CHICAGO -- Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn did not see the disaster of 2013 coming when he signed a three-year contract to run the team last October. Nonetheless, the 39-year-old Chicago area native is ready to roll up his sleeves and start to rebuild his ballclub for next season and beyond.
A total collapse of the offense was certainly a shock to Hahn & Co. as the team muddled its way through one of the franchise's worst seasons since 1976.
"I think our most glaring issues have been our offense, our defense and our baserunning," Hahn said. "All of which calls for improvement on the position-player side of things. I think it is safe to say we are very aware of where we fell short. We are also very aware of where we need to get better. All of that would entail significant improvement among the players we have or new faces."
The White Sox have more than $50 million coming off the payroll heading into 2014, with the trades of veterans and other contracts such as Paul Konerko's coming off of the books. It's unclear what the payroll for next season will be. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf usually gives his department heads their budgets in early November. The club will have to investigate the free-agent market as part of the formula for improvement. Atlanta catcher Brian McCann may be the perfect fit for Chicago. McCann has outstanding power, to go along with his leadership skills and game-calling acumen.
"You have to be real careful," Hahn said, speaking generally about the free-agent market and aging players in the mix. "We do have the benefit in the American League of the DH. If whoever you are buying is a bat, at least you have a spot to move him to if his defensive skills start to erode, which is usually first to go. You do have to be careful but you also want to look at each guy individually."
The Sox have a commodity that few teams have when approaching this year's offseason trade market. Chicago has four left-handed starting pitchers to entice clubs who need a quality southpaw in their rotation. Hahn will be cautious but open to talks.
"We look at the pitchers as a strength, but we are not eager to move affordable and productive left-hand pitching," Hahn said. "If we do get to the point of dipping into that strength, it will be because we feel really good about the fit we have coming back. That deal would have to address multiple needs if we got to that point."
Hahn will have the tough call in deciding if the Sox will offer Konerko a contract after this season. Konerko will be a free agent and has yet to say if he will play after this season. The star first baseman signed back with Chicago twice when he was a free agent. The first time was after the 2005 season (a five-year deal) and the second time was after the 2010 season (a three-year deal).
"Any time you have a situation similar to his, like a [Cal] Ripken in Baltimore or a [Tony] Gwynn in San Diego, it is nice if he spends the fabric of his career with one club," said Hahn, who pointed out Konerko also briefly played for the Dodgers and Reds. "That said, Michael Jordan wore a different uniform and he's still the face of the Bulls' six championships. If it turns out [Konerko] is in another uniform next year, it will not take away from what he accomplished and how he will be remembered here. From a fan level, I do like the idea of a guy playing and ending his career with the same team."
The White Sox will find out sooner or later if Konerko plans to continue his impressive career, after a less than stellar 2013 season.
"More guys than not probably don't realize it is over until the market tells them," Hahn said. "There are certainly exceptions. In this instance, who knows how the conversation will go. That is the reason we want to get the season behind us. At that point, we can let everybody exhale and see where we are all going."