(MCT) — NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With midseason approaching last year, the White Sox traded for Kevin Youkilis. They hadn’t had a backup plan when third baseman Brent Morel flamed out early and were lucky to grab a card as strong as Youkilis in the discard pile from the Red Sox.
As the season played out and they tried to hold off the Tigers, the Sox would have to pick up more spare parts. Brett Myers came from the Astros and Francisco Liriano from the Twins in the biggest moves in a series that was familiar to White Sox fans, who had watched guys like Edwin Jackson, Jake Peavy and Ken Griffey Jr. come to town as midseason reinforcements.
This was the way the White Sox operated at the end of the Ken Williams era. A lack of organizational depth was the fatal flaw for top-heavy teams that almost always played better in the first half of the season than the last.
Since winning the 2005 World Series, the Sox have had a .539 winning percentage in the first half and .481 in the second. History has repeated itself so consistently that some of the best White Sox fans I know cited the sense of impending doom as the reason they stayed away from U.S. Cellular Field in August and September.
But things do change, and the hope is that this trend will with Rick Hahn as the general manager after an overdue organizational shake-up.
Before Williams was shifted to executive vice president, he had taken the first step toward correcting the organization’s drain of under-25 talent. He hired Marco Paddy to jump-start a once-corrupt, recently impotent Latin America operation. Hahn, it seems, is going to value minor-league talent more than Williams and will be more patient developing it.
If so, the White Sox will not always have to borrow from tomorrow to make things interesting today. That’s the hope, anyway.
It’s a good sign that Hahn signed a solid ballplayer, 32-year-old Jeff Keppinger, rather than adding a declining player with a bigger name to fill the vacancy at third base. It’s even better that he seems intent on building some depth in the high minors.
Carlos Sanchez, a 20-year-old switch-hitter who batted .370 after being promoted to Double A last season, is coming fast in the system. He could have been handed the second-base job with Gordon Beckham moved to third base. But Hahn envisions a Charlotte infield that has Morel at third base and Tyler Saladino and Sanchez in the middle infield.
He said Sanchez and Saladino are candidates for a reserve infielder vacancy but seems intent on letting them develop, not rushing them or trading them. He said he sees them “at Charlotte, getting at-bats on a regular basis.”
Andre Rienzo, a 24-year-old Brazilian who was hit with a 50-game suspension for taking a banned substance last spring, has established himself as an intriguing pitching prospect. He was one of the top pitchers in the Arizona Fall League after a strong season that ended in Double A and could pitch in the big leagues at some point next season, according to Hahn.
“He opened up eyes not just within our organization but with other clubs,” Hahn said.
There’s a strong possibility the White Sox may trade Gavin Floyd, which could put more focus on Rienzo in spring training. But Hahn wants him to have more time to develop and seems highly unlikely to let him get away, as Williams did too many young arms.
There’s one more thing Hahn needs to change as he establishes his autonomy. He needs to do what the Dodgers did when Mark Walter and the Chicago-based Guggenheim Partners bought the team from Frank McCourt. They buried the hatchet with agent Scott Boras, and Hahn needs to find a way to get Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to follow suit.
Reinsdorf has steered around Boras’ high-profile clients in the amateur draft for most of the last 20 years. It’s time that he let Hahn try to mend fences, as the new GM is a former agent who knows exactly how Boras ticks. He shouldn’t be afraid to draft a Boras client like Indiana State left-hander Sean Manaea if he has a chance.
The Keppinger signing is a good one. But the guys who make the difference over the long haul are the studs you get in the draft or sign in Latin America. Why tie your own hands?