SAN DIEGO -- If Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn wanted to significantly upgrade a team that won 73 games last season and ranked 14th in the American League with a minus-98 run differential, he's achieved his goal.
At the very least, he's captured the attention of the four teams that will be competing with Chicago in the AL Central in 2015.
The White Sox have spent $61 million on lefty setup man Zach Duke and closer David Robertson, invested another $25 million in first baseman-DH Adam LaRoche, and picked up starter Jeff Samardzija in a six-player trade with the Oakland Athletics over the past three weeks. So the natural question is this: Are the Sox just papering over a roster that's too flawed to take the next step to contention, or do they have a chance to make some noise in the division next season?
Two AL executives were asked that question in the lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt on Tuesday. They both chose the latter.
"It definitely makes them a team to reckon with," said an official with a competing AL Central team. "No question, it puts them right in the thick of things in our division. They've made a real statement with what they're doing."
An AL West personnel man concurred with that assessment.
"It's a weird division. It's winnable, and they're being aggressive," he said. "I think this has been a good run for them. I'm sitting back thinking, 'They're doing a good job.'"
As Hahn is quick to point out, other teams have attracted attention for bold offseason moves in recent years without seeing that aggressiveness produce more wins or postseason success. Hahn is too diplomatic to cite specific examples. But the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays are obvious examples of clubs that made big offseason pushes that failed to generate a positive narrative.
The White Sox still have questions to address: Are Duke and Robertson enough to fix a bullpen that ranked 28th in the majors in ERA (4.38) and batting average against (.265)? Can they get sufficient production out of Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez at second base or Tyler Flowers at catcher? And no one is particularly enthused about the idea of watching Dayan Viciedo try to handle the defensive responsibilities of left field anymore.
But Jose Abreu gives the Sox a monster right-handed bat that few teams can match, and any rotation with Chris Sale and Samardzija at the top won't be much fun to face. Jose Quintana has a better ERA (3.42) than Jered Weaver, Gio Gonzalez and Samardzija over the past two seasons, and it won't surprise anyone if lefty Carlos Rodon, the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft, is making a significant contribution in Chicago this season.
"I thought he was the most advanced player in last year's draft," said an AL scout. "I know [Brandon] Finnegan did what he did in Kansas City. But I thought Rodon had a chance to step in immediately with a big league rotation."
The White Sox have Samardzija under contractual control for only one year, and Hahn is hoping that a winning experience and some friendly lobbying might bode well for a long-term contract. It's going to cost the Sox $100 million-plus to keep Samardzija, but they have an 11-month window to make a positive impression.
"Does it put you in a better position?" Hahn said. "I believe it does. There's a level of familiarity, and hopefully of trust. It doesn't put you leagues ahead of everybody else, but there's certainly a benefit to it. We like to think the players in our clubhouse know what we're about and are excited about the direction we're headed. We hope our new acquisitions feel that way as well and want to stick around."
For now, the people who sell season tickets at U.S. Cellular Field are a happy and motivated group. And the consensus in San Diego is that the White Sox aren't done making moves to address their remaining needs.
"We know they don't give out any championships in December," Hahn said. "They don't give out awards for 'winning the winter,' so to speak. In recent years, it's been more of a curse than actually translating to success. That doesn't mean we're not trying to win the winter. But we know you've got to prove it on the field in the summer."
It all has to begin somewhere. Judging from the reaction of his peers, Hahn and his front-office group have made an eloquent statement that the White Sox are heading in the right direction.