Rick Hahn is six seasons removed from being named the best general manager prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. The summer after that, SportsIllustrated.com named him the best general manager candidate in the game.
Well, the White Sox have had Hahn as their general manager now for three full seasons. Over that time, they've generated a 212-274 win-loss record which includes a 99-loss season. No season has been spent over .500, and overall that's a .436 win-loss percentage.
But worry no longer. After Hahn attempted to put a winner on the field for the 2015 season and it didn't fully pan out, he seems to have put some more hope on the field for 2016. The USA Today just released predictions for the upcoming season, and they picked the White Sox as AL Central winners with 90 wins. Depth Charts -- which is based on Pythagorean expectation -- isn't as bullish, but still projects the White Sox to go .500 this season.
Everything is coming up on the South Side. But are these believable scenarios based on the actions of their offseason?
The White Sox made two notable additions to their roster. With third base a fairly pressing concern, they added Brett Lawrie from the Oakland Athletics. Lawrie is coming off his least productive season in the majors by FanGraphs WAR, despite having his most plate appearances. He struck out a lot, he rarely walked, and he hit six percent worse than the league average. Even his defense, which is usually one of his best tools, took a step back last season.
There was another problem with acquiring Lawrie as a third baseman though. The Athletics were working on converting him into a second baseman anyways. And the White Sox could use one of those as well.
It didn't become completely clear that Lawrie would be the second baseman until the White Sox went out and acquired Todd Frazier.
In all, for both Lawrie and Frazier, the White Sox gave up J.B. Wendelken, Zack Erwin, Micah Johnson, Frankie Montas, and Trayce Thompson. According to Baseball Prospectus' 2015 prospect list, only one of those names showed up in the organizational top 10. According to MLB.com, Johnson is now the eighth-best prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers system.
So, according to Steamer projections, the White Sox acquired 4.8 fWAR in Lawrie and Frazier and gave up relatively little in return. It's still puzzling that the Cincinnati Reds parted ways with Frazier so easily, though they did end up with Jose Peraza in the three-team deal. But it all seems to benefit Hahn and the White Sox.
The Free Agents
Staying relatively quiet in the free agent market, the White Sox made three notable additions.
After parting ways with Tyler Flowers -- who signed for $5.3 million over two years with the Atlanta Braves -- the White Sox replaced him by signing Alex Avila. Then, for good measure, they added Dioner Navarro as well. For a total commitment of $6.5 million, Avila and Navarro will share dish duties for the White Sox in 2016.
Navarro -- a switch-hitter -- hits lefties significantly better than he hits righties. Conveniently, Avila hits righties better than he hits lefties, though the platoon splits aren't as apparent as Navarro's. In tandem, this could be a very productive platoon for the White Sox.
Most recently, the White Sox added Mat Latos to their rotation. Effectively replacing the departing Jeff Samardzija, Latos is only two seasons removed from a 4.8 fWAR season with the Reds. Latos' career FIP sits at 3.44. While his last two seasons haven't been terrifically memorable, his FIP over that time has still been a respectable 3.69.
To put that in perspective, Alex Wood posted a 3.69 FIP in 2015 and was right between Jason Hammel and Felix Hernandez on the qualified starters list.
Latos will cost the White Sox $3 million in 2016. Hahn and the White Sox front office seem to have made this offseason about acquiring as many low-risk options as possible. And while that may not send a resounding message to the fan base, it's a great way to run a team.
Reasons to worry
It's not all sunshine and roses in the south side of Chicago. Melky Cabrera was really bad last year. The White Sox will be counting heavily on a bounce back campaign from their leftfielder.
Avisail Garcia also had his worst season ever. Although he is just 24 years old, Garcia hasn't panned out the way he was expected to. With no real replacement, Garcia will be expected to produce anything positive this season.
Lastly, Tyler Saladino is the starting shortstop on their depth chart. Even though Alexei Ramirez didn't have a particularly good season, Saladino is young and unproven at the position. If he can keep up his defensive acumen, Saladino will be fine for the White Sox. However, his bat is bad and it doesn't seem to be supplemented by any sort of on-base expertise.
Reasons for hope
It is absolutely conceivable that the White Sox perform well enough to win the AL Central. However, at least three other teams expect to do the same.
Hahn and the White Sox front office have at least shown a desire to win and invest in the future. Although it hasn't come in significant dollar amounts -- aside from the Adam LaRoche deal of last offseason -- that's what fans want to see from management.
Chris Sale is always a Cy Young contender and he'll likely get the ball against the Oakland Athletics on Opening Day. A very small handful of teams can hinge their Opening Day efforts on such a dominant pitcher.
As for the Depth Charts projections, sure the White Sox are pegged for third in the AL Central. But only six games separate first from fifth in the projections. The Indians are projected to finish first at 84 wins and the Twins are projected to finish last at 78 wins. That's such a close division that a matter of luck could make a substantial difference. Why shouldn't it be the team with Sale and Frazier?