Analysis

No Longer Mired in Mediocrity: Recapping Year One of the White Sox Rebuild

On the afternoon of July 21, 2016 the Chicago White Sox were coming off of a 1-5 start to the second half of the 2016 season, a season that started with the White Sox winning 23 of their first 33 games, but quickly spiraled into oblivion as another “win-now” plan exploded in the face of the front office and fanbase alike.

Sitting in the White Sox’ third base dugout, General Manager Rick Hahn faced the media as he did before most home games, this time the White Sox were opening a series with the Detroit Tigers and sitting seven games out of the second Wild Card spot in the American League playoff picture. It was then that Rick Hahn echoed the precursor to what would transpire over the next calendar year, the first year of the rebuild on the Southside.

Hahn told reporters in regards to the miserable 2016 implosion,

“We’re mired in mediocrity,” Hahn said. “That’s not the goal. That’s not acceptable. … The goal was to put ourselves in a situation to win a championship, and (being) stuck at .500 or around .500 doesn’t do that.

Music to the ears of the entire White Sox fan-base, finally, a sign that someone in the organization understood that the club was going nowhere with the current direction of slapping together patchwork acquisitions winter after winter, and still garnering the same mediocre results each and every time.

But even on that afternoon when Hahn made it clear that he was aware that there was a major problem with the direction of the organization, he confirmed Sox fans’ fear, that Jerry Reinsdorf was not fully on-board with the rebuild plan but pointed out that the Chairman was frustrated as well, and that he [Hahn] has had many “extended talks” with Reinsdorf about venturing into another direction for the club.

“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.

The August 1 non-waiver trade deadline came and went last summer, and the White Sox didn’t pull the trigger on rumored deals involving Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, two of the more valuable players on the trade market. The only move the White Sox did make, was a swap of Zach Duke for Charlie Tilson with the St. Louis Cardinals.

(AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)

In the coming months, it became evident through a game of leaks and indirect statements, that there was in-fighting between the three main players in the White Sox front office in regards to the direction of the club moving forward. It was made clear that Jerry Reinsdorf was not fully on-board with Hahn’s fresh idea to rebuild the farm system from the ground up, at the expense of the current team’s core players.

It got to the point where it was speculated that Rick Hahn, one of the most highly touted up and coming baseball executives when he took the GM position with the White Sox, would leave the club if he continued to face resistance to his idea for the future from Jerry Reinsdorf and Kenny Williams. By September of 2016, the Chicago White Sox were in full dumpster fire mode, with nothing to play for, and an in-house feud playing out through the media that all but sucked the hope out of White Sox fans for the future.

The Rick Renteria Era Begins

On the final day of the 2016 season, former White Sox Manager Robin Ventura announced that as a result of a mutual decision between the front office and himself, that he would not be returning as the skipper of the White Sox in 2017.

Almost immediately, Ricky Renteria was named the next skipper of the White Sox, the first sign that the franchise was ready to move in a different direction was in front of us. Renteria was dismissed by the Cubs after Joe Maddon became available on the market prior to the 2015 season, but Rick Hahn made sure that Renteria spent the 2016 season in the White Sox dugout as the White Sox’ bench coach – evidence that Hahn’s plan stems as far back as the winter of 2015/2016.

Hahn was sure that Renteria would be managing somewhere else in 2017 if the White Sox didn’t bring him on-board before the 2016 season, a season in which former manager Robin Ventura was firmly on the hot seat in Chicago.

The 2016 GM Meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona

On November 3, 2016, Sox GM Rick Hahn shed some light on the future of the franchise at the annual GM Meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“I think our goal is to put ourselves in a position to win on a sustainable basis,” Hahn said with a strong sense of purpose in his tone. “We have taken the approach for a number of years that we were focused on a short-term success. We have gotten to the point when we have had our conversations internally with Jerry (Reinsdorf) and Kenny (Williams) where we realize a better position for the long-term is a more prudent path.”

“We have always been focused on putting ourselves in the best position to win,” Hahn stated. “At the same time, I think we are veering away from looking for stop gaps. A lot of what we did in the past few years was to add to the short-term potential of the club. That was we put ourselves in a position to win right away. I feel the approach now is focusing on longer-term benefits.”

“I think the market is hugely important to understand,” Hahn said. “First, from the standpoint of setting your direction. Doing what you have to be realistic where you stand as a club. When you make a fair assessment of your chances in 2017, it sends you on a certain way down a path. Should we go to the position of selling off assets, looking toward a more long-term future, the market will dictate how deep of a cut that is.

“That would also be based on the return for some of our players (in trade talks). The market plays a huge role. Part of that is being patient. You must be sure of what is out there.

“The other part is how your players are valued by the industry. We would not be just trading a younger piece for a younger piece. We would want to diversify the use of players, depending on the depth and strength of the roster. You may look at five or six spots to improve on.”

Hahn made it clear that the future of the franchise would be one that included a complete reset that day, a sentiment that White Sox fans had been waiting to hear for a long time, but one that they still had trouble believing in, given the history of reluctance to hit the rest button on the southside of Chicago.

The 2016 Baseball Winter Meetings, Hahn’s Opening Act

While it’s conceivable that Hahn’s opening act was the accomplishment of getting Jerry Reinsdorf and Kenny Williams on the same page with his plan, the first physical act of the rebuild came at the annual Winter Meetings in Washington, D.C., when the club made waves across the baseball world by shipping Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for baseball’s top prospect Yoan Moncada.

The deal saw the Sox flip their perennial All-Star candidate, and arguably one of the best left-handed starting pitchers in all of baseball to Boston in exchange for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz.

