GM Rick Hahn says White Sox poised to make jump
CHICAGO (AP) - White Sox general manager Rick Hahn figured the first question would be about catcher A.J. Pierzynski. The last one caught him off guard.
As Friday's Q and A session with fans was wrapping up, a familiar figure stepped to the microphone and let this one rip: "Do you think you're going to do a better or worse job than the last guy?'' Ken Williams asked as the crowd laughed.
"That's not fair, he had a better support staff,'' Hahn said.
Hahn is no longer in a supporting role. He's standing right there in the spotlight as the White Sox try to make a jump in the AL Central, even though they've made no flashy additions this offseason.
They even lost a link to their 2005 championship team.
Still, Hahn sees a squad in good shape after finishing second to Detroit last season, even if the White Sox don't look much different this year. Besides re-signing Jake Peavy and parting ways with Pierzynski, the biggest move during the offseason was Hahn getting promoted from assistant general manager to GM and Williams being bumped up to executive vice president.
Otherwise, there were no dramatic changes to the roster. There's a perception that this was a rather slow offseason for Chicago, and Hahn understands that.
It doesn't necessarily mean he agrees.
"Fundamentally, all of us in my department are fans,'' he said. "We understand the reaction to a move or a lack of a move. Perfect example is the decision not to bring back A.J. All of us react to that on a fan level. All the guys from `05 hold a special place in our heart. ... All those guys will always have a special spot for each of us - not to mention a guy like A.J. who was with us for eight years and had a tremendous amount of success.
"All of us, I think, have that fan reaction when he winds up somewhere else,'' Hahn continued. "Ultimately, though, it's on us to do what we feel is best in terms of maximizing wins over a longer period of time than responding emotionally or sentimentally. Yeah, it's something that we're aware of, but it's not going to be something that ultimately drives decision making, as much as what we feel is going to maximize our wins.''
He praised Pierzynski and said parting with the veteran catcher was tough but necessary if the White Sox were going to make a jump in the division. That's something Hahn believes they are in position to do after winning 85 games and spending 117 days in first place last season.
It won't be easy with Victor Martinez returning for the Tigers after missing all of 2012 with a knee injury, and Torii Hunter now in Detroit's outfield.
The White Sox can counter with a deep rotation that includes Peavy, who re-signed for $29 million over two years. Chris Sale is coming off a 17-win season and last year's opening-day starter, John Danks, is poised to return from left shoulder surgery.
Chicago also thinks Tyler Flowers is ready to take over for Pierzynski. That's one reason the 36-year-old catcher is now in Texas. He signed a $7.5 million, one-year contract with the Rangers after hitting 27 homers with 77 RBIs last season, both career highs.
Other reasons Hahn cited were the need to retain Peavy and to fill holes at third base and in the bullpen.
The White Sox addressed that need in the infield by signing Jeff Keppinger and brought in Matt Lindstrom to help in relief, a move they announced on Friday.
Splashy moves? Hardly.
But Hahn insisted they were moves that needed to be made. Throw in the organization's faith in Flowers, a solid defensive catcher, and Pierzynski was sort of the odd man out.
The question is, can Flowers hit? He batted just .213 in 52 games last season.
Another issue: The lineup is loaded with righties, one notable exception being Adam Dunn, particularly now that Pierzynski is gone.
Hahn said the White Sox are interested in adding a left-handed hitter if it's "the right fit.''
"We're not going to make a move just because it looks good in January to say we addressed a perceived need,'' Hahn said.
Paul Konerko's future is also in question.
The veteran slugger enters his 15th season in Chicago and 17th in the majors with a contract set to expire after this year. As much as he would love to finish his career in Chicago, he's also seen the club part with mainstays such as Pierzynski and Mark Buehrle in recent years.
"There are so many moving parts to it all,'' Konerko said. "You can't handicap or gauge how it's going to go. I don't know what's going to happen, how I'm going to feel seven months from now. There are a lot of heavy thoughts there. The main thing is just trying to go out and have a good season.''