At the press conference back in October, the coverage of Rick Renteria was more about how the White Sox settled on (or for) him. Once again, the front office did not conduct anything resembling a search, much less an exhaustive one, for their new manager, and their gut led them into a trap the first time. I’m hoping White Sox fans will be kinder to Robin Ventura than history is, because right now time is only revealing old wounds:
Having a leadership role foisted upon him wasn’t always easy for [Todd] Frazier in 2016. He assumed that role on a team that had few experienced leaders last season. Verbal battles with ex-teammate [Adam] Eaton caused some clubhouse trauma. At one point, Eaton had his locker moved away from Frazier because the relationship became untenable.
In Renteria’s favor, he was just as qualified as any other available managerial candidate, so the White Sox’ bad habits didn’t necessarily hurt them. They did cast doubt over their ability to pull off any kind of vision going forward, and so it was fair to question Rick Hahn about whether they had actually learned anything from four consecutive losing seasons.
The scrutiny was also warranted since it looked like the White Sox had one more run in them. Now that the White Sox are stepping away from the contenders’ table, the individual manager and the individual wins and losses attributable to him won’t tip any scales. Renteria’s job is more about stamina and the ability to keep players on track despite arduous conditions. Several Cubs — Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta and Starlin Castro in particular — made big strides under Renteria in his only year on the job.
This White Sox team should look familiar to him, and not just because he was the bench coach for it last season. Renteria is as good as anybody for this role, and SoxFest provides him the opportunity his press conference didn’t for beginning to judge him on his own merits.
Further working in Renteria’s favor, at least approaching the run-up to his first encounters with anxious fans, is that the White Sox still have a major-league team. Trading Adam Eaton and Chris Sale dashes any larger dreams, but the rotation is still credible as long as Jose Quintana tops it, the bullpen could be a strength if everybody is healthy, and the loss of Eaton could be softened if Jose Abreu and Frazier get off to better starts. It’s not a contender, but it’s not a Braves/Astros-level joke, either.
(This statement will of course be revisited if and when the White Sox trade Quintana, since that’s going to be the one that makes the Jenga tower topple.)
Rebuilding is a double-edged sword for a manager. The initial expectations are easy to clear, making it an opportunity for growth, but the losing eventually wears on everybody. Most successful rebuilding teams have a different manager at the end of the process, which is something Renteria knows all too well. The key for Renteria is to make himself somebody who can’t be so easily swapped out.
He’s not going to be able to do it with quotes, because he knows there’s only so much that can be said for a team facing long odds on purpose.
"We are going to be White Sox first," Renteria told MLB.com during a recent interview at Camelback Ranch. "The name on the back, we know who you are, but you are going to be a White Sox first.
"Every good organization wants to be and emulate something for themselves, and we need to be able to separate ourselves by being selfless. Those are things that everybody is willing to do. We talk about it, and I know they are all clichés and things of that nature, but they are truisms. They are real."
The good news is that Renteria won’t have that hard of an act to follow. Ventura had an underrated sense of humor, but you had to wait for him to pick his spots, and most fans stopped giving him the time. Renteria will have a leg up simply by showing a wider array of emotions.
Then again, Renteria’s past experience with Dale Sveum suggests that naturally one-upping his predecessor might not be enough to engender loyalty. Further humanization might be necessary, and Renteria is willing to put himself out there:
Rick Renteria is showing us how to make his famous queso fundido!— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) January 17, 2017
Stay tuned for the full video pic.twitter.com/KU2CONNlur
If you’re going to SoxFest on Sunday, you’ll be able to watch Renteria participate in a “Ceviche Cook Off” with Carlos Gaytan from “Top Chef.” Tyler Saladino is the guest judge, and he might want to give his new boss the victory in case they’re in short supply come April.