It wasn’t a forceful declaration, and to be fair, Rick Hahn wasn’t interested in making waves by promising a competitive White Sox team in 2024.
After all, this is the guy who built what he thought was going to be an annual World Series contender. It hasn’t worked out that way. Consider it a lesson learned, and despite the name of the stadium, guarantees aren’t likely to be in ample supply on the South Side.
But after six deals before Tuesday night’s trade deadline, the White Sox can say, at the very least, that they seem capable of going toe to toe with their division rivals in 2024.
“We still have many impactful talents in Chicago. We still play in a division in which nobody has run away and hid in. Certainly, competing for the postseason is viable in 2024,” Hahn said. “In all candor, sitting here 55 minutes after the trade deadline just ended, proclaiming ‘this is how we’re going to get there in ‘24’ isn’t exactly our mission.
“Based upon what we were able to do in this year’s draft and what we’ve been able to do at the deadline, the organization is much, much stronger for ‘24 and beyond. Precisely what that looks like in terms of the big league level in ‘24, let’s get to the end of the season and assess everything.
“As always, you’ll hear directly about what the plan is for the people in charge.”
Feel free to chuckle, roll your eyes or blink in disbelief. The White Sox have provided little reason to imagine that things will suddenly get better in 2024 after the all-out disaster that has been 2023. Last year’s 81-81 finish was described by Hahn as the most disappointing season of his career and those of plenty of others in the team’s brain trust. If that’s the case, what do they think about a team currently 21 games below .500?
This is the roster Hahn spent years carefully rebuilding, and White Sox fans don’t have to be reminded of the supposed glory days that awaited while the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons were spent killing time. Those glory days haven’t come.
But considering that the White Sox have bought and paid for much of a core group that seems difficult to break up, trying to compete next year was the most logical outcome. And despite a day’s worth of tweets from national reporters about Dylan Cease, none of the half dozen trades Hahn pulled off in the last week did anything to stop that from happening.
Of course, even if the 2024 roster ends up stacked with familiar faces, running it back entirely won’t be an option, not after the work of this week, which unloaded six pitchers from the staff. If Mike Clevinger’s option is not picked up for next year, Hahn will need to find 60 percent of a starting rotation. The bullpen is four arms lighter than it was at this time a week ago, many of the departures of the late-inning variety. And as much as Jake Burger might have been a square peg in a round hole at second base, keeping him there to add more power to the lineup isn’t possible after he was shipped to the Marlins.
And that’s before getting to any other departures, something Hahn hinted was considered leading up to the deadline and could be coming this offseason.
“You don’t shake something up just to shake it up,” he said. “That said, what we put out there hasn’t worked the last couple of years now, or hasn’t worked since at least ‘21. So there is absolutely consideration and dialogue and various permutations that we’ve played with to have a different look going forward.
“What exactly that’s going to be come the ‘24 season? There’s a lot of time between now and then to put that all in place. But just as it would be foolish for us to enter the trade-deadline period and not talk about the entire roster and understand the value of our entire club, it’d be foolish for us to essentially say, ‘Nah, it’s going to work better next time with this same group.’”
And so the big changes to the roster that plenty of fans were begging for after a disappointing 2022 season seem far more likely after a far more disappointing 2023 campaign.
The new faces are almost entirely of the minor league variety, and it remains to be seen how many of them can contribute as soon as next year. Only catcher Korey Lee, acquired from the Astros, has been scheduled for big league time this season. But highly rated catching prospect Edgar Quero is only 20 years old. A host of arms — Nick Nastrini, Ky Bush and Jake Eder — are only in Double-A.
Expecting the newly acquired guys to be part of that change for next season is perhaps a bit rash.
While the White Sox could break up the core this winter, good luck finding out how. Selling high on Burger made sense. But given the injuries, underperformance and injury-induced underperformance with plenty of other players, selling high isn’t possible. Think anyone’s jonesing to take on Yoán Moncada for $24 million? Think the White Sox have any interest in letting Eloy Jiménez’s 40-homer potential go for next to nothing?
Tim Anderson is looking more like himself lately, providing hope that he could be an All-Star shortstop again in 2024, dramatically improving the White Sox’ chances of fielding that competitive team. That would be the blueprint to follow for Moncada, Jiménez, Andrew Vaughn and others: get healthy and get hitting.
But if fans have skepticism that could happen, well that makes sense. For three years, a lack of health has been a crippling issue. For two straight years, there’s been little production, too.
Hahn knows, in case you were wondering.
“Most of the fan interaction that I’ve had in recent months … you can feel the frustration, you can feel the disappointment,” he said. “It’s sort of been my experience that we need to win ballgames. I can potentially articulate a marvelous plan, whether it’s in one of those conversations or when I’m in the stands or on the streets or talking to reporters. At the end of the day, the words only mean so much.
“We need to win more ballgames. And until we start doing that, I understand fans being skeptical about our direction and ability to do that.”
Skeptical, of course, is putting it mildly for some of the more frustrated in the fan base. And if my Twitter mentions are any indication, it really doesn’t matter what Hahn says — even if he does shed some much needed light on the franchise’s direction — it matters that he’s the one saying it. His inability to turn rebuild into reward to this point has plenty waiting for only two words: “I quit.”
Those two words didn’t come Tuesday, and they might never. Regime change isn’t a common occurrence at 35th and Shields.
But as Hahn has acknowledged in the past, he works in an industry where the expectation is pretty clear: win. And he knows what happens, in the industry at large, when that expectation isn’t met.
He sat in front of the media and took ownership for the disappointment early in the season, and despite hoping for a turnaround, the White Sox have only plunged deeper, to shocking depths considering what was expected of this team at the beginning of the season. That’s how they ended up here, selling off six pitchers and a starting position player while watching other teams bulk up for a postseason push.
“We traded I don’t know how many guys off the big league roster. Things have changed fairly significantly with regards to player personnel, unfortunately, because things didn’t turn out the way we wanted” Hahn said, asked what’s changed for the White Sox since his “put it on me” comments. “In terms of other significant organizational changes, those tend not to happen in season.
“So we’ll see what the future holds.”
The future, even a future as close as 2024, is all the White Sox have at this point.