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Analyzing Rick Hahn’s press conference comments

by Jordan Lazowski

After closing the book on the Tony La Russa journey, the White Sox and their fans can now shift their focus elsewhere: how to fix the self-proclaimed “most disappointing season” of Jerry Reinsdorf, Kenny Williams, and Rick Hahn’s respective careers.

Rick Hahn took the first steps toward addressing the future in what will likely serve as his end-of-the-season press conference before the official end of the season, discussing the upcoming managerial search, the future of the roster, accountability for the season that has unfolded in 2022, and much more. Through the sound bytes on Twitter, fans have gotten a partial, but incomplete picture of the entirety of the 34 minutes Hahn spoke to the media on Monday afternoon, as there is a lot to uncover that can’t be nicely fit into a 240-character tweet.

Here are some key quotes and talking points throughout Hahn’s press conference that warrant review and analysis as we all look towards the 2023 season and see plenty of work for the front office to do.

Managerial Qualifications

One of these quotes is from 2020. The other is from 2022. Can you guess which is which?

“Ideally, the right candidate has recent experience in the dugout on a championship-level team.”

“Ultimately, I think the best candidate or the ideal candidate is going to be someone who has experience with a championship organization in recent years. Recent October experience with a championship organization would be ideal. But we’re going to keep an open mind.”

Too hard? How about these two:

“We have been insular in our past hirings. That’s objectively true and no one can run from that.”

“I think we are going to use this opportunity to get different perspectives. New way of looking at things, a little different from those who have been a little more insular to the organization.”

(For those playing at home, the quotes are in the following order: 2022, 2020, 2020, 2022)

In case it’s not abundantly clear, the script for the managerial process and managerial qualifications for 2022 sounds incredibly similar to the one for 2020. In fact, in many ways, it’s almost identical, except for the immediate ruling out of Ozzie Guillen that Hahn dodged in 2022, but confronted in 2020. The highlights are straightforward:

  • Recent experience in the dugout with a team that has experienced championships
  • Managerial experience is NOT a requirement
  • Excellent communicator who understands the way of the game
  • Has grown and evolved with the game but has “old school sensibilities”
  • Having a history with the White Sox is NOT a requirement, but Miguel Cairo will receive an interview

For fans, this may be frustrating. However, the above exercise isn’t a condemnation of Hahn – rather, it’s a condemnation of how the process went the last time the White Sox tried to find a manager for this contention window. Hahn has a way that he would like to conduct this managerial search, and his hope is that a candidate is not forced upon him and Williams a second time. Read between the lines enough, and you can sense the frustrations of someone who wants to do things his way, given the position to which he has been appointed, but has been unable to act on it in recent opportunities. Of course Rick Hahn would like to repeat his preferred process in 2022 because he wasn’t able to fully see it through in 2020.

This time, it appears that Hahn will get his wish, for those looking for a silver lining.

It’s left up to the imagination which players the front office would trust enough to gauge opinions on for the manager. However, in terms of the overall process, the team and the organization, rightfully, have earned very little benefit of the doubt in the minds of fans who feel they have seen this movie before and didn’t really like the ending. And, should it end the same way a second time, it’s likely that this quote would be the first thing that fans bring up.

The Jose Abreu Dilemma

“How it fits going forward, that remains to be seen… obviously there are only so many different ways you can fit various players on this roster…”

Hahn all but ducked this question, using the fact that it’s *technically* not the end of the season to dodge any player-specific questions. I can’t blame him for ducking it, despite my personal opinions on whether or not he should answer it – but, he should still answer it at a time when it’s not still considered “in-season”. As of now, there really is no way to answer the question other than how he did: praise Abreu, thank him for being a true leader, and let the chips fall where they may. But Abreu and White Sox fans do deserve a solid answer to this question, as well as what they may plan to do should Abreu not be around in 2023.

However, Hahn did allude to the same problem that most White Sox fans have identified with this roster: it’s going to be impossible to both improve the team’s defensive woes and have Eloy Jimenez, Jose Abreu, and Andrew Vaughn all on the same roster. Tough decisions are going to need to be made this offseason, and that may involve unpopular decisions that see Jose Abreu or Andrew Vaughn – or both – on different teams in 2023. Obviously, no decisions have been made here, but a common theme at this press conference was the idea that all options will be explored.

At the same time, throughout this season, Abreu himself has been much less forward about his future on the South Side than he was when he proclaimed he would “sign himself” prior to the 2020 season. So, it’s hardly been a transparent process from either party. But, White Sox fans have been bracing for the end of Jose Abreu’s tenure on the South Side for a while now, and for those who were looking for glimmers of hope for a return, there certainly weren’t any in Monday’s press conference.

The Roster Moving Forward

This is where some of Hahn’s quotes may have gotten a bit misconstrued when written in the 240-character space on Twitter versus how they were actually spoken aloud by Hahn.

