Hahn’s Youth Movement Has, Well, a Bit of a Twist

Rick Hahn has been a busy man over the past few weeks. With the White Sox in the cellar, the focus has been on selling off some key pieces like Alex Rios and Jake Peavy in order to accelerate the Sox into a new era.

Much to the chagrin of some Sox fans, the White Sox didn’t receive as much in the way of prospects as deadline deals typically pull in. While the team did acquire Avisail Garcia, the main asset the Sox acquire was plain cash, as the team sent just $1MM to Texas for Rios and not even a dime to Boston for Peavy.

We’ve heard Hahn say a few times that because of the strong young starting pitching the Sox possess, a total rebuild is not the direction he’s going to head down. The two trades signal just that, and here’s how.

The contracts of Alex Rios and Jake Peavy, while lucrative, are set to expire after next season (Rios has a team option for 2015 too). That matters because if the Sox really didn’t believe they could be a competitive ball club this season, why would there be a sense of urgency to rid yourself of these contracts now rather than in the off-season or even into next season? Sure, prospects like Garcia, Andre Rienzo, and Erik Johnson are putting the pressure on Hahn to make moves, but the key to these trades are typically the return, not the timing.

So, it was obvious that immediate financial flexibility was important. Since the White Sox have never been penny-pinchers under Jerry Reinsdorf (I’d love to have a conversation with anyone who calls Reinsdorf “cheap” and lay out some facts for them), one can assume that the money saved will end up money spent, and spent within the next few seasons. Heck, the White Sox have had a $100MM payroll in six out of the last eight seasons, so financial wiggle room doesn’t typically sit around and collect dust on the South Side. With the contracts of Jake Peavy and Alex Rios gone and the ones of Paul Konerko and Gavin Floyd set to come off the books next season, the team’s projected payroll for 2014 is the lowest since the mid-2000s.

We’ve established that the Sox probably freed up money to spend it, so where is that going to happen?

When fans think money to spend, they think free agents. That’s all well and good, but after Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury, this year’s class of FA’s aren’t all that appealing. Even with the financial flexibility, the Sox probably can’t outspend teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox who will be in on one or both of those players. Brian McCann and Shin-Soo Choo are out there as well, but with the thin market, teams will probably overpay for someone of their caliber.

Given the names available, it’s hard to see the Sox going in big on any free agent this off-season even with the financial flexibility. It’s possible that the team can acquire someone with a big contract from another club that’s just looking to dump his salary, but like the second-tier of free agents, it’s hard to envision those guys making a huge difference anyways.

Rick Hahn gave a terrific interview with Dan Bernstein Friday on 670 The Score in between the two games and talked about what this financial flexibility means. Basically, he said the main focus with all this new money will be at the amateur levels, increasing the amount of spending and scouting on domestic and international prospects. While that’s a statement that’s a turn-off to Sox fans, it’s an area and approach that’s needed an overhaul for a long time. There’s a reason why the White Sox consistently rank as one of the worst minor league system, and it’s not all because Kenny Williams has dealt the prospects.

However, all of that $40MM+ that’s coming off the books before 2014's Opening Day won’t be spent on scouting. In fact, while it’s probably a main focus, it’s probably won't even equal anywhere near the lion’s share of that $40MM.

It’s clear that Rick Hahn has a vision on what he wants 2014’s team to look like, and it’s clear that he freed up money to help add to it. How he’s going to spend it is anyone’s guess at this point.