Just over a day later, Hahn pulled off another blockbuster trade, this time sending Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals in exchange for Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. A pair of highly touted pitching prospects, and the Nationals first-round selection in the 2016 MLB Draft, was considered by many a king’s ransom for Adam Eaton. The White Sox left the Winter Meetings in possession of more top-100 prospects than they’d been able to boast in well over a decade.

The rebuild had officially begun, and fans were finally starting to buy into Rick Hahn’s promise from the month prior at the GM Meetings in November.

The Play for Luis Robert

Much to the disappointment of the fanbase, the White Sox were quiet for the remainder of the winter, and entered the 2017 season where they stood after the pair of blockbuster deals in early December. Some fans even went as far as claiming that the rebuild was a sham, and that Sale and Eaton were moved because they were clubhouse agitators.

Then came the buzz surrounding the potential acquisition of Luis Robert, a 19-year old phenom Cuban prospect, perhaps the most coveted international prospect since… Yoan Moncada.

 

On May 21, 2017 the White Sox reached an agreement with the Cuban outfielder worth more than $25 million dollars, a bid that we later found out was actually less than the Cardinals offer. The deciding factor for Robert? The “unique and welcoming” pitch made by Rick Hahn and company of course. Multiple reports indicate that Robert’s decision to come to Chicago was made due in large part to a personalized pitch that included personalized video messages from Rick RenteriaJose Abreu and Yoan Moncada.

Rick Renteria, the only Spanish-speaking manager in Major League Baseball, and a pair of compatriots in Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada vouching for the organization and the future of the ball club was the deciding factor for the 19-year old phenom, Luis Robert. Not only did the White Sox go out and get their man, they got their man with the wit of GM Rick Hahn pitching a welcoming environment, comfort-ability, and a bright future that he has proudly built in just over a year.

The 2017 MLB Draft

After putting together a 2016 draft class that was highly-regard as a very successful draft class for the White Sox that included Zack Collins, Zack Burdi, Alec Hansen and other well-liked prospects such and Jameson Fisher and Alex Call, the Sox draft team had their work cut out for them in attempting to recreate last year’s success.

On night one, the White Sox selected Jake Burger and Gavin Sheets, a pair of collegiate corner infielders with large pop in their bats, ultimately laying out their goal for the 2017 draft – Advanced collegiate bats to compliment the plethora of pitching prospects within the system.

They succeeded in their plan, adding Burger and Sheets on night one and then filling out the rest of the draft with guys like Luis Gonzalez and Evan Skoug in the latter rounds. Burger, Sheets and Skoug all already reside within the top-30 prospects in the White Sox system according to MLB Pipeline.

Crosstown Blockbuster, July Additions

Hahn made his next blockbuster deal on the morning of July 13, sending starting pitcher Jose Quintana to the North Side of town in exchange for multiple prospects, a package of which is headlined by outfielder Eloy Jimenez, the eighth overall prospect in all of baseball (according to MLB Pipeline’s preseason rankings) and Dylan Cease, the Cubs’ second ranked prospect behind Jimenez.

In addition to Jimenez and Cease, the White Sox also acquired another pair of “lottery ticket” prospects in Bryant Flete and Matt Rose in the Quintana deal.

On the evening of July 19, Hahn sent a trio of White Sox players that included Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson to the Bronx in exchange for highly touted prospect, Blake Rutherford, Tyler Clippard and a duo of intriguing prospects in a seven-player deal. Hahn also announced that night that Yoan Moncada was being promoted to the major-league level, marking an exciting evening for White Sox fans, and signaling the beginning of brighter days on the southside.

Hahn and company weren’t done there though, the savvy GM was able to acquire a pair of top-30 organizational prospects in Ryan Cordell and Casey Gillaspie within the last week. In a pair of one-for-one swaps this past week, Hahn sent reliever Anthony Swarzak to Milwaukee in exchange for Ryan Cordell, and then flipped Dan Jennings for Casey GIllaspie with the Tampa Bay Rays. Both Cordell and Gillaspie are ranked inside of the club’s 20 best prospects according to MLB Pipeline.

While Cordell and Gillaspie don’t carry the same excitement as guys like Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez, make no mistake that moves like these, are the moves that are necessary to complete a successful overhaul of a farm system, some of the most under-the-radar moves that are made, turn out to be important depth additions down the line.

No Longer “Mired in Mediocrity”, the Future is Bright on the Southside

As we sit here today on July 28, 2017, 372 days after Rick Hahn’s admission of the team’s putrid state, the roster is now a shell of it’s old self, but the future has seemingly never been brighter on the Southside of Chicago.

In the last 53 weeks since Rick Hahn admitted that the franchise was stuck in a state of mediocrity, Hahn has built one of the brightest futures in baseball with the addition of a new skipper in Ricky Renteria, the addition of numerous top-100 prospects, and a plethora of talented depth pieces throughout the farm system.

While the rebuild is far from over, and the White Sox are still years removed from contention, the foundation for the future is complete, and the majority of the major additions to arguably the best farm in baseball is complete outside of future draft classes. Now comes the hardest part of the rebuild for Rick Hahn and the fans, biding time while the organization grooms their highly-coveted farm system.

Yoan Moncada is here, and Reynaldo Lopez will be here sometime in the next couple of weeks, if not sooner – but beyond Moncada and Lopez and the existing Tim Anderson and Carlos Rodon, White Sox fans will have to be patient while the organization grooms the future core of this franchise at the lower levels.

If the wild success of the first year of the rebuild is any indication of what the future holds, the wait will without a doubt be worth it in the end.

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