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Hahn's Hits & Misses

There is no shortage of critics when it comes to White Sox general manager Rick Hahn for making what many fans interpret as bone-headed moves since he became GM back in 2013.

He's really taken it on the chin for the free agent signings of Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay prior to this season, purportedly to entice Manny Machado to join his brother-in-law and close friend, respectively. Of course, Machado opted for the multi-millions in San Diego where he's hitting .251 while Alonso was released in early July after being a colossal flop for the Sox. Jay battled injuries before and during the season, earning his spot in White Sox lore as another failed free agent.

Then there was Ervin Santana, a veteran who had won 16 games two years ago and was trying a comeback after being injured most of last season. Santana's tenure on 35th Street was good for about a month in which he started three games without lasting more than five innings in any of them.

Free agent reliever Kelvin Herrera, sporting a 2.82 ERA and 60 career saves over eight seasons, was granted a two-year contract by Hahn. Although Herrera is just 29, his previous skills appear to have escaped his grasp as he's posted a 6.38 ERA and an alarming WHIP of 1.708 as this season grinds to a halt.

So it's entirely understandable at this juncture why Hahn isn't being hailed as a genius when it comes to evaluating and signing free agent talent.

Nevertheless, as questionable as this may sound, this is not an indictment of Hahn's maneuvering, nor am I positing that he is challenging Billy Beane when it comes to putting together all the analytics and intangibles to determine which players are most likely to succeed on the South Side. What it says is that Hahn, like his front office brethren throughout baseball, has an extremely difficult job.

He's not messing with a fantasy team or Draft Kings, which requires more luck than skill. Hahn's livelihood and the success or failure of the White Sox depend in large part on him, and it's all out there for the public to see.

With a rebuilding team like the current group, Hahn has had to attract placeholders, players who fill a short-term assignment until young prospects mature and/or a free agent superstar exhibits far more interest in playing for the White Sox than a guy like Machado.

As mentioned, Alonso and Jay were portrayed as bait to snag Machado, a strategy which failed and may turn out to have been a stroke of good luck for Hahn and the Sox. At the same time, Jay was a .285 lifetime hitter who appeared in 143 games for the Royals and Diamondbacks in 2018, hitting .268 with an on-base percentage of .330. Meanwhile, Alonso was coming off a season in Cleveland where he hit 23 homers and drove in 83 runs. Had both men been as effective this season, they'd still be with the Sox.

In hindsight, each seemed like a decent bet to hold down a spot until long-term help arrived.

While swinging and missing at Jay and Alonso, Hahn did connect splendidly with catcher James McCann, who just might be a long-term fix. After five seasons and a .240 career batting average in Detroit, the Tigers let him go, and Hahn signed him for $2.5 million. Not only is McCann slashing .275/.330/.789 with career highs in home runs (17) and RBIs (57), but his handling of pitchers - most notably Lucas Giolito - has been cited as vital to the development of some of the team's young arms. McCann is just 29 and was named to the American League All-Star team this season. He also won't be a free agent until after next season.

Before the rebuild began when "winning now" was the mantra, Hahn inked free agents such as David Robertson and Melky Cabrera, each of whom had two-plus productive seasons in a Sox uniform. Adam LaRoche also signed on for two years at $25 million, and that, in some ways, signaled that a rebuild wasn't far behind.

LaRoche was a dud. He didn't come close to his National League numbers in his single season with the Sox, but the escapades surrounding his son in the clubhouse, precipitating his premature retirement before the 2016 season, led to the blockbuster trades of Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana, a trio of Hahn deals that sure look kind of nice right now. Walking away was LaRoche's significant contribution to the foundation of the rebuild.

There's been so many other comings and goings, most of which have borne little fruit. Relief pitcher Jesse Crain (2011-13), who arrived before Hahn was the GM, was very effective until he hurt his arm, but for every Jesse Crain there's been many like Mat Latos, Maikel Cleto, Mike Pelfry and Ronald Belisario.

In another week when this season ends, current placeholders like Welington Castillo and Ryan Goins also will bid adieu.

Hahn may continue with a few stopgap measures, but he's sitting on a pile of White Sox gold, and chances are he's preparing to pull the trigger in hopes of filling holes in right field, DH and pitching. He may not compete with the big boys for the greatest treasures like Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole, who will collect far more than the $13-plus million he's already making along with a five- to ten-year guaranteed contract, but there are a number of talented moundsmen - Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, Michael Wacha, Hyun-jin Ryu, Collin McHugh - who are in their late 20s or early 30s with varying degrees of success on their resumes who, if healthy, might provide added stability to the Sox staff.

Hahn also will be inquiring about designated hitters since Sox DHs this season are hitting .198 with 14 home runs and 65 RBIs. Edwin Encarnacion and Nelson Cruz, two guys in their late 30s, could put up those numbers before their morning coffee while J.D. Martinez, 32, would be more expensive but equally as capable.

Finding a right fielder who bats left-handed and can catch the ball also is on Hahn's radar. A possible candidate would be the Angels' Kole Calhoun, a former Gold Glove winner who's hit 33 homers this season along with his usual .250 batting average.

Whomever Hahn chases figures to be more than a placeholder at this moment in the rebuild.

Meanwhile, the current crop is putting up numbers that, if they were veterans, would find them accused of late-season salary drives of monumental proportions.

Yoan Moncada is baseball's hottest hitter this month. In 20 games, he's slashing .444/.500/.691 for an OPS of 1.191. With a .316 season's average, Moncada ranks third in the American League. Key to his astounding improvement is that he has reduced his strikeouts from 27 percent a year ago to 21 percent. He's putting more balls in play (.408), spheres traveling routinely at more than 90 mph. Two trips to the IL have cost him about 30 games, so his 77 RBIs and 24 homers are a bit compromised.

Consider if Moncada's strikeouts diminish even a percent or two next season. When this guy hits the ball, it stays hit!

He also is surrounded by teammates Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu, who have one more week to hold onto their league leads in batting average and RBIs.

Meanwhile, Eloy Jimenez is on a tear in September with a .365 batting average, eight home runs and 23 RBIs, giving him 30 and 77 for the season. Eloy's batting average on balls in play this month is a robust .415.

So there are four guys in the lineup, hitting in the two through five spots, who can measure up to any foursome in baseball. Add in McCann, Leury Garcia and Yolmer Sanchez, and you wonder how this team can be 8-12 this month with seven home games to play - three with Cleveland and four with Detroit.

For the season, the White Sox have split 70 games with teams under .500 while going 33-52 against teams above the break-even mark.

It's great entertainment to watch these players develop while we await the arrival of Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Michael Kopech, among others. Joining them will be a sprinkling of free agents next spring, and it will be Rick Hahn's responsibility to bring in people who can help rather than simply fill up space.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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