I'm always somewhat wary about writing a feature called "GM For a Day," because of the implication that I -- or whoever is writing it -- could leap fully formed into the role of a major league general manager and excel where others have failed, if only given a chance and because of the further implication I could get it all done in, well, a day. Sports executives have some of the most difficult jobs in the country from a public perception perspective, and Rick Hahn of the Chicago White Sox is no different. His task is to get the White Sox out of the basement they've found themselves in following this year's 63-win season, which comes on the heels of five consecutive seasons swinging between win totals in the high 70s and the high 80s -- with only one playoff berth (an LDS loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008) to show for it. This is one perspective on how he might do just that.
The first thing necessary is an honest accounting of the organization's strengths and weaknesses. Chicago has one of the worst farm systems in baseball. They have no standout prospect at the top (we'll get to Jose Abreu in a moment), with their current top prospect defaulting to their selection in the June draft, SS Tim Anderson, and their top prospect coming into the year, OF Courtney Hawkins, having an absolute disaster of a 2013 at High A -- he hit under .200 with 160 strikeouts to 29 walks after a very promising pro debut in 2012. The only real standout graduates of the White Sox domestic operation recently are pitchers (technically) Chris Sale, whose contract brought him to the majors within two months of him being drafted, John Danks, who has fallen off fairly severely over the past few seasons, and Addison Reed, who has flashy strikeout numbers but still allows too many runs for a major league closer. Other than that, it's a system that's produced Gordon Beckham, Josh Phegley and not much else. Beckham and Phegley were the only two homegrown position-player draftees to get significant playing time from the White Sox last year.
The White Sox have done a bit better in international free agency, especially where Cuban players are concerned: Starting shortstop Alexei Ramirez and outfielder Dayan Viciedo were both signed out of Cuba by Kenny Williams' front office. The White Sox are hoping Abreu will continue the trend. Abreu is 27 already, so he should be more or less a finished product -- even if he does start the year in the minors, he should be on a fast track to the major leagues. Before signing in Chicago, he had a reputation for being the most dominant hitter on the planet not currently playing American baseball; signing him is the move of a team that expects to be winning games again in very short order. Combine that with a team that has a protected 2014 first-round draft pick, has shown little success outside of the first round of the amateur draft and a whole lot of room opening up in their payroll following the trade of Alex Rios and the departures of Paul Konerko, Jesse Crain and others, and suddenly it seems pretty obvious what the team should do: Start signing players with draft pick compensation attached to them.
Robinson Cano is likely to be too rich for the White Sox blood even with around $35 million AAV or so of contract space available after likely arbitration raises and counting Abreu's $10 million bonus for next season; following the acquisition of Avisail Garcia from the Detroit Tigers at the end of last season, the big holes that need filling on the White Sox are catcher, third base, center field and right field, along with one or two more starting pitchers and a couple more bullpen arms. That means the White Sox should be early, aggressive courters of Jhonny Peralta to play the hot corner and Curtis Granderson to player center -- and at least on the Granderson front, there have been rumors for about a month the actual White Sox front office is already thinking along these lines.
Peralta's market will depend upon how willing he is to move to third base and whether teams like the Yankees get involved, as Peralta comes without draft pick compensation attached. Outside of the Mets, whose bizarre entry into the Granderson conversation last week had suspicious undertones of an organization trying to look busy for the cameras, the White Sox should mostly have Granderson to themselves judging by interest level around the league. If Peralta is definitely off the table due to his evolving market, then the White Sox should check into the corner outfield market as well -- where they have the budget to sign Granderson and Carlos Beltran (and if Beltran proves more interested in the most money possible than playing for a proven contender). In doing so, the White Sox could turn from an abysmal hitting team that was unable to support Sale during a breakout season for the young ace, to a team with an aging but still solid offensive core that can support Sale, Quintana and Hector Santiago. If the corner outfielders don't fit their budget, the White Sox could move on to the Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez chases. In any event, the idea is to use the White Sox's draft pick protection to do what the Indians did last offseason and acquire premium free agents for contracts of reasonable length and value that don't have potential to cripple the team.
Regardless of any of the above, the catcher issue needs to be addressed swiftly, as Tyler Flowers and Phegley were intolerable at the plate; Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the trendy candidate, as he's decent with the bat and has all of the experience teams like from their veteran catchers; however, he'll be in high demand due to his lack of draft pick compensation.
Will the White Sox do any of this? That depends. Sources around the club have been making a lot of noise about how keen the South Side front office is about keeping their second- and third-round picks, but considering the time of year, that could be positioning for the Granderson negotiations or it could be a legitimate insight into how the front office values its draft picks. There are advantages and good arguments to be made for either holding onto the picks or "spending" them in order to restock with key free agents other teams won't be in on; but if the White Sox decide to keep their picks for the 2014 amateur draft, they need to use them more wisely this time than they have in years past.