Looking ahead into the alternate future after the SB Nation Hot Stove Simulation...
CHICAGO (May 1, 2014) -- The White Sox are no strangers to dismal starts, but without a steadying force like Paul Konerko in the clubhouse this time around, a rift has formed.
All the players are on one side, and new general manager Ken Wo is on the other.
It's nothing personal -- it's just too personal. An overhauled roster needs time to jell, and also space. The new GM is giving them plenty of the former, and none of the latter.
Wo, the brash, charismatic first-year GM, attempted to give the moribund franchise a shot in the arm with a series of offseason moves ranging from "splashy" to "controversial." Around baseball GMs were taken aback by the fortitude, including the Giants' Grant Brisbee:
Chris Sale was traded straight up for Yasiel Puig. I … still can't wrap my head around that one, which probably means it's a much fairer trade than you might think at first.
But Wo flat-out impressed other industry execs, including division rivals:
I think the White Sox fleeced the Dodgers in both deals. They parlayed Chris Sale and Alejandro de Aza into Yasiel Puig and three decent prospects? And added Jose Abreu? That’s how you rebuild a franchise.
Early on in spring training, players and media took notice that "The Zubaz GM" spent an inordinate amount of time in the clubhouse before and after games. Wo rationalized the face time as a way to build unity among a bunch of new faces, and a rare winning record in the Cactus League worked in his favor.
|Ken Wo's 25-Man Roster|
|SP - Jose Quintana|
|SP - Hector Santiago|
|SP - Jeremy Guthrie|
|SP - John Danks|
|SP - Erik Johnson|
|RP - Addison Reed|
|RP - Nate Jones|
|RP - Daniel Webb|
|RP - Donnie Veal|
|RP - Onelki Garcia|
|RP - Andre Rienzo|
|RP - Dylan Axelrod|
|C - Dioner Navarro|
|C - Josh Phegley|
|1B - Jose Abreu|
|2B - Brian Roberts|
|SS - Alexei Ramirez|
|3B - Marcus Semien|
|LF - Dayan Viciedo|
|CF - Avisail Garcia|
|RF - Yasiel Puig|
|DH - Adam Dunn|
|IF - Leury Garcia|
|IF - Gordon Beckham|
|OF - Jordan Danks|
Fortune then turned its back on the bold. The team opened with a 6-20 April, with 10 of those losses by seven or more runs. Despite the lack of pitching and sputtering offense, Wo remains just as chipper and just as visible, which has set off all sorts of alarms. From the frustration emerges the same realization voiced by one player:
"I think he just acquired guys he wanted to hang out with."
The recent promotion of James Baldwin III from Winston-Salem galvanized the players against Wo.
Baldwin III is the son of former Sox pitcher James Baldwin, and Wo acquired him from Los Angeles as part of a package for De Aza. At the time of the trade, Wo invited speculation that he thought he had traded for the elder Baldwin when he said he "might have something left in that right arm." While Wo played it off as a joke, one player says Wo may have sincerely been mistaken.
"Every day, he's asking James, 'Is your dad here yet?' 'Where's your dad?' 'I bet your dad sure would want to see you play here,'" the player said on the condition of anonymity, lest he be called "un-American."
"Then yesterday he just straight-up asked for his phone. Isn't that illegal?"
That question has come up often. Take Jose Abreu, the Cuban first baseman whose contract included a clause requiring 300 autographs a month. The number isn't the problem, according to his agency -- it's that they're all addressed to "Ken," "KW" or "Big Sexy (Ken)."
Puig also has issues with his new employer, and it's showing in his play. The bombastic outfielder has been under wraps this April, hitting just .180/.191/.240 through the first 29 games. Some are blaming it on his first exposure to cold weather (average first-pitch temperature this year: 33 degrees), but teammates say that Wo isn't helping.
"Every time Puig tries to go out and get away from the game, he ends up running into [Wo]," one player said. "He learned to stop sharing his plans early on, and sometimes he even lies about going straight home, but Ken still ends up finding him. They're out late."
Wo has denied using team employees to track Puig's whereabouts. When asked if Wo tailed Puig himself, Wo shot back, "Maybe you're tailing him," followed by a threat of a "tombstone."
While the new acquisitions are being lavished with Wo's attention, other players said they've been given the cold shoulder. Gordon Beckham was on his honeymoon when Wo signed Brian Roberts to a one-year contract, and he didn't find out about the move until he reported to Camelback Ranch. "I'm still not sure what's up with my playing time, but I just have to be ready," Beckham said.
Smaller complaints include reducing the postgame beer choices to Bud Light Lime and Bud Light Lime-A-Rita, and limiting the at-bat and bullpen music to anything off a beat-up cassette tape of Mötley Crüe's "Shout At The Devil." Infield defense has also taken a step back under the direction of new third-base coach Terry "Hulk" Hogan, but one source says if Wo just stopped being the first guy in the clubhouse and the last to leave, the other drawbacks would be tolerable.
The White Sox chairman has refused to comment about his new GM, only issuing a statement that he approved Wo's attempt at rejuvenating the franchise. However, another source close to the front office said perhaps the Sox were too impatient to shake up the brass, which led to the dismissal of Rick Hahn after one season.
"In hindsight, maybe we could have lived with the suits."