A change in managers has allowed the front office to solve problems more swiftly.
It's not like the White Sox ever want word of their potential moves to hit the media before they come to fruition, but I wonder if they cringed extra-hard when USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported that Kenny Williams will pass the torch to Rick Hahn after the season.
The Sox and Tigers have spent practically the last four months within three games of each other in the standings, and the Sox hold a two-game lead with a magic number of 12. That's not the best time to hear about a plan that is conducive to turning conversations into something resembling a victory lap. I'd assume Williams wouldn't want to hear or read phrases like "going out on top" before the regular season is over. Actually, his stated goal was to win two World Series, so even an AL Central title might not meet his standards.
Of course, nobody on the Sox will comment on it, so we're left to speculate. That's fun in some respects, but it's easy to get carried away and start counting chickens out over your skis.
So I'm going to try setting aside results, and look at why the timing of a potential transition makes much more sense than the timing of the news itself:
Shelf life: Williams has been in the job for 12 years, which is two longer than the guy he replaced under similar circumstances. Ron Schueler accepted the title of senior vice president after GM-ing the Sox to an AL Central title in 2000. He spent a couple of years in that role before moving on to other projects in different organizations. Schueler was 52; Williams is 48.
Previous statements: Williams offered to step down after playing a significant role in the nonstarter season of 2011. Whether Williams made the offer -- or whether he made the offer knowing it would be denied -- it's not unreasonable to think he has considered other paths for the near future, be they professional (like the Oakland Raiders) or personal (more trips to Egypt).
State of the franchise: Jerry Reinsdorf had on-field reasons to jettison both Willams and Ozzie Guillen, and certainly a lot of people would have cheered the complete overhaul. But the Williams-Ozzie Guillen relationship was so unique (and poisoned) that it made the scientific-method-kind-of-sense to swap out one variable, measure the impact and reevaluate.
As it turns out, having a manager who doesn't despise his boss (and vice versa) works wonders for putting the best possible product on the field. The organization is still far from perfect -- the lack of a young core poses problems for projecting future rosters -- but it's in a far better position to maximize whatever talent is on hand. Regardless of whether the Sox win the AL Central, it's been a banner year for problem-solving.
And Rick Hahn has been around the whole time, looking the part of a future GM with other organizations sniffing around. Add it all up, and the Sox have a groundwork is in place for a changing of the guards, so we can answer one question reasonably well ("Why might they change GMs?").
The other questions, like ...
- Is Williams capable of taking a backseat?
- Or is it going to be a joint production like a Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer, John Paxson/Gar Forman, Larry Beinfest/Michael Hill kind of deal?
- Is it even going to happen?
... are impossible to know at this point, but we'll have a few months without baseball to watch the complete picture emerge.