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Rick Hahn started his media session before Tuesday’s home opener referencing a “nonsense” trade rumor.
Indeed, late-night Twitter chatter seemed to pique the curiosity of reporters as much as it did White Sox fans late Monday night, the general manager humorously bemoaning the texts that followed. But in joking around Tuesday afternoon, Hahn seemed to bat away – without mentioning any specific names, of course – the idea that Frankie Montas will be imminently riding in to rescue an injury-plagued South Side starting rotation.
Until there’s a day where someone’s coming off the injured list instead of going on it – the White Sox officially sent Lucas Giolito and AJ Pollock there Tuesday, making it a baseball-appropriate nine guys on the shelf – there will be no more dominating topic of conversation than how the team will keep its World Series hopes afloat amid an outrageous number of health-related defections.
You know, kind of like last year.
This time, down their top two starting pitchers, their starting third baseman, their starting right fielder and three of their bullpen arms, the White Sox are confident their depth can allow them to weather the storm. Fans, often far less trusting of pitchers up from the minor leagues like Jimmy Lambert and Anderson Severino (promoted Tuesday), and often looking for the quickest possible fix, however unrealistic, often offer up this suggestion: Go get a guy.
And so the discussion of Montas, the last remaining item available from the A’s spring fire sale, a former White Sox hurler who ascended to the class of Cy Young candidates last year, finishing sixth in that vote.
But if what USA Today’s Bob Nightengale has written over the last few days is any indication, the A’s aren’t willing to part with Montas, who has a couple seasons of club control left, without getting something big in return. Nightengale wrote they wanted Andrew Vaughn in previous conversations with the White Sox, adding, unsurprisingly, that the White Sox have no intention of trading away Vaughn – who just so happened to spend the season’s opening weekend showing exactly why that’s the case.
It should come as no shock that the A’s, or any other team considering a deal with the White Sox, would start their wish list with Vaughn. It doesn’t require a long memory to recall how the White Sox built themselves into a championship contender in the first place, making a trio of trades that kickstarted their rebuilding effort by importing Giolito, Yoán Moncda, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo López, Eloy Jiménez and Dylan Cease into their organization. A rebuilding team with a piece that could attract a contender should be expecting a haul that boosts their long-term future.
That’s exactly what Hahn did, and look where the White Sox are now.
As attractive as it might be to keep making big moves that jack up the chances of winning a World Series in 2022, though, Hahn’s always been about the rebuild leading to perennial championship contention, and he’s repeatedly said it’s not about contending in one year but in many.
He’s not about to throw all that rebuilding work away.
“This was the purpose,” Hahn said. “We got a lot of praise when we did the Red Sox and Nationals and Cubs deals back then as part of the rebuild. As we said at the time, our goal was to be like the Red Sox, Cubs and Nationals and be in a realistic position where adding made sense because we had realistic championship aspirations.
“Ultimately, all 30 of us probably are guilty of loving our own players too much. You have to part with guys that you really believe in when you are trying to feed championship aspiration.
“The goal is trying to balance achieving what you are trying to achieve in the current season without compromising future competitiveness too much. Part of the reason I joke about the rumors from last night, we are not looking to rob Peter to pay Paul to make this team better. Guys we view as important in helping this team win wouldn’t be the first ones out the door as we try to make this team better.”
As dire as the injury-induced straits seem at the moment – and well aware that the games count the same in April as they do in September – Hahn sees the first few weeks, the first couple months, even, of the season as a feeling-out process, a time to figure out where his roster’s at, even amid all these injuries.
That might be a maddening approach for fans who hope to never see a stinker of a start or a hole in the lineup. But it’s the way of the baseball world, with the trade deadline at the close of July the typical time when front offices remake their clubs for the stretch run and the postseason.
Much like last year, for better or worse, the White Sox can count some of their own players as midseason additions, guys scheduled to come back from the injuries that have caused such steep challenges here in the early going.
“If there’s the opportunity to improve any element of the club, we’re certainly going to look into it,” Hahn said. “The first couple weeks of the season tends not to be a very vibrant or robust time for trades or transactions. So naturally, I think the course of the baseball calendar has us in a period of time of evaluating where we’re at and seeing what we have.
“With the exception of Garrett (Crochet)’s injury, we expect all these guys back at some point in the coming weeks, or in Lance (Lynn)’s case, sometime in early June. So there is a period of time, not just now but prior to the trade deadline, where hopefully we’re far closer to full strength and can assess truly what this team has and what we’re capable of doing, and obviously then turn to addressing our needs.”
There’s also the notion of “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” Even in a week of games against some of the AL’s other top teams, the Mariners and Rays, there’s no urgency to push the panic button on the South Side.
“Look, if you’re saying how we do in a four-game set in May against the Yankees is a measuring stick,” Hahn said, “it’s fun for fans to look at it, and when you get the playoff-like environment, you feel that added energy. But in the end, this is a six-month marathon.
“And at any given snapshot, whether it’s the home opener or mid May or early June, you’re probably dealing with some things that you won’t be dealing with come October. Sure, maybe it’s nice to get a little snapshot for where you sit at a given point in the season, but in the end, where you end up is all that really matters.”
The White Sox expect to be in a much different place than they’re in right now, chiefly because of a hoped return to full strength.
But as fans saw just last summer, a move that leans too far in the direction of “win now” can have disappointing consequences on the years that follow. Without the trade that sent Nick Madrigal to the North Side, the White Sox wouldn’t have spent the offseason trying to plug a hole at second base.
That’s not to second-guess that move, but to point out that dealing away Vaughn could have the White Sox scrambling for much more, like a prolific, productive middle-of-the-order bat. And there’s more beyond Vaughn, whether it’s Gavin Sheets or Kopech or Crochet, who are or could be big parts of the White Sox’ plans moving forward.
It’s a balancing act, as Hahn said, and it’s one that’s best approached with as much level-headedness as possible – even if the calls to “go get a guy” keep raging.
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