Rick Hahn wanted to make sure the Chicago White Sox were giving him more than just a fancier job title by promoting him to general manager.
Well, the team insists he’s running the show even if Ken Williams will still play a role in the production.
The White Sox made it official and announced Friday they were promoting Williams from general manager to executive vice president and moving Hahn up from assistant GM to senior vice president and general manager. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf also tabbed Howard Pizer as senior executive vice president.
”That was an important part to me,” said Hahn, who’s been with the team since 2000. ”There were a lot of factors involved, but one of them was making sure that it wasn’t going to be an escalation of titles and sort of business as usual.”
In a statement, Reinsdorf praised Hahn as ”one of the most respected young executives in baseball” and said that Williams raised the idea of promoting him a few years ago.
But Reinsdorf also said Williams will ”maintain oversight and final approval on major baseball decisions.”
So what’s really different?
”I’m not having those initial conversations or even probably mid-level conversations on (transactions),” Williams said. ”It’s not any different than what I had to do with regards to when I had an idea before we made that particular deal, or started down a path to acquire a player via free agency. I had to go have that conversation with Jerry. And ultimately, he would weigh in. … You generally go to a consensus.”
The moves come on the heels of a season in which the White Sox defied expectations and spent 117 days in first place in the AL Central, only to finish second at 85-77 while the Detroit Tigers advanced to the World Series.
Williams is handing the day-to-day operations over to Hahn, a Chicago area native, after a 12-year run in which the White Sox were consistent contenders and won the World Series in 2005, ending an 87-year drought. He’ll still have a say in big decisions but insisted it’s not his show anymore.
”He has been doing the job for a number of weeks,” Williams said. ”He will have the day to day dialogue with the other general managers. Obviously, I have relationships with some so we may split a little bit of that up as an initial conversation. But in practice, let me just tell you how it’s worked here this offseason. I have gotten phone calls from other general managers, had the initial conversation but then immediately turned it over to Rick. That’s his job.”
He said Hahn is a ”quality general manager who has new ideas” and added: ”You won’t see me get in his way.”
Williams also said the GM ”has to have a certain amount of autonomy.”
Hahn has been credited with negotiating contracts with Paul Konerko, Alexei Ramirez and Gavin Floyd along with signing first-round picks Gordon Beckham and Chris Sale. He will now oversee all player personnel matters, coaching staff decisions and both player development and scouting operations.
His name was frequently mentioned over the years when GM jobs came open, and he even acknowledged having lunch with a few owners. But he also said he never ”got real serious” about leaving.
Now, he has a bigger role, but he still plans to lean on Williams and Reinsdorf.
”I fully intend to bring Kenny and Jerry in on any big moves,” Hahn said. ”I think it would be foolish of me not to call upon their expertise and knowledge and insight on stuff like that.”
And if he and Williams disagree on a move? Does Williams have the power to block it?
”I have the power of persuasion,” Williams said, grinning. ”I have the power to try to articulate the what and why. Listen, over the years we’ve had disagreements. He’s had a gut, I’ve had a gut on something, and we respect each other’s gut. The way I look at it, it’s Rick’s decision until it’s not. When it’s not, then we’ve got to hammer it out.”
Hahn basically echoed that, saying, ”If at the end of the day I want to make a move they disagree with, we’re going to have to get in a room just like we have the last 12 years and hash it out and come to a decision for our organization. It’s not as if I want to be out unilaterally, willy-nilly making decisions.”
For his part, manager Robin Ventura said he expects to be dealing directly with Hahn. And he praised the new GM, saying, ”There’s a lot of trust I have and the coaching staff has with Rick. I think we’re looking forward to this.”
The White Sox have some decisions to make this winter.
The White Sox appear inclined to pass on the team’s $22 million option on Jake Peavy and buy him out for $4 million, then try to bring him back at a lower rate. But he figures to draw interest on the open market after a strong rebound season. The former NL Cy Young winner put aside three injury-riddled years to make 32 starts, posting a 3.37 ERA and going 11-12.
”Look, there aren’t a lot of free agent pitchers out there,” Hahn said. ”There is a fair amount of money perhaps to be spent by other clubs so that one’s (Peavy) going to be a challenge.”
Kevin Youkilis also could be on the move, with the White Sox not expected to pick up the third baseman’s option after acquiring him from Boston in late June. A.J. Pierzynski has an expiring contract, and if his eight-year run in Chicago is over, he ended it in style. He set a career high with 27 homers and matched one with 77 RBI while hitting .278.
”Until he gets out there and sees what his market is and we explore alternatives and other ways to spend our money it’s impossible to handicap,” Hahn said.