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A reason to believe? White Sox haven’t shown they can stave off seller status at trade deadline

Vinnie Duber Avatar
July 4, 2023

“Seen a man standing over a dead dog lying by the highway in a ditch,

He’s looking down kinda puzzled, poking that dog with a stick,

Got his car door flung open, he’s standing out on Highway 31,

Like if he stood there long enough that dog’d get up and run”

— “Reason To Believe” by Bruce Springsteen

Rick Hahn, the GM of a team that has yet to get up and run this season, refused to publicly declare a clear direction Tuesday, the Fourth of July representing another one of those baseball benchmarks that the White Sox have reached in far-from-impressive fashion during this disappointing 2023 campaign. Before the fireworks went off, they were a dozen games below .500 and six and a half games back of first place in an awful AL Central.

They were fresh off a series loss to the A’s, who are on pace to be one of the game’s all-time woeful teams, a new low for a White Sox team that hasn’t been able to do much escape work after a terrible April put them in a deep early-season hole.

Given the duality of the White Sox’ situation — simultaneously owners of one of baseball’s worst records and yet not yet knocked out in their division — Hahn and his front office are in much the same sticky spot they were on Memorial Day and in the weeks since.

The White Sox’ record and quality of play have changed little. What has changed drastically is the calendar, and there’s less than a month between now and the trade deadline.

What will the White Sox do?

Something, it seems. But that’s as specific as Hahn got Tuesday, stating a preference to keep the team’s players shielded from any distraction that might impact any run they might have in them.

“Obviously, we’ve got big decisions to make by Aug. 1,” he said. “(White Sox players’) priority and focus is getting things right here and figuring out a way for us to win the division and then do some damage in the postseason. I, or any of us in baseball ops, isn’t going to do anything that takes focus away from that by saying, ‘This is our direction, this is what we’re doing, this is where we’re committed.’

“I’m not going to put a marker in the sand and say, ‘We need to rattle off 10 out of 14 or we’re doing this.’ But at the same time, we can see the calendar, we can see the games back, and you want to have a reason to believe that this thing’s going to get right between now and Aug. 1.”

A reason to believe.

Hahn wants one of those because the White Sox haven’t provided one yet through three months of baseball that have made the massive disappointment of 2022’s .500 finish look downright palatable. The White Sox opened their series with the Blue Jays 12 games worse than where they ended last season, not showing anything to this point that indicates they have the ability to engineer the sort of turnaround Hahn talked about.

So is that it? Did the sand run out on these White Sox a while ago? Are they destined to be deadline sellers?

Again, there’s been nothing in their play to suggest otherwise.

Hahn pointed out not long ago that there’s a difference between winning a lousy division and being capable of making a run in October against far more accomplished AL opponents. While making the playoffs in any fashion would be a worthwhile goal for a franchise that’s done so just 11 times in 122 seasons, it’s a reasonable suggestion that sacrificing the future in any way — read: buying at the deadline — would make little sense when improvements could be made that better the chances of winning a championship in 2024, 2025 or beyond.

That doesn’t mean there’s an “everything must go” sign outside Guaranteed Rate Field.

But it probably means that Hahn will be answering all calls from fellow executives in the coming weeks.

“In the end, we’re going to make a decision about what is best for the long-term health of the organization, with obviously the priority being placed on the here and now, because this is the only year we can control,” Hahn said. “Ultimately, if you’re overwhelmed by a potential return, that may tilt your balance more toward the future than the present. If you don’t play at a certain level, that may tilt your focus more toward the future than the present.

“But again, as we sit here today, the goal tonight is to beat the Blue Jays, go on a run and continue to give the guys in there who are fighting for this season a reason to believe it’s going to work.”

The idea that Hahn and his front office haven’t made a decision on a direction for the franchise is kind of ludicrous, really, considering that’s their job, and certainly the GM did nothing to indicate that everyone’s just been twiddling their thumbs for weeks, refusing to do any planning until that winning streak — that reason to believe — comes along.

But any plan is not for public consumption, again in line with Hahn’s past commentary, such as his repeated line that the White Sox do their best work in secret, away from the prying eyes of national reporters and Twitter commentators. While the plans remain under lock and key, then, we can only speculate at the exact direction the team might take.

But what’s certain is the three months of White Sox baseball we’ve seen to this point, and for the most part, it’s been ugly. Were May and June better than April, as Hahn keeps pointing to? Sure. But the GM has simultaneously acknowledged they weren’t so much better that the White Sox are anywhere but where the standings say they are.

And so it looks more and more like we’re just running out the clock, then, to the day the White Sox can officially be declared sellers, a declaration which likely won’t come from a team employee before a move is actually made, until someone is actually traded away.

Until then, the public hope is for a reason to believe, even if the calendar, the standings and the three months of losing give every reason not to.

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