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Buyers or sellers at trade deadline? Rick Hahn says Memorial Day too early for White Sox to tell

Vinnie Duber Avatar
May 30, 2023

A third of the way through a six-month marathon, the White Sox are the owners of one of the three worst records in Major League Baseball, 11 games south of .500 at 22-33 when they woke up on Memorial Day.

Were they a National League team, they’d be the worst National League team. In some small consolation, they are not, merely the third-worst team in the American League thanks to the shocking futility of the A’s, as well as the rival Royals, who have made it so the White Sox are not even the worst team in their own division.

But despite a putrid first couple months — the most offensive odor coming before the calendar even flipped to May — the White Sox haven’t yet figured out the part they’ll play at the trade deadline.

The question of buyer or seller might seem well answered to many fans and onlookers, chiefly because of the truths stated above. Through two months, the White Sox have shown little to convince anyone that their campaign is capable of stretching past the end of the regular season, and losing on such an unanticipated scale — a .500 finish last year seemed to be the farthest they could possibly fall; they’re 11 games worse than that — has convinced plenty that a significant change in direction could come for a franchise that was supposed to, by now, reaping the fruits of a years-long rebuilding effort.

But whether any change in course begins this summer is, apparently, still to be determined. Because, hey, the division title is still in sight.

“Ultimately, you have to make the decisions (based on the idea that) you are what your record says you are and you need to prepare the organization for the future the best way you can,” Rick Hahn said Monday. “That doesn’t have to be on Memorial Day, so we still have a little time to get this team playing up to the expectation levels of all of us in the front office and clubhouse.

“If that doesn’t happen, it’s the responsibility of all of us in the front office to realize where objectively we’re at and what’s best for the club going forward. We’re not at that date yet. But we know it’s a possibility.”

Working in favor of the idea that these White Sox aren’t dead yet is the fact that they, uh, aren’t.

Ridiculous as it might be — in a world where nine of the 10 AL teams outside the Central are playing above .500, perhaps “unjust” is an even better word — the White Sox are objectively in the absolute thick of their division race. Their four division-mates have been approximately as hapless as them through two months, the first-place Twins barely avoiding a drop to .500 Monday. Even with that win, though, the Twins’ record allowed the White Sox to start their series with the Angels just six and a half games out of first.

It’s a strange set of circumstances, then, for Hahn and his front office to stare at a team that simultaneously has one of baseball’s worst records and, perhaps, one of the better opportunities to chase down a division crown.

And so the traditional decision-making point of Memorial Day finds the White Sox unable to make up their minds quite yet, chiefly because their gap in the standings could be minimal by week’s end.

Hahn, who like most others in this game likes to evaluate his team’s chances based on his team’s own play and not the play of rivals, pointed to a much simpler explanation for what’s making this decision-making process so tough for him and the rest of the front office: The White Sox haven’t played well this season.

“The fact that we haven’t played the way we feel we’re capable of on a consistent basis is probably the biggest challenge (to making a decision),” Hahn said. “The first marking post is Memorial Day, and we’re probably going to have a similar conversation around the Fourth of July about where things sit and where things go.

“We know this team is capable of performing at a level we saw glimpses of over the last four weeks. But not enough consistency.”

Surely, some of you are wondering why we’re entertaining the notion that the White Sox could bulk up rather than strip down in late July.

After all, look at that win-loss record. Look at the inconsistencies all over the field. Look at a team going public about trading defense for offense by once more playing guys at unfamiliar positions. Look at key players still inhabiting the injured list. Look at a pitching staff still searching for something more than a few good stretches.

Yes, in a vacuum, the White Sox scream sellers. Patience is hardly ample throughout the fan base — or any fan base, really — and the social-media decrees that every player on the roster is a bust are far from accurate, but certainly the front office can look to even just next season and see opportunities to bolster either their 2024 chances or their farm system by dealing pending free agents such as Lucas Giolito or Lance Lynn, on whom the White Sox have a club option.

And maybe that’s what happens. Maybe something bigger happens, too, with other players who aren’t at the end of their contracts, as the White Sox recalibrate completely. Hahn acknowledged that it’s all possible, from the White Sox being out of the race to judgments being required for core players.

“What we want, obviously, is for the consistency to arrive and us to be in contention and win this division come the end of the year. There will come a point where that becomes apparent, where it’s not very likely to happen. At that point, we’ll have to make that final decision about direction,” Hahn said. “It’s not a decision we have to make on Memorial Day.

“Somehow, despite trading for a guy, signing a guy, drafting a guy, whatever, you have to be able to maintain that objectivity to see whether it might not be working with this current group and what do you need to change to get it better. We are not at that point yet.

“We still believe in this group. We’ve seen spurts of it, not enough of it. We still fully feel this team is capable of taking that first step, which is winning the division.

“Sitting here (on) Memorial Day, the first two months have not been up to the level that we wanted it to be. We get that. It’s not acceptable. Could that one day lead to changes over the course of the season? Absolutely. But for now, this is a group that is now hopefully coming together as a full unit, and we’ll see how it performs over the next several weeks before we have to make that decision.”

Whether on Memorial Day or not, the White Sox will have to determine their course of action for the upcoming months. But this is no ordinary season, not an ordinary first couple months, anyway, and the AL Central crown is, shockingly, well within reach.

Whether it’s that reality of unconventional contention or the White Sox simply hoping that a turnaround is still lurking, a decision on buying or selling, a decision on some core players, a decision on the entire direction of this franchise, will have to wait.

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