypothetical becomes real, Hahn still needs to figure out the remaining 17 to 18 players on the 25-man roster. Here is where we come back to a similar place after the 2014 season. Nobody faults the effort made by Hahn and the White Sox front office from trying to build a winner. They traded whatever minor league depth they had for Jeff Samardzija, gave David Robertson what was at the time the largest contract to a reliever, and spent money on Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche. Those players collectively failed to live up to their end of the bargain.

How does a front office avoid that similar fate? Free agency is such a crap shoot, not fully knowing how a player will age or perform when signing for a lot of money. Regardless of the risk, this is an area that requires more investment from the White Sox. Except for players from Cuba, this franchise has been cheap adding players from free agency. Shopping from the scrap heap has proven not to work. There has to be a blend of established, proven major league talent to help the promising players. Just because the White Sox spent their 2017 first round pick on the third baseman, Jake Burger should not stop them from signing a player like Manny Machado or Josh Donaldson after the 2018 season.

This franchise alone cannot depend on the major league baseball draft and player development to build a winning ballclub. If this rebuild is truly going to work, we will need to see an entirely new approach in handling free agency in the upcoming years. With how long Hahn and Williams have been working together, that's asking an old dog to learn a new trick. They've got 17 months to figure it out.

If they don't, this rebuild will be for naught.