White Sox balancing long-term process with players' desire to compete in 2017


The White Sox find themselves at the intersection of the front office staying on course and a clubhouse trying to compete now as the 2017 season kicks off.

Only two trades into their first rebuild since 1997, general manager Rick Hahn has been up front that the White Sox are in the early stages of what could be a long and painful process.

But one area where the club believes it has already made serious gains is in an overhaul of the clubhouse culture, and that's why the White Sox could be at a crossroads.

Under the influence of manager Rick Renteria's upbeat, energetic style, White Sox players believe they tapped into something special this spring. Despite the losses of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, White Sox players believe they can compete right now. That could potentially force the front office into a tricky position where it must navigate the proper route if and when opposing teams come calling for its most tradeable assets.

"Our goal is to remain focused on the long term and building something sustainable," Hahn said. "If this team puts itself in a position to contend this year, we aren't going to proactively hinder their ability to contend if we feel it's real and sustainable and that the performance level and health and depth of the roster indicates that it could conceivably take the club into October.

"At the same time, that also entails being honest with ourselves about where we're at and as objectively as we can, evaluating our chances and what's best for the franchise in the long term."

The long-term view isn't part of the consideration of anyone within the White Sox clubhouse.

Reliever Zach Putnam said Renteria's style has energized a room full of previously unfamiliar players.

"Rebuild has some kind of negative connotations that you're almost accepting that you're going to have a losing season or a poor season," reliever Zach Putnam said. "There's not a single person in this clubhouse that believes that and I mean that."

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Veteran Todd Frazier understands the reality of the situation but said he isn't trying to pay attention. Along with closer David Robertson, outfielder Melky Cabrera and starting pitchers Derek Holland and Miguel Gonzalez, Frazier is one of many players who could be traded before the season ends.

But the free agent-to-be said he refuses to think that far ahead.  

"They only made two changes, so at the end of the day let's see what they're trying to do later on," Frazier said. "But you can't really think in the future. We're basically playing for what we've got and what we've got right now is a pretty good squad. We're pretty happy with where we're at. It's going to be a fun team to watch."

But as Hahn has stated, the White Sox intend to be honest when determining their direction.

Part of the current plan is to not rush any of the team's prospects to fill voids. If a starting pitcher goes down early in the season, the White Sox are unlikely to fill that spot with one of their top prospects. And while the White Sox have a number of highly talented prospects, the top of the farm system is still relatively thin.

The fifth-year GM and Renteria both said they have an open-door policy if veteran players have questions about where the team stands. Hahn encountered a few of those during the course of the spring as well as several veterans' requests to be part of the team's plan. But Hahn would only commit Monday to determining the future of those veteran players on a "case-by-case" basis. But for now the White Sox like the culture that has grown in the clubhouse.

"What we're trying to accomplish in 2017 goes beyond just wins and losses at the big league level," Hahn said. "We're trying to build something sustainable and part of that is environmental and cultural and how the players and coaches prepare for games, how we expect the game to be played, and how the coaches hold the players accountable.

"The things we're trying to accomplish aren't going to show up in the wins and losses over the course of a season.

"Now we're all going to be tested because we're all competitive and want to win every game we're a part of. But we're going to have to remind ourselves from time to time that there are some other big picture items that are more important toward the long term than winning individual games."

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