Whether you believe Rick Hahn has been given full control over the roster during his tenure as White Sox GM or not, the performance of the team on the field since he was promoted to the position at the end of the 2012 season ultimately falls on his shoulders.
There tends to be two sides to the Rick Hahn debate. In one corner, there are the apologists who blame every misstep on Kenny Williams and/or Uncle Jerry and praise Hahn for the job he’s done rebuilding the talent within the farm system. In the other corner, you have the truthers who see a team that hasn’t had a winning season since Hahn took over and tend to overlook the fact that they haven’t been trying to win during most of Hahn’s years as GM.
The answer, as most things are, is probably somewhere in the middle between the truthers and apologists. While Hahn has done an unbelievable job of flipping talent for younger, more controlled talent, he has also failed in the early part of the turnaround when the White Sox are supposed to stop losing on purpose.
Machado and Harper hitting free agency this year at 26 years old couldn’t have been more perfect for the White Sox. They were in a perfect position to at least match whatever any other team was willing to offer. They didn’t. Instead, they missed a huge opportunity and have been surpassed by the likes of the Phillies and Padres as MLB’s darling teams of the future.
During a rebuilding period it’s not fair to grade a GM strictly on wins and losses. However, there’s more to building a championship franchise than just having a good farm system. The Cubs, Astros and Red Sox built their World Series rosters with a core of homegrown talent, but they also signed key free agents when they needed to. We know Hahn can accumulate talent for minor league affiliates (even if it’s mostly through trades) but a look back at his history of transactions will tell us a better story of where this franchise is headed under his direction.
Caution: some of these names gets weird.
11/3/12: JOSE MARTINEZ GRANTED FREE AGENCY
Martinez has surprised many by breaking through with the Cardinals in 2017 as a 28 year old rookie. He started his professional career as a 17 year old in the White Sox organization and Rick cut him loose with no return in 2012. He’s only a slightly above-WAR player.
2/22/13: TRADED JEFF SOPTIC TO GIANTS FOR CONOR GILLASPIE
Soptic was a former White Sox draft pick who ended up fizzling out of the minors in 2016. Gillaspie had his best years with the Sox before being shipped to LA for cash considerations.
6/6/13: DRAFTED TIM ANDERSON IN THE 1ST ROUND
Say what you will about his defense, but getting a 20/20 guy as the 17th pick in the draft should be considered a win (even if this was Kenny’s pick). The draft board in 2013, as with most years, isn’t exactly riddled with superstars, and before getting upset when seeing Aaron Judge being taken after Anderson, remember that 29 other teams passed on Judge as well.
6/8/13: DRAFTED ADAM ENGEL IN THE 19TH ROUND
You get a gold star when you find a Major League starter in the 19th round.
7/12/13: TRADED MATT THORNTON FOR BRANDON JACOBS
Hahn waited one year too long to trade the dominant lefty reliever. Thornton never worked out as a closer but was so good as a setup man that he was able to make the All Star team in 2010. He was in the midst of his worst season since 2007 when the Sox shipped him to Boston for Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs had shown promise up to that point, with some ranking him as a top 50 prospect. He eventually fell off the radar and somewhere in the Independent League, but he helped the Sox acquire Adam Eaton as the player-to-be-named later in the three-way deal with the Diamondbacks and Angels.
7/30/13: TRADED JAKE PEAVY TO RED SOX FOR
CLEULIUS RONDON, FRANKIE MONTAS AND JB WENDELKEN AS WELL AS AVISAIL GARCIA FROM THE TIGERS
Let’s start with Jake. He was not good for the Red Sox and they eventually sent him to the Giants for a pair of minor league pitchers you’ve never heard of. At the time, this was considered quite the haul for the White Sox. Turned out, not so much. Wendelken never rose through the organization and the Sox traded him in exchange for Brett Lawrie in 2015, who still had potential as a former top prospect but is now attempting to make a comeback with the Brewers after the Sox cut him in 2017. Wendelken went on to make an unsuccessful debut for the A’s in 2016 and then had Tommy John in 2017. He returned in 2018 and pitched extremely well over 16 innings and is now being considered for a bigger role in 2019. Frankie Montas also had limited success in the minors, but was part of the deal that sent King Goober Todd Frazier to the Sox. Rondon was eventually released outright…and then there’s Avisail. To his credit, he had a hell of a season in 2017. Besides that, he was a huge disappointment and recently signed a one year free agent deal with the Rays.
8/9/13: TRADED ALEX RIOS TO RANGERS FOR LEURY GARCIA
Hahn traded Alex Rios a year after arguably his career-best season, but the best available offer for the overpaid and aging outfielder was a player to be named later. That player turned out to be Leury Garcia. As a utility player he’s been just fine and is currently on a one year deal with the Sox.
12/10/13: TRADED HECTOR SANTIAGO TO ANGELS AND PTBNL (BRANDON JACOBS) FOR ADAM EATON FROM DIAMONDBACKS
Santiago had a successful pair of seasons with the Sox as a part-time starter before Hahn traded him to LA as part of another three-team deal. The Angels tried to use him as a full-time starter, and even though he made an all-star appearance in 2015 he never excelled at that role, even when the Halos shipped him to pitcher-friendly Minnesota in 2016. He eventually made it back to the Sox last season, predominantly being used as a reliever. Meanwhile, Eaton enjoyed three quality, though super annoying, years with the Sox. However, his numbers on paper didn’t tell the whole story as his “dirtbag” play often led to dumb mistakes and injuries that could be avoided, especially on the basepaths. His biggest contribution was probably his trade value which Hahn utilized in a trade with the Nationals that bolstered the Sox farm system with three top 100 prospects. Meanwhile, the Nats are now getting a taste of that injury stuff.
12/16/13: TRADED ADDISON REED TO DIAMONDBACKS FOR MATT DAVIDSON
Though Reed was a good reliever for the Sox, his value was probably bolstered by his save numbers. Hahn traded the third round pick for Davidson, a first round pick who was showing promise at the time. Reed went on to have two great years with the Mets, though only as the part-time closer. Davidson simply never provided enough power to make up for his low OBP, and his pitching skills weren’t enough to convince Hahn to keep him around. He’s currently on a minor league deal with the Rangers.
Hahn’s 2013 grade is a B-, led by his acquisitions of Anderson, Abreu and Eaton. He made moves that, at the time, seemed like good deals for the White Sox but never ended up working in their favor. In some cases, like Matt Thornton, he waited too long to pull the trigger. In other cases, like Jake Peavy, he made the right move but never struck gold on the return.