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Chris Sale trade start of painful admission, transition

White Sox front office couldn’t get out of its own way, and others pay the price

MLB: Winter Meetings Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine seeing your friend post a photo of his new Tesla on Facebook. You “like” the post, maybe out of social obligation, but it’s still impressive.

It’s not so impressive when you find out it replaced the Aston Martin he totaled in a classic texting-after-soiling-self-while-driving accident. You click “unlike.”

That’s where the White Sox are at right now after trading Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday. Yoan Moncada, along with Michael Kopech and Luis Alexander Basabe, are good prospects who make the White Sox’ high minors a thousand times more interesting. Moncada in particular stands a chance of being a rare White Sox position player who makes baseball look easy and entertaining, rather than thankless toil undertaken in order to get into heaven.

But the White Sox only acquired that amazing baseball talent by surrendering Sale, who had already climbed to the sport’s elite. They only acquired Moncada because they failed to build a credible contender around Sale despite some star assistance and a relatively clean payroll. They only acquired Moncada because the roster had suffered wear and tear from costly swings and misses (OK, some were foul tips), so much so that the front office looked at scar tissue over the next three years and couldn’t see a winner underneath.

Worst of all, dealing Sale with three years remaining on his deal seemed inevitable, and in large part because the White Sox set staggeringly low expectations for a manager. They let the previous situation deteriorate to the extent that “not actively undermining the on-field product” became the sole qualification to retain the position. Robin Ventura was as good a self-taught manager as I am a self-taught guitarist (scouting report: some feel, hasn’t developed, can’t/won’t hang), and yet the White Sox ultimately tied the success of the Sale era to Ventura’s ability to figure it out. If that sounds familiar, it’s the same strategy deployed by legislators when they want to torpedo a bill.

That’s the part that I’ll never understand. While it’s the front office’s problem when a player flops or gets injured, there’s at least one degree of separation that diminishes the culpability. They had no such excuses with their choice of manager. When it came to finding somebody more qualified, they just ... didn’t wanna.

We’ll never know whether Rick Renteria or any other manager could have extracted the four extra wins to at least make the White Sox ever consider adding at the trade deadline. I feel comfortable saying there was zero risk in trying the last year, and I said so before the clubhouse exploded on Ventura twice, with Sale at the center of both uprisings.

Ventura’s departure preceded Sale, but not in any meaningful way since there won’t be a Sale start without him. The same front office that botched the first rebuilding effort gets to start a second one. The actual punishment trickles down to the fans and the marketing folks, who are deprived of the most overpowering pitcher in White Sox history because others couldn’t do their jobs. (Please treat your season-ticket representative with respect, please.)

Perhaps the administration has learned from the first one. During the post-trade media conference, Rick Hahn said:

There is no rush to do it from that standpoint. It's much more important to do it right than to do it quickly. Do it too quickly, do it hastily without the proper vetting of targets could put yourself in a worse predicament, if you aren't careful.

He was talking about the trading of players, but it’s just as important in the ramp-up that follows, lest the White Sox’ rebuilding hopes rest on a middle-of-the-pack 30something National League slugger again. Perhaps the White Sox have greater knowledge of their limitations, but they started the offseason by hiring another manager without an open interview process, so I’m not giving them any benefit of the doubt.

Maybe Hahn will get a chance to execute a plan with which Kenny Williams or Jerry Reinsdorf meddled the first time, but everybody has the same titles, and the ownership has a history of engendering jumbled power structures, which is why I’ve stopped caring which individual gets blamed. I suppose it’s better than not caring at all.

It’s comforting that the White Sox have picked a lane and stopped trying to serve two masters with their desultory design, but this also marks the start of a painful transition. Moncada-Kopech-Basabe is a flashy start, yet also a humbling one. While these are not exclusively days of mourning, sadness gets the priority lane, and each such transaction will be saddled with the same kind of baggage -- two facepalms for every high-five. There’s your new White Sox Baseball slogan.