Forget the blockbusters: The White Sox have been terrible at trading for a decade
There are a lot of problems with the White Sox. The way this season has gone, I’ve spent a lot of Fridays writing about these issues.
This Friday is about one simple thing: a CEO who has spent a decade unable to make good deals.
Even as the blockbusters that kickstarted the “bogged down in mediocrity” rebuild increasingly fade in the rearview mirror, you gotta give Rick Hahn a little little credit. Extracting nearly 40 WAR from just three player trades is no easy task, even if the players being shipped were a future Hall of Famer and two All-Stars in their prime and on very under-traded contracts. Messing up this kind of trades is far from uncommon – the Phillies have yet to recover from the failed deal with Cole Hamels that kickstarted their rebuild; finally the Orioles received bupkus for their future Hall-of-Fame franchise shortstop; even with Sandy Alcántara emerging as a true ace, it’s hard to say anything positive about the return of Miami’s decision to trade Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich within weeks of each other.
However, that’s probably all the credit you can give Hahn for his management of the White Sox trading machine which he took over in the fall of 2013.
Selling high might be easier said than done, but a sports executive’s skill set isn’t usually defined by what they do when they have all the leverage in the world. The best sports leaders and organizations don’t just find stars by trading them for other stars. They find a star where no one else sees a star; they find starters and role players where others don’t even see a great player. Championships are not won simply by exchanging present value for future value. Value must be created from scratch to place a team above.
To say that Hahn failed in this aspect of team building is an understatement.
This October will mark Hahn’s 10th anniversary as White Sox general manager, the league’s third-longest tenure. During those 10 years, Hahn made three trades that earned the Sox at least 10 WARS. That number will jump to four and possibly five by the time Eloy Jiménez, Dylan Cease and Lance Lynn have played their final matches for the Pale Hose; Still, an average of about one impact trade every 36 months isn’t much of a record in an industry that values ”what have you done for me lately?” on everything else.
Take Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana out of the equation, and the trade record reflects a team that’s just not good at evaluating talent in the league. This kind of cherry picking usually seems dishonest, but we’re talking about building a championship contender – not tearing down a failed race. It is reasonable to delete these extraordinary circumstances as not being particularly relevant to the work as a whole.
This larger body of work has been, to put it mildly, rocky. Remove Hahn’s three rebuilding trades, and he did exactly a trade that brought his team over 7 WARS, when he acquired eaton in exchange for Héctor Santiago almost 10 years ago. The next best deal after that? The 6.4 WAR Avisaíl García brought to the table after being acquired for Jake Peavy once it was clear the 2013 team was destined for a Top 5 finish rather than another September playoff hunt.
The only other 5-WAR deals performed by Hahn during this time? Obtain Lynne from Texas, and adding Todd Frazier from the Reds ahead of the fateful 2016 campaign. Naturally, any rewards reaped by Frazier himself (Eaton antagonism included) are mitigated by the fact that Frankie Montas (7.3 WAR and counted since 2019) went the other way in this trade, and Ian Clarkin, Tito Polo, Blake Rutherford (a sum of 0.0 WAR and counted since 2019) finally returned for Frazier. And while Dunning-for-Lynn is a move that’s certainly a winner in a vacuum, trading Dunning’s early years for Lynn’s twilight risks turning into a net negative if the White Sox don’t even reach the playoffs until until Lynn is 36 and three years away from breaking the 160 innings mark as he enters 2023.
Remember, these are the success stories. In the decade since Hahn took over the day-to-day duties of general manager from Ken Williams (and I take Hahn’s role as general manager at face value; trying to divide the blame in the brain of the team is not the goal here ), the team has achieved almost no victory on the sidelines of the commercial market. Where most competing teams find diamonds in the rough at least once in a while, the White Sox are completely empty.
Hahn made eight (just eight!) trades that netted over 2.5 WAR in cumulative value, and with the exception of the initial deal with Eaton (which happened, ironically, because Arizona preferred to hand his starting role in the CF to a young AJ Pollock) each of them was the result of trades or All-Star caliber talent. Tommy Kahnle (1.6 WAR) and Conor Gillaspie (2.4 WAR) are the only acquisitions to have even a minor impact on the White Sox who weren’t top prospects or big leaguers at the time. ‘a deal. You can’t just snap your fingers and move on Josh Fields (not that one) – for trade Yordan Alvarezbut not making even a single “hey, that was sneakily good” in the trade market in a full decade as captain of the ship is unacceptable.
Take out the three team-defining trades in 2016 and 2017, and it’s hard to say which aspects of the rebuild were successful. There’s a whole other article to be written about the team’s draft and free agent strategies in those years, but three years of signing veterans to fill out the roster before trading them for mid-tier prospects. during the season produced virtually nothing of value.
Let’s review the mid-season trades executed between the Quintana deal and the start of 2020:
It’s not like anyone in the “Dealt” column is a trade deadline price (except maybe the first group, for the Yankees), but attempting to value solid but unspectacular major league players at 0 for 10 is probably much more indicative of a general manager’s and organization’s methods and evaluation than striking gold with, for the hundredth time, a Hall of Fame pitcher and two All-Stars in their prime and on significantly under-marketed contracts.
When it comes to trades, Hahn just doesn’t seem to be good at allocating resources when he doesn’t have 5-WAR players to trade with. Part of the reason the Sox don’t have the sustainable talent pool that was supposed to anticipate struggles like the ones they’re facing now is that they refuse to consistently invest in international talent. After exhausting their bonus pool to sign Luis Robert in 2017, they essentially gambled on international spending the following season, trading bonus allocations three times that year, receiving Ricardo Pinto, Thyago Vieira and ryan burer. Maybe Burr will end up playing a critical backup role in a resurgent White Sox team in the second half of 2022, but unless that happens, these trades will all remain even more misallocations of resources that could otherwise help them. right now.
There are many different reasons why the White Sox are where they are right now, three games under .500 and fresh out of Canada. There are a lot of complaints to be made. A common element in much of this, however, is a simple failure on Hahn’s part to execute what he set out to do in the winter of 2016. He’s not going anywhere – job security is the compromise to work in the marginal reality of Jerry Reinsdorf. – financial restrictions based on financial restrictions – so the least we can receive is an acknowledgment of some of these failures, and what could be done to remedy this continuing season-long disaster.
None of this even explains César Hernández and Craig Kimbrel’s replacement terms for the Sox in 2021! God knows we’ve had enough scary articles about this. In a normal organization, a manager and braintrust with the 2013-present White Sox record would not even have reached 2022. Despite Hahn’s reputation, the team’s business record during his tenure as GM has been a absolute disaster on the outside. a single six-month period in 2016-2017. There is still time to turn around, but this time is as short as possible for a permanent employee of Reinsdorf.
At some point, a decade of failure must come with accountability. After seeing what it took to end GarPax’s reign for a franchise exponentially more valuable than the White Sox, things have to work out seriously messed up on the south side before accountability took the form of real organizational change. Who knows if the White Sox are close to that tipping point, but one thing is clear either way: After 10 years of failed deals, fans deserve real answers and a firm end to sneakiness, condescension and bullying. appeals to the blind. the faith we’ve been flooded with for over five seasons now.