White Sox nailing the art of the sale

ByJayson Stark ESPN logo
Thursday, December 8, 2016

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- There's an old expression you hear from general managers every winter. It goes kind of like this:

Buying is easy. Selling is hard.

So for a team that hasn't held a storewide clearance sale in almost 20 years, you have to hand it to the Chicago White Sox. They're turning out to be every bit as good at this as Macy's.

Two days and two monster trades into their Everything Must Go sale, they've made two of the best winter-meetings sell-off deals of modern times. And it has changed the face, and the direction, of their franchise. Already.

"I don't know where their farm system was ranked before this week," said one rival farm director Wednesday night. "But it's ranked really high now."

One day after reeling in two potential superstars (Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech) in the trade that sent Chris Sale to Boston, the White Sox didn't quite top that haul Wednesday, when they agreed to the stunning trade that shipped offAdam Eatonto Washington. But all three pitchers they received -- Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning -- have top-of-the-rotation upside.

So if there was any doubt that the White Sox meant it when they started making noises last month about retooling, we would like to make this important announcement: No further doubting will be permitted by the proper authorities.

This. Is. Happening. And guess what? It's not done happening, either.

"They're obviously not done," said a National League executive. "[Todd] Frazier is probably next. Why keep him? And I'd expect Jose Quintana to get moved. Once you trade Sale, who's one of the five or six best pitchers in baseball, that's what you do. You just keep going."

So fasten those seat belts. They could all go now: Frazier and Quintana, Jose Abreu and David Robertson, and who knows how many more. They might not go this week, said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. They might not even go this month. Some of them might not go until July. But "it's much more important to do it right," Hahn said, "than to do it quickly."

To truly appreciate the incredible work Hahn has already done, you need to take a step back and consider the perspective of recent franchise history. And by that we mean: They never, ever do this.

Most of the guys they've traded for this week were in preschool the last time their owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, signed off on Sell mode. That was in 1997, when Reinsdorf and pretty much the entire South Side was scarred permanently by what would forever be known as the White Flag Trade, which you should probably Google if you're not familiar with it.

After all the abuse heaped on the franchise's powers that be back then, it took nearly two decades for this team to be able to face reality and understand it was time, once again, to sell, sell, sell. But here we are.

It's a decision that was actually made over a month ago. Hahn and executive vice president Kenny Williams gathered their most trusted scouts and decision-makers in their annual organizational meetings. And after several days of kicking around all their options, they came to a conclusion they'd been talking themselves out of for years.

They'd been patching the roof long enough. And the damned thing was still leaking.

The direction they chose, Hahn said this week, "doesn't fit with how we have acted over the last several years. We've been in a more of a 'win now and patch and play' type of situation."

But of course, they weren't winning. They hadn't enjoyed a winning season since 2012. They hadn't won a postseason game since 2008. They hadn't won a postseason series since Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle and the boys swept the World Series in 2005.

Meanwhile, that other team in town -- yeah, you know, that team -- was heading in a slightly different direction. So if this wasn't the time to go print up those For Sale signs, then when the heck was it?

"The last thing you want to be is caught in between," Hahn said. "You don't want to be a club that's not good enough, not capable of winning a championship, but at the same time is just sort of mediocre or stuck in the middle."

The funny thing is, though, that to pull this off, they had to do more than simply talk about rebuilding. They had to convince the teams they were talking with that this time, they meant it -- that this time, they were on the same page, all of them: Hahn and Williams and Reinsdorf. No kidding.

"At the GM meetings," another exec said, "they were openly saying that this was what they were going to do. They were ready to rebuild and change the mix. And that told me that even Jerry was on board. I'd never heard them say it before. This was the first time. They never said once, 'We're not trading Chris Sale.' So this time, you had to believe they meant it."

Yessir. They meant it, all right. And now they've pulled it off. But it feels so strange, after all those years of going in the other direction, that even Hahn has to admit he's having a hard time handling all the praise he's getting -- for breaking up a team he built.

"The weird part for me," he said Wednesday, after announcing the Sale deal, "is that we walk around here [and] you have a lot of people congratulating you. ... It's a little awkward -- because we traded Chris Sale. That's not something you feel great about."

Yes, but if you're going to sell, you might as well nail it. And two days into Sale-A-Thon 2016, Hahn and his front office have already proved they've got the hang of this. Fortunately, this time, there isn't a white flag in sight.

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