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GM Hahn senses optimism around White Sox after making big offseason additions

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CHICAGO — Whether he's out on the town or simply checking messages, general manager Rick Hahn can sense the excitement and optimism surrounding the Chicago White Sox.

"The voice mails in the middle of the night have changed in tenor, which is nice," he joked Saturday at the team's fan convention. "Thank you."

It's been a big offseason on both sides of the town with the Cubs and White Sox making a series of moves that have their fans believing years of losing are just about over.

The White Sox think they're in position to compete for the AL Central championship after a dizzying offseason in which they made key additions to their lineup, rotation and bullpen.

Now, there is a decidedly different vibe. While Hahn insisted the work is not finished, what was done is extensive.

Chicago added some left-handed pop by signing Adam LaRoche and bolstered its rotation by trading for right-hander Jeff Samardzija with one year left on his contract.

The White Sox also signed closer David Robertson and outfielder Melky Cabrera, along with reliever Zach Duke. With ace Chris Sale and AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu back, hopes suddenly are soaring around a team that finished fourth in the division at 73-89 last season after winning just 63 games in 2013.

"Everybody can't have a $200 million payroll," manager Robin Ventura said. "You have to be able to be in that transition. You know you're going to take your lumps. We also knew there would be a point in time where we're going to be aggressive and go out and fill some needs. The last couple years were tough. However, that has gotten us to this point."

PHOTO: Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn speaks during the baseball team's SoxFest annual fan convention, Friday, Jan. 23, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)
Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn speaks during the baseball team's SoxFest annual fan convention, Friday, Jan. 23, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)

Where they go from here still remains to be seen. But the White Sox at least made their intentions clear this offseason. And the questions from fans were nowhere near as testy as they were during last year's session with Hahn and Ventura.

They were lighter. They were specific about the roster.

One fan asked if the White Sox were "maxed out" payroll-wise and if they might try to sign James Shields, a 14-game winner for World Series runner-up Kansas City last season.

"Vince Coleman is your only news right now," Hahn said, referring to his announcement moments earlier that the White Sox hired the six-time NL stolen base champ as baserunning instructor. "Are we maxed out? Let's put it this way: I've gone back to that well a few times and I've gotten yeses each time."

"This is my 15th season with the club. Every time we've been in position to contend and missing a piece come June or July and we've gone with a sensible acquisition, the expenditure's been improved. I've been told a target. I know where we are vis-a-vis that target. I (should say it's) the third target since I've moved past the first two."

Hahn recalled chairman Jerry Reinsdorf giving the green light to kick the reconstruction into a higher gear during three days of meetings with team executives, the manager and pitching coach Don Cooper. Shortly after that, Hahn said he contacted Oakland about Samardzija — a White Sox fan growing up near Chicago in Indiana who later played football at Notre Dame and pitched for the Cubs.

He thought that trade would be completed during the general managers meetings. It wasn't finalized until the winter meetings. Hahn said he "hated" to give up infielder Marcus Semien in that deal, but it was a price he had to play to add an All-Star between Sale and Jose Quintana in the rotation.

About the same time that trade went down, the White Sox agreed to a $46 million, four-year contract with Robertson. Hahn said they were not the highest bidder for him.

He also said Abreu was onboard with the LaRoche signing right from the start even though it meant bringing in another first baseman, a Gold Glove winner with Washington in 2012. Hahn said he discussed the possibility with Abreu before that deal was finalized.

"Within 45 seconds of me laying it out, he's like 'I got it, I got it. Yeah, absolutely. Makes us better, do it, makes us better. What are we gonna do about the pitching?'" Hahn said.

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