After Konerko's finale, Hahn reflects on Sox season

Club ends '14 in fourth place, but GM sees bigger, better things ahead

After Konerko's finale, Hahn reflects on Sox season

CHICAGO -- When placing a final grade on the White Sox 2014 season, which closed out Sunday via a 6-4 loss to the Royals before 32,266 at U.S. Cellular Field, general manager Rick Hahn chose to work on a pass/fail grading curve.

Pass/fail, with a caveat.

"It's a failure. The goal is to win a championship," said Hahn, speaking before his team ended with a 73-89 record that represented a 10-game improvement from '13 and a fourth-place finish in the American League Central. "The goal is always to win a championship, and we're not going to do that.

"From the standpoint of putting ourselves in position to win multiple championships," Hahn added, "there are some successes that we can feel happy about."

First baseman Jose Abreu, who almost certainly will be selected as the AL Rookie of the Year, stands front and center on that list of successes. He did not play Sunday, getting the day off along with fellow All-Star, shortstop Alexei Ramirez, third baseman Conor Gillaspie and catcher Tyler Flowers, but clubbed his 36th homer on Saturday night to break a tie with Ron Kittle (1983) and set a single-season franchise rookie record. Not only did Abreu prove to be a prolific slugger, but he also posted a team-high .317 average to go with his team-best 107 RBIs.

Adam Eaton, acquired from Arizona as part of a three-team offseason deal that included Hector Santiago moving to Anaheim, established himself as one of the AL's top leadoff hitters. The left-handed-hitting sparkplug doubled and singled twice Sunday, leaving his final average exactly at .300.

Another major step forward was taken by ace Chris Sale, who will be a serious player in AL Cy Young Award consideration after producing a 2.17 ERA, 202 strikeouts and just 39 walks over 174 innings. A scoring change made by Major League Baseball in Felix Hernandez's last start against the Blue Jays knocked down his earned runs allowed from eight to four and helped him edge Sale with a 2.14 ERA by virtue of his 5 1/3 scoreless innings Sunday against the Angels.

Marcus Semien joins Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez as part of the middle infield talent pool, with Semien launching a two-run homer off starter Yordano Ventura on Sunday, and Sanchez knocking out one hit to go with slick defense at second. Even a young pitcher such as Chris Bassitt, who started Sunday and yielded three runs over five innings while striking out five, has put himself in play for some sort of role with the '15 squad.

All of these Major League plusses don't even factor in a strong international talent haul, what looks to be an exceptional '14 Draft that includes hurlers Carlos Rodon and Spencer Adams and the development of young pitchers such as Frank Montas and Tyler Danish.

"So there's a lot of positive in terms of getting us closer to where we want to be, but we're by no means there yet," Hahn said. "We knew going in, going back 15 months or so when this thing began in earnest, this was going to be a multi-year process.

"We can be pleased about how that first year-plus of it has gone. But we absolutely have to follow it up with another success, another strong year of success, and that starts in earnest [Monday]."

The White Sox future focus took a necessary backseat this weekend to a celebration of the present and past during the finale of Paul Konerko's 16-year-run on the South Side. He departed in the top of the sixth, replaced by Andy Wilkins, creating a raucous standing ovation, a curtain call and a leadership void that will be tough to fill.

But even without their captain, the White Sox have an optimistic feeling about improving their season grade in '15.

"Definitely, I don't know how you couldn't be," said starter John Danks, who got the win Saturday. "We didn't make as much progress as we would like but we are moving in the right direction. You know Rick and [executive vice president] Kenny [Williams] aren't done. So it's only going to get better."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.