Rick Hahn is an ever-present character in all White Sox dealings. He's looming not far from the foreground in every offseason story; it feels unnecessary to dedicate our entire focus to him above the actual players coming in. To do so, would be a furthering of the ever-present cult of the executive, where our fascination and praise has diverted from world-class athletes and their craft. Instead of admiring the works of art, or even the artists, we ogle the work of the curator and then take some bizarre fascination in the operating budget they had to secure the priceless. No thoughts of watching Melky Cabrera popping singles all over the yard, just contemplation of 2 WAR for three years for $42 million. Is it worth the investment for a famous tycoon?
Judging the state of the organization at the end of the year, however, is inevitably a look from 30,000 feet, which is going to focus on Hahn, and unless we are out to be very contrarian, that' a positive look. Those 'Offseason Champs' banners may not be redeemable for cash value but they're at least worth December praise.
53 weeks ago, tasked with a similar feat of putting the White Sox direction into perspective, our beloved Collin Whitchurch praised Hahn for a perceived change in direction from the shortsighted--intentionally so, but still--nature of the final years of the Kenny Williams regime. Hahn's big acquisitions were all pre-arb players with players with upside--Adam Eaton, Jose Abreu, Matt Davidson, Avisail Garcia--adhering both to the White Sox impatience and distrust of lower minors prospects, and the need to build to the long-term.
It was well done, but I don't know how much it revealed about Hahn's true nature. It showed his skills, but not necessarily his leanings. He decided to build a new house, but the old one had burnt down. Not even Kenny was about to say "Get a tuckpointing crew out here and a new paint job and we can flip this baby for $300K."
Now, a year later, the Sox are so leaning win-now they might as well sell out for it even further. Abreu was a long-term acquisition, but wound up even further pushing the notion that the time was now. Adam LaRoche was a short-term move, Zach Duke, David Robertson and Dan Jennings are relievers, and thus short-term moves, Jeff Samardzija could be a long-term fixture, but at present is a 30-year-old pitcher on an expiring deal. Melky Cabrera is a free agent over 30, and thus the biggest source of return on the investment for him is expected to come in the first year.
The Sox still favor flash turnarounds, are not a 'trust the process' organization, and while we don't need to throw a parade for their generosity, will not operate as a bottom-ten payroll on the regular.
This is not to say no care was made at all for the future. Hahn largely carved out large swaths of the payroll and then replaced them. At a time when free agency is more barren than ever and prospects are gold, he made this dramatic reshaping without trading anyone vaunted from his farm system beyond Marcus Semien. The 2015 draft is dramatically hampered, but the work to build a half-decent farm system is still in place. There seems to be some basic interest in not salting the earth while harvesting the crop, which is an obvious lesson learned credited to Hahn by default.
At the risk of again of being insulting to an undeserving target, Hahn's reputation reminds of the earlier days of Alex Anthopoulos, or Jeff Luhnow before indications that he was tone-deaf in terms of employee relations emerged. Stuck in a garbage situation where it was immediately ruled out that he could win, Hahn has stockpiled moves that have deemed savvy, the product of right-thinking, or at least in the case of Robertson, sorely needed. I will not pretend for a moment this is easy to do, but the 'Offseason Champs' banner is an abstract one, not a real one, and doesn't have to put to any test beyond not looking ridiculous to us. Now, the Sox are clearly setting themselves to be judged by a harder standard: they have to win.
It's much more fun to say "scoreboard" than make any kind of complex argument of your team's viability, but win-now demands bring a degree of scrutiny that good process doesn't always survive. I'm not sure how much more we've learned about Hahn's true leanings, but now, once more, we only need to see his skill.