Rick Hahn’s offseason moves have been met with praise and optimism at every turn by White Sox players and coaches this week at SoxFest.
Play-by-play man Ken ‘Hawk’ Harrelson described the series of signings and trades made by Hahn as bold. Manager Robin Ventura told fans in a town-hall forum he has a crowded roster while second baseman Gordon Beckham wondered aloud how far the club might be from contention. Team captain Paul Konerko and pitching coach Don Cooper were more focused on what kind of impact a group of young players, namely Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson and Jose Abreu, can have on the franchise.
And while some of the frustration and sting from last season’s march to 99 losses still lingers, the White Sox seem hopeful that Hahn’s reconstruction of the roster has the club pointed in a good direction.
“I don't think it could have been better, I really don't,” Konerko said. “With the short amount of time you have to make moves and where the personnel was at, what we gave up and what we get as far as far as position players, I think that would have been really hard to do. … But that’s what we needed. We needed some guys who could be impact position players.”
When they head to Glendale, Ariz. next month the White Sox expect to have much more competition on their hands. Whereas last season the roster was almost complete when the White Sox acquired Conor Gillaspie from the San Francisco Giants, this spring camp is wide open.
Some rookies might have a hard time displacing veterans with contracts on the Opening Day roster. But those prospects are expected to be there every step of the way to push the veterans and offer a capable replacement.
Cooper said he loves the potential he sees in Abreu, who signed a six-year, $68-million deal in October, and Avisail Garcia, who was acquired from the Detroit Tigers on July 30 in a three-team trade. Konerko has waxed poetic on what Eaton can bring to the club.
Compared with a year ago, the White Sox are teeming with youth.
Viciedo, Beckham, Abreu, Eaton and Garcia are all 27 or younger. If he lands the catching job, so is Phegley. Two of the team’s three options at third base -- Gillaspie and Davidson -- also fit that bill.
“We’re younger, we’re faster, we’re looking better for the future right now,” Cooper said. “And now we will get a chance to see all these guys play.”
Just four months ago the White Sox wrapped up the fourth-worst season in franchise history. While they saw the potential of rookies like Erik Johnson, Marcus Semien and Avisail and Leury Garcia in September, the constant drain of losing left veteran players tired.
That he’s hopeful now, roughly 120 days after they concluded a 63-99 season, isn’t lost on Beckham.
“You know Rick was going to make some moves but you didn’t know how they would affect the team,” Beckham said. “He has done a great job of reshaping the team. It’s tough to see the guys go that we have lost, but I do believe it is for the better of this team and this franchise. I love them.”
Harrelson does too.
He had trouble holding back his disdain in the booth for an offense that couldn’t hit, a defense that couldn’t catch and a group that made too mistakes on the bases in 2013. Hawk is clearly optimistic about what he’ll see in 2014. He also knows the reality a young roster brings --- as does management --- and expects the team will experience growing pain or two.
But as long as the club is headed in the right direction, that’s all that matters.
“I’m not going to make any predictions this year,” Harrelson said. “Last year I said ‘We’re going to have a lot of fun in 2013.’ … I’m just hoping this can be the first step towards getting this ballclub in a position to being a contender for ’15, ’16, ’17 and ’18.”