Take this quote, for example, that made its rounds on Twitter for obvious reasons.

That’s not a great sound byte on the surface. Consider, the following question that sparked Hahn’s answer: “You’ve always said that you always approach things by not really taking any ideas off the table in terms of changing the roster in any way. Does that include, this year, maybe having to make some tough decisions or just think about breaking up this young core?”

Here’s the full answer, including the quote from the tweet above:

“Yes, you have to be open to that because, look, we’re not just going to able to throw money at the problem. You might have to have to get creative, and the trade market may be a more fruitful path for us to go as opposed to free agency in the coming months… You want to make sure that you’re comfortable enough to make those tough decisions about players that you may have signed, developed, or traded for and you don’t get caught in some sort of bias in favor of what we thought we put together. But I’m confident that we’ll be able to evaluate any of the opportunities that come along over the next few months objectively… even if that means cutting into guys that we previously thought would be with us for an extended period of time.”

Truthfully, when you take into account the whole quote, Hahn’s right. This team isn’t going to be fixed by another free agent or two – they’re going to be forced to be creative and truly evaluate what he built. The above is easily paired with this quote, which features several mentions by Hahn about recapturing the team’s previous offensive approach, which he feels the team strayed from this season:

“A lot of the issues were with the offense initially. … There’s always ways to get better. Fundamentally, as I alluded to, we’ve lost our offensive approach, we need to find ways to balance out that offense a bit better… I think a portion of it is getting guys back to the approaches that they had before in the last couple years as well as improvements we need to make defensively and running the bases. There’s not going to be ‘Player X’ that is targeted and who is brought in and solves it all individually. There’s going to have to be some improvement that comes internally, and the good news is most of these players have shown that in the past.”

– Rick Hahn via Monday’s Press Conference

Compare these two quotes with the tweet above, and you’re able to construct two completely different narratives. One says, “We don’t have money, so we need to trade guys.” The other says, “This is a flawed roster with flawed on-the-field and off-the-field processes. We need to explore everything because simply spending money or bringing in a player or two doesn’t fix the deficiencies in-house.” And, if fans were to objectively evaluate the season that just unfolded, most would tend to agree with the second narrative, even if it’s abundantly clear that money will always be part of the equation for a White Sox team. Note that this is not a “don’t spend money” take – rather, it’s a “fix your team from the outside AND the inside” take. Sure, Aaron Judge is great, but he doesn’t fix the problems created by Yoan Moncada and Yasmani Grandal hitting around the Mendoza Line. Fix both problems AND sign Judge, and now you’re in an objectively different spot as a franchise.

No matter how you read the quote from a dollars and cents perspective, it’s pretty easy to see that Hahn clearly sees the deficiencies on the roster, both offensively and defensively. While it is unclear exactly what the budget may look like – and, depending on how you read the above, you might see payroll cuts in the team’s future – at least for now, we should not expect this White Sox team to look the same in 2023 as it did in 2022 or even 2021. At the same time, should the team decide to slash payroll following a failure in 2022, well, Hahn made the mess, and now he has to clean it. Actions, meet consequences.

Accountability for Failures

Credit to (I believe) Jesse Rogers for asking the difficult question after alluding to front office changes in Detroit and Kansas City: “Are you grateful that ownership has shown faith in your front office in a season like this, and continues to?”

Credit to Rick Hahn for appearing very caught off guard by this question and giving a sound byte that easily fit into 240 characters.

Again, context is important in this sense, and this quote does not capture its full essence. Here is Hahn’s full quote to that question:

“I’m not looking to stand up here with a blindfold and cigarette just for fun. We have to believe that we’re capable of getting to the level we need and critically look at the things we didn’t do well this past year and find a way to get better and have faith in ourselves… I’m ridiculously blessed to have this opportunity, and winning or losing, I don’t take this for granted. But, frankly, I believe there is no one who is harder on me than I am. And when I look at a year like this, it requires me to look at myself too and the way we are doing things and try to figure out if we are the right stewards to get this, because White Sox fans have been incredibly supportive throughout this rebuild… and you want to reward that. They deserve it. And, if it ever got to the point where I felt I wasn’t the right person in my world, I’d step aside. And I’m lucky enough to have the support.

It shows you this game… look, Two years ago our baseball operations department was getting nods for executive of the year. A year ago we won the division by, whatever, 10, 11, 12 games, and this year we were picked for being in the World Series, and now we’re being asked if we should be in our jobs. It’s just part of the fun of pro sports. A fair question given pro sports is the accountability we all want to have. But know that we ask those questions of ourselves probably more than anyone else.”

Loop in here previous comments about organization accountability, and a completely different picture is painted:

“We’ve spent a lot of time having those conversations… I don’t think it’s something that we’re going to get too deep into publicly,… but know that there is no complacency involved. There is no one associated with this organization… who doesn’t find this past year unacceptable and extraordinarily frustrating. The squandering of this year is something that I know individually I will carry with me for a while.”

