By Jay Cohen
AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO — Rick Hahn sat in the first row behind home plate. While batting practice hummed along in front of him, he kept his eyes on his phone. The general manager looked up every once and a while, only to return to his phone every time.
The Chicago White Sox are going nowhere this year, but time is still of the essence for Hahn and company.
While several teams are debating their plans ahead of Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline, there are no such questions about the direction on the South Side of Chicago. The 46-year-old Hahn, a proud graduate of the University of Michigan and former player agent, is selling everything that makes sense while stockpiling prospects for his rebuilding project.
The results of Hahn’s work won’t be known for several years, but his commitment is something to behold.
Left-hander Jose Quintana, third baseman Todd Frazier and four relievers have been shipped off to contenders in the past couple weeks. Quintana was dealt to the Cubs in a rare swap between the Windy City teams on July 13. Frazier and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle were traded to the New York Yankees five days later. Anthony Swarzak was dealt to Milwaukee on Wednesday, and Dan Jennings, another durable reliever, was traded to Tampa Bay on Thursday.
The White Sox show no signs of slowing down, either.
“Not necessarily everything gets done in July,” Hahn said. “There’s still the opportunity to have trade talks in August. The dynamic may well change simply if the guy’s been blocked on waivers, then you’re having to deal with one club instead of potentially 29 clubs. But for the players to clear, it’s a similar-type conversation in August that we may have now.”
The White Sox already had one of baseball’s top minor league systems before the Quintana trade netted slugger Eloy Jimenez and hard-throwing right-hander Dylan Cease. But many of their top prospects were in the lower levels, and the July deals helped create more depth.
“It has absolutely been a goal from the start, not just a matter of getting as much potential impact talent as we can but trying to set up layer upon layer of that talent,” Hahn said, “trying to get to the point when inevitably some of these guys don’t develop the way everyone has projected them to develop or an injury occurs that we have other options, that we have guys that perhaps developed a little more quickly or improved beyond what we projected as their ceiling. And the only way you get there is by having a critical mass of prospect depth.”
But accumulating those prospects has taken a huge toll on the major league product. Heading into this weekend’s series against AL Central-leading Cleveland, the White Sox have dropped 15 of 17. There are few reliable options left in Chicago’s depleted bullpen, and the lineup has managed just 35 runs in 12 games since the All-Star break.
If the losing is taking a toll on manager Rick Renteria, he hides it well.
“I think one of the things that keep all of us moving forward is the understanding that the people we are acquiring, that are helping us hopefully become a better club in the future, are starting to be acquired and they’re in the system now,” he said.
Some of those prospects already are providing positive signs. Touted slugger Yoan Moncada hit his first career homer in the seventh inning of Wednesday night’s 8-3 loss to the Cubs, a drive to center off Jake Arrieta. Reynaldo Lopez, who was acquired last December in the Adam Eaton deal with Washington, is 6-5 with a 3.65 ERA in 20 starts with Triple-A Charlotte and could be promoted soon.
“I would say that while we are pleased with the strides we’ve made in the last year or nine months, however long you want to draw the line, we know we still have work to do,” Hahn said. “We know we’re going to have a really important draft in 2018 and before that, another few days before this deadline and then some offseason maneuvering to take place.”