GLENDALE, Ariz. -- At SoxFest in late January, general manager Rick Hahn and manager Rick Renteria were up bright and early on a Saturday morning at the Hilton Chicago fielding questions from curious fans.
The first inquiry? It was directed at Hahn.
"What were you thinking with the James Shields trade?"
It was an obvious question -- and it was stinging.
Coming to the Chicago White Sox in a trade from San Diego last June with a big salary and fading reputation, Shields was a disaster in 22 starts, going 4-12 with a 6.77 ERA. In 33 combined outings with the Padres and Sox, the right-hander gave up 40 home runs, most in the major leagues.
Hahn got where the question was coming from, and he said an ongoing dearth of quality pitching depth in the minor leagues continually forced the White Sox to go outside the organization for help.
Hahn also said that was a big reason the Sox finally decided to rebuild, and they got back five premium pitching prospects in trades that sent Chris Sale to Boston and Adam Eaton to Washington.
Shields obviously has little or no trade value after going a combined 6-19 with a 5.85 ERA last season, but the 35-year-old righty said he expects to have a big year for the Sox.
"That's not the first time I've had a rough season," said Shields, an 11-year veteran. "I've been in the game a long time and I know how to come back from that and combat that. I worked real hard in the off-season, worked on some things in the gym and I'm ready to go."
Shields referenced his 2010 season with Tampa Bay, when he was 13-15 with a 5.18 ERA. The next year with the Rays he was 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA and finished third in American League Cy Young Award voting.
"I've been doing this a long time and I know how to get myself ready for the season," Shields said. "I'm not really worried about last season. Just putting that in the back of my mind in the past and moving forward."
When asked if he has anything to prove this year, Shields had an interesting response.
"I have nothing to prove," he said. "Nothing to prove. I think my career speaks for itself. I definitely want to prove to the Chicago White Sox fans who I really am."
The Sox owe Shields $10 million in each of the next two seasons, with San Diego paying the one-time workhorse just over $30 million total in 2017-18.
At 35, it is extremely doubtful Shields is going to bounce all the way back, but pitching coach Don Cooper expects him to be much better.
"Look at his numbers over the years," Cooper said. "This guy has been one of the top guys for a long time as far as taking the ball, being a gamer, logging innings, giving his team a chance to win. I'm hoping last year was an aberration, and that's where I'm going to enter it.
"He still has everything he needs stuff-wise to get people out. He has movement. He has a great changeup. He commands that fastball. We're hoping for a whole lot better for sure. And I'm sure he is, too."
Not only does Shields want to markedly improve his 2016 performance, he wants to be a part of the White Sox's rebuilding project.
"Look at our clubhouse," Shields said. "What did we get rid of? A couple guys? It's not a complete rebuild. I know they're talking about it, but we've got a good group of guys in here and we have a lot of the same core guys in here. We just added a few young pieces in the minors and all the way to the top.
"I actually embrace that role, embrace rebuilding. When I was in Tampa it seemed like we were rebuilding every year and we ended up going to the playoffs five times. I don't worry too much about the rebuild; I worry about what we're going to do this season."
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