It wasn’t the world’s best answer from Hahn, and he was likely caught off guard by it – which, given how this season has gone, probably should’ve been something he at least thought about prior to coming on stage. It doesn’t change the fact that, yes, there is no doubt that Rick Hahn has been given significantly more leeway than most general managers have been afforded in their careers, largely in part to the loyalty historically shown by his team’s owner. But, personally, this doesn’t seem like the, “how could you be possibly questioning this front office” quote that it appears to be in the tweet above. Rather, it came off as an acceptance of how quickly things change in this sport and how important accountability is. While he didn’t answer it well, it’s also not clear what a “good” answer looks like here, either.

But, if you speak enough times about accountability, odds are that it’s about time that someone is held accountable.

At the end of the day, a few key themes arose from a final review of Hahn’s press conference:

  • The organization, from top to bottom, considers this season a complete failure
  • Every option is on the table when it comes to restructuring the team for 2023 to get things back on track
  • However, there is a lot of faith in the talent that is here and what can be improved upon with better health and improved processes

When asked to address why he believes the roster will be any healthier next season, as he kept alluding to the third point on the list above, Hahn mentioned some potential changes from a strength and conditioning perspective:

“We are still in the process of evaluating everything we do from a pre-injury prevention standpoint, and I do suspect we will have some changes or additions over the coming months… The weird offseason with a new strength and conditioning staff in place was a bit of a challenge this past year… Doesn’t mean there aren’t other areas we can improve upon or are looking at, and we will address those more directly in the coming months. I do think that the odd offseason and short spring created a lot of problems for us. At the same time, it created problems for all 30 clubs, and we did not respond to it as well as others did.”

An honest evaluation of this roster does in fact include the fact that a large portion of this roster needs to see improvement internally for any of this to work. Yoan Moncada and YasmanI Grandal greatly underachieved. Tim Anderson was hurt, and his last two months before injury were not good. Eloy Jimenez was awesome, but for only 70 games. Luis Robert was hurt. Jose Abreu has hit one homer in his last 54 games. In many ways, this team finds itself in the exact same position as last year: needing to add via trade/free agency, but if they don’t fix the problems internally, it won’t matter who they add to the roster.

While there are things we can learn as fans at the end of the day from press conferences like these, the reality of the situation is that, as always, actions will speak much louder than words. Credit to Hahn, for better or worse, for still believing in what he and Kenny Williams have built. Outside of obvious questions about the future of the manager and coaching staff, Hahn was quick to point out previous successes for this group and the belief that internal improvements can occur with improvements to coaching and processes: “There needs to be operational and process… changes. We know that.”

All of this may come off as a defense of Rick Hahn – the #HahnBot name has been thrown around plenty over six seasons of writing about this team. However, that is not the intention – rather, the hope is to paint an accurate picture of what Rick Hahn may have been alluding to throughout the half hour of “lawyer speak” to which we have all become accustomed. There are some important comments that came out of the press conference that weren’t coming out in the tweets that surfaced throughout his comments.

That being said, the White Sox certainly didn’t do themselves any favors in this area, given that as of this article, the club has still not posted the entirety of Rick Hahn’s comments to YouTube despite posting La Russa’s comments. In doing so, the organization has put itself at the mercy of the press and their ability to accurately fit Hahn’s words into 240 characters on Twitter. It doesn’t appear that’s happening so far, but if there are any thoughts misconstrued, as of now, the White Sox only have themselves to blame.

When it’s all said and done, you may not choose to believe a word that Jerry Reinsdorf, Kenny Williams, or Rick Hahn have to say. Frankly, that’s a position that has been earned given the organization’s overall lack of success and transparency in a lot of areas. However, if you’re one of those people who is willing to take Rick Hahn at his word, things haven’t been good enough, and changes will be coming. How those changes manifest themselves starts with the manager, then the budget, and then how deep the team is willing to go into their evaluation of their internal processes. All of these areas feed off of one another, and lacking in any area will just create the same problems on a new team. The biggest difference between next season and this one? In terms of accountability, Hahn and Williams will have no one else to hide behind with La Russa gone. They will get their manager, and they will structure the roster how they want to. This is their bed now, and for better or worse, they’ll have to lie in it.

Hahn ended his press conference yesterday by stating, “This is going to have an effect, this is going to have an impact on people. This is not a feeling any of us [Jerry Reinsdorf, Kenny Wiliams, Hahn] want to experience again.”

Hopefully, their actions this offseason align with the words of their general manager. If not, you can expect the fan base to react in kind – a fan base that certainly deserves better than they’ve gotten through the first years of this contention window.

You can listen to the full press conference below on the official White Sox’s YouTube channel.

Follow us @SoxOn35th for more throughout the year!

Featured Image: NBC Sports Chicago / YouTube

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Aaron Sapoznik

Great article Jordan!

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