Without fail, any time a player with any kind of name recognition signs a minor league deal someone will overreact to it. Another phenomenon in the baseball world is that anyone who is really, really fast will get more attention than they likely merit, because people figure all it takes is a little bit more baseball skill and all of a sudden they are Rickey Henderson and Ichiro Suzuki just waiting to happen. Another type of player who gets outsized attention is the Undersized Scrapper - David Eckstein became the poster boy for these guys for a while. The White Sox just signed a guy who has all of these attributes to some extent in Tony Campana. My initial reaction was an old one - fear. And then I remembered that Rick Hahn is in charge now and my fear went away.
The White Sox signed Tony Campana to a minor league deal on Thanksgiving. Minor league deals are, generally, meaningless. For example, much fuss was made about Manny Ramirez signing a minor league deal with both Texas and the Cubs, and whatever his impact was as a mentor to some younger players, he did not wind up in the majors at any point - and Tony Campana is no Manny Ramirez.
Campana is a one tool guy. He is really, really fast and that's it (66 SBs against 9 CS). He cannot hit at all, and although his huge speed allows him to play solid defense in the corners and passably as a stopgap in center, his bat is far too anemic - a career .249/.296/.288 hitter - for any sort of meaningful role on a major league team. Coming into his age-29 season in 2015, it is probably too late for any hope that he starts developing the contact rate or patience to get the most out of that speed either. He's a pinch runner / defensive replacement, and there isn't really room for that on an AL roster outside of emergency situations.* It was also my impression that Campana was a bit of a fan favorite on the North Side because, as I said, he's really, really fast, and he checks a lot of those Hustle Guys boxes that casual fans and announcers seem to love so much, so I guess there's that.
*I realized as I was writing this, though, that even with this unusable .583 OPS, he still has Leury Garcia's .431 mark beaten by a wide margin, and Leury was on the roster for all of 2014. Maybe I'm writing off the odds of Campana getting regular play off too easily. And really, as much as I have a soft spot for Jordan Danks, he has only mustered a .629 OPS over the course of his major league career himself.
In terms of on-the-field impact, Campana will see play depending on how the rest of the White Sox offseason goes in terms of the outfield, and then add and subtract depending on injuries to the guys ahead of him, and whether prospects behind him make developments to jump ahead of him in terms of major league readiness. Interleague might be a good time to bring him up if there's room on the roster for pinch running type stuff. That should be it, though. Last season we saw that fringe outfielders like Moises Sierra, Michael Taylor, and Matt Tuiasosopo - who are probably better overall than Campana - are freely available. Campana is useful organizational depth to be sure, and as a bench player who can come in as a pinch runner he offers a more clear skill than any of the aforementioned guys, but those three are infinitely more desirable if injuries force you to start one of them for more than 5 games at a time.
The greater significance, however, was how I reacted to this move and what it meant. After years of conditioning from the tail end of the Kenny Williams / Ozzie Guillen era, I was very nervous. I thought, "Here's a guy whose only skill is speed who will get way more PAs than he deserves and kill the offense." I actually started running through the old playbook from say, 2008, where Adam Eaton would get hurt or annoy Robin Ventura and all of a sudden Tony Campana is your starting CF because there are baseball guys who just love speed and grit no matter what you have to put up with to get it. A lot of those types of baseball guys had a lot of power with the White Sox organization as recently as a couple of years ago.
Rick Hahn, I have come to believe, is not one of those guys. As time has gone on, a pattern has emerged with James, Matt, Collin, and I in which we are brainstorming/debating roster moves. Usually, the best case scenario gets floated, the worst case, what we think the White Sox will do, what each of us would do if we were in charge, etc. etc. You've seen some of this in the Roundtables. It used to be, under Kenny Williams, you could suggest nightmare scenarios that were actually quite plausible because of his particular predilections -- overpaying and overplaying guys who are Gritty or Run Fast (Juan Pierre, DeWayne Wise, etc.) or just grabbing some guy who used to kill you within the division who wasn't really any good.* Now, however, when we make the half-joking / half-scared suggestions of comical players - like, say, acquire Tony Campana to start every day in left! - one of the other staff members inevitably says, "Hahn wouldn't do that."
*Mark Teahen made sense as an acquisition. Chris Getz and Josh Fields were never going to be starting position players, but there was a non-zero chance Teahen could have been. The problem was immediately giving him a big contract extension. I don't know whom Kenny Williams thought he was bidding against, but that was one of those times where even I as an ignorant outsider was absolutely correct that the front office had blundered.
Hahn's time as a GM has still been quite short in the grand scheme of things, and we have yet to see what his final vision for this core looks like, or what his career will wind up being in the end. But he has absolutely earned the benefit of the doubt. Even the moves that he makes that surprise me, I can see the logic, which has not always been the case in the past. (Seriously - Mark Kotsay at DH over Jim Thome?!) It's pretty fantastic to be at this point with the team that you root for, and I am trying to savor it as much as possible.