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Wednesday, July 31, 2013
White Sox 'restoration' begins now

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Welcome to Chicago baseball circa 2013, where hope springs eternal and the mythical notion of "sustained success" is just around the corner.

It wasn't long ago that both teams preached "Swing for the fences!" and "Spend it if you got it."

The whales are gone, or promoted, and the card counters and system players are running the tables now.

Avisail Garcia
Avisail Garcia played in 12 postseason games with the Tigers in 2012.

The non-waiver trade deadline passed Wednesday with no late moves for either of our non-contenders.

The Cubs were aggressive in ridding themselves of Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano in advance, while the Sox sweated out dealing All-Star reliever Jesse Crain and Jake Peavy after trading Matt Thornton earlier in the month.

Both teams seem to have gotten solid returns -- save the mystery players from Tampa Bay for Crain.

The Cubs saved a little money dumping Soriano onto the Yankees, while the Sox got Boston to take on all of Peavy's contract this year and next in Tuesday's three-way deal with Boston and Detroit.

The Sox also got a solid hitter (Brandon Jacobs) when they sent reliever Matt Thornton to Boston earlier this month.

Both teams acquired young, essentially major league-ready power hitters in Mike Olt, sent to the Cubs in the Garza deal, and ex-Tigers top prospect Avisail Garcia, the key to the Peavy deal.

Neither team looks ready to win in 2014. The Cubs admit it; the White Sox are winking at it.

It's clear the Sox, who couldn't beat the rebuilding (or "restoring," for tax purposes) Cubs in three tries this season, should be following their plan.

And they are -- don't be fooled.

The Sox already hit rock bottom, just not on purpose like the Cubs did.

Of course, the White Sox can't call it rebuilding. It's Grinder Rule, No. 4,080: Never say rebuild.

"I don't think we need to put a title on it or print a T-shirt," Sox general manager Rick Hahn said in a conference call with reporters after the deadline passed. "People need to understand we're not satisfied with what transpired the first four months. We see the same thing they see. As we transition the club to a new core, we feel very good in our position with our pitching, very good."

The way Hahn put it, the only guys he needed to trade were Crain and Thornton, who had expiring deals. The Peavy trade was a bonus. The failure to trade Alex Rios isn't upsetting.

Hahn will be looking to deal Rios (and maybe shortstop Alexei Ramirez) during the waiver trade period. (It was four years ago when Kenny Williams claimed Rios off waivers from a gleeful Toronto.)

While Hahn won't wave the ol' White Flag from 1997, he is always honest about the reality on the ground.

"We need a more diversified offensive attack, better defense, more athletic position players on our roster," he said. "The goal is sustained success that will get us to the level where we're in the playoffs on an annual basis or contending for the playoffs."

Sustained success? That's Theo Epstein's line! If Hahn starts talking about "panaceas" and "parallel fronts," we might have a new-age baseball cliché war.

This "sustained success" idea is a new development, considering the Cubs' 2007-08 playoff appearances were the first consecutive ones since 1906-08. The Sox have never, ever made the postseason in consecutive seasons.

In Epstein's two seasons, the Cubs have certainly made strides, if only in adding minor league talent to build that wishful foundation.

But as the conventional thinking goes, the White Sox can't rebuild, can't tear down their major league roster to acquire future talent.

It's nonsense, of course. But more on that later.

That kind of fearful confidence has been the Sox's gift and curse to their fans. Since that magical 2005 season, they've gone for it and not gotten it. You can't say the Sox haven't spent money and that they haven't tried to please their fans.

Peavy, who was dealt to Boston late Tuesday night, and Rios, who wasn't moved anywhere, are proof positive of the Go-Go White Sox attitude. They came over in 2009, a real flop of a season, and the Sox haven't made the playoffs since 2008, just like the Cubs.

And there's Adam Dunn, another example of a failed free agent expenditure.

For every smart move by Williams and Hahn, there are expensive clunkers. But I'm not ripping those moves. They were the right decisions at the time, at least in their eyes.

It's always good to play to win. This is the major leagues and this is a major market. But it's about time for the Sox to change course and start to build that foundation.

Hahn

We need a more diversified offensive attack, better defense, more athletic position players on our roster. The goal is sustained success that will get us to the level where we're in the playoffs on an annual basis or contending for the playoffs.

-- White Sox GM Rick Hahn

Hahn disputed the notion that manager Robin Ventura, who turned down a contract extension this past winter, isn't on board with the altered approach of the organization.

"All of us are excited about the idea we're going to build something up, to be perennial contenders, and we're all up to do it," Hahn said.

And Hahn refused, on July 31, to say the Sox will bomb this season and even the next one to get better draft picks or acquire young players.

"One thing that hasn't changed around here is our desire to win," he said. "We're never going to write off a season, especially when you have the caliber of pitching we have."

Of course, this year is already lost. Hahn admitted that.

This is a completely unappealing last-place team in a bizarro pennant race with Houston and Miami for the first pick in the 2014 amateur draft. A team that has bottomed out on the field and at the gate.

Remember when everyone was congratulating the Sox on dumping Ozzie Guillen and hiring Ventura? Guillen's perennially-repeated line about the relative unimportance of managers proved valid this year. Earl Weaver couldn't have saved this team, which is old, slow, bad at defense and just plain awful.

The great Paul Konerko, who very well could be playing out the string of his wonderful White Sox career, put it best when he said "we were [expletive] before the rumors. That's a fact. We were, going back to a long time ago."

So what's next?

The Sox have to get people interested in the team again, interested enough to actually buy tickets in advance. To watch games. To care. And they need to get younger, more athletic and more talented, as Hahn honestly put it.

That aforementioned belief that this team can't rebuild for fear of losing the fan base has been disproven, as the team they have now has already lost the fan base.

Even after dramatically lowering season ticket prices the past two seasons, attendance is terrible. Ratings can't be much better. Needless to say, I don't see a lot of Dunn shirseys on the street.

Through 49 games (not including the first game of a June 28 doubleheader that had no listed attendance), the godawful Sox are averaging 23,121 fans per game, 24th-most in baseball. Through 50 games last year, the competitive Sox were averaging 23,980.

So it isn't just wins and losses. That's not how it works.

What a lot of people don't get about baseball attendance is that it's dependent on offseason sales and season-ticket plans. Sox fans jumped ship in the last few years of the Ozzie regime and season-ticket, and mini-plan, sales suffered.

That's why I like the Peavy trade. The 22-year-old Garcia is the kind of player they need to keep adding to get back fans and transform the team.

Can you think of one White Sox player you'd pay to watch not named Chris Sale? Who knows if Garcia turns out to be the real deal, but I dig the idea.

Garcia is a tall, 6-foot-4 slugger with a plus arm who had people called him "Little Miggy" because he's Venezuelan, as is Miguel Cabrera.

If we're into typecasting, the White Sox would be thrilled if he played like "Little Maggy" for the once-beloved Magglio Ordonez. He'll start in Triple-A so the team can evaluate him in center field.

Sure, Peavy was a bulldog. But the Sox need some young pups to reinvigorate this franchise.

The time for franchise "restoration" is now, Rick. You already knew that. No harm in admitting it.