Rick Hahn and the Magical "Rebuild"

This morning, 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine published an article with quotes from Rick Hahn claiming that the White Sox will treat this offseason as a rebuilding effort. Despite not having an above-league median payroll since 2012, Levine claims the following:

"It appears the Sox will be spending less on payroll in this coming season, while building up their youthful cache of younger players."

Basically, the White Sox are going to act like a small market team. As guest writer Mike Musary pointed out here today, the notion that the White Sox should need to operate on small-market payrolls is bogus. Revenue around baseball is monstrous, and while I don’t have access to Jerry Reinsdorf’s books, low attendance and TV viewership does not absolve the team of spending.

Now, it's very possible that Hahn's quotes were a deflection, or not meant to be as strongly suggesting a rebuild as Levine does. After a 2015 "contender" failed to plug major holes while refusing to go over league median salary, I have every reason to believe the White Sox would again refuse to extend payroll and instead "rebuild". Hearing that r-word explicitly being used to describe this offseason has me very down on this team, for at least the following reasons: 

2015 was even more of a waste year than we thought

As we all know, the 2015 White Sox season was one of abject misery. They couldn’t hit, couldn’t field, saw universal underperformance from offseason acquisitions, and got no closer to winning a World Series in the future. If one bad year (and notably, a year that was not all that far below median expectations by projection systems) was going to convince this org to go rebuild, why even go for it in the first place? And if 2015 was a one-shot go for it year, why was it such a half-measure? The Sox went into the year with black holes at multiple positions, and unsurprisingly were sunk when they got no production out of them. It was a half-step towards contention, and now the plan seems to be to take that half step backwards and be back at the starting point.

Why even keep the core?

The White Sox undeniably have a strong core. Between Chris Sale, Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon they have a young and cheap group of players that provide a massive amount of production. But generally the nice thing about having a core like that is they help you win. If the plan is to rebuild for down the road, what’s even the point of keeping those stud players as they age and get more expensive? To win 75 games a year?

I’d never advocate blowing up a team as the primary option-especially on a team with a strong core like this. But wasting the primes of these star-level talents just seems pointless. If you’re not going to actually try to win when you have game changing talent like Chris Sale, you might as well get game-changing talent back that can contribute when you’re actually trying to win.

Where is the light at the end of the tunnel?

In Levine’s article, Hahn claims he wants to reduce the time it normally takes to rebuild a team:

“Our efforts are to minimize that period of time (to get to a championship level),” Hahn said. “When you are starting with a 99-loss team (the White Sox were 63-99 in 2013), it will not happen overnight. It is a process, one that I assure you Jerry, Kenny (Williams) and myself want to minimize the length of time it takes. Historically, it has taken some time.”

This all sounds nice, and obviously I’d love if the White Sox were able to have a farm system of ready-to-contribute talent to supplement a Major League core like the Pirates and other such teams. But the White Sox can’t do that now. They’re nowhere close to being able to do that. While the farm system has certainly improved in Hahn’s tenure, they’re still paper thin behind the top talent, especially on the positional end. If the goal is to have a top tier farm system (and trading away the core is off the table) we’re talking about something like a half-decade of incremental improvements via the draft and international free agency. By that time, Sale, Eaton, Abreu, and Quintana will all be in their 30s and either at or approaching free agency. The core’s talent will have used up, and judging by how this team is going, very possibly wasted without a playoff appearance. 

Ethan Spalding is a junior studying statistics and math at UW Madison. Follow him on twitter @SpaldingBalls