The Q&A session with Rick Hahn and Rick Renteria opened with Jason Benetti introducing Rick Hahn as a man who had been pretty busy lately.
Hahn quickly interjected, "Not busy enough," to thunderous applause.
That first bit set the tone for the entire seminar, as fan reception to Renteria, Hahn, and the team's new direction was extremely positive. There were a couple frustrations aired by fans during the session, but even those had a respectful, good-natured element to them. That's in contrast to past years, during which Robin Ventura was flatly asked if he had a pulse.
Before the floor was opened up to fans, Renteria discussed the style of play that he wanted to emphasize with this years group. He heavily stressed that he wanted players to go about things the "White Sox way" and that his focus was to get a group of guys who would go out and play hard every day. From a strategy perspective, Renteria mentioned in his overview that getting players to hit the ball to the right side when the situation calls for it was going to be a focal point. The fans reacted well to this, likely frustrated with missed scoring opportunities in recent years.
The fans probed Renteria even further on strategy. He was asked questions about how the White Sox would employ defensive shifts and the extent to which sabermetrics would play a role in decision-making. The response, co-signed by Hahn, was that there's a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes information flow from the front office to the manager's seat. However, Renteria pointed out that numbers are simply outcomes and that he and Hahn want the White Sox to stay ahead of the curve by looking at more than just the aggregated past. The eye test and understanding of what a player can and can't do should play an important role as well.
Hahn had some pleasing answers to inquiries as well. He confirmed that all the significant players returned from the Eaton and Sale deals would stay in the minor leagues to start the season. Hahn repeated several times that the goal would be to acquire as much young talent as possible and that they are still looking to make more moves. One interesting tidbit he mentioned was that a significant deal fell apart on Christmas Eve this year. This is speculation, but this was the hottest White Sox rumor out there around that time:
The question also arose of whether Hahn was going to start to target some position players to balance out the large number of pitching prospects that the team had acquired. He replied that returns will be dictated by the market and that targeting specific positions was going to be secondary to taking the best offer out there. "Acquiring as much young talent as possible" was an ongoing theme in Hahn's answers. Renteria also chimed in regarding the necessity of the minor league pipeline, suggesting that the playoffs aren't made just from using the guys on the 25-man roster and that the team would need to have the depth to supplement from within. From all of our discussions here this winter, that line of thinking sounds familiar.
Hahn was adept at handling the fans' more pointed questions. When asked about whether the organization would be willing to splurge during an upcoming strong free agent class, Hahn echoed the sentiments Larry captured yesterday, that they'd be ready to make one of those big moves when the time is right. A fan said he had two questions about James Shields, to which Hahn replied, "Only two?" After the laughter subsided, the fan wondered whether Hahn would attach Shields to one of his assets in trade. Hahn used pretty much every word he could without actually saying "liability" in describing Shields and asserted that they had no intent in tossing him in as a sandbag in trade because it would only hurt the level of young talent they could get back. That seems obvious, but it's nice to hear a Mark Teahen situation isn't in the cards.
Easily the high point of the session was when a man with autism came to the microphone and talked about looking up to the men on the podium not just for baseball reasons, but as an inspiration for him and his family to work as hard as they possibly could. He finished his thoughts with, "Let's go White Sox!", eliciting loud applause from the crowd. Then, Renteria actually hopped off the podium, smiling wide, to give the man a hug. The two then did a "One-Two-Three--SUCCESS!" chant. It was a truly great moment.
That level of warmth and fan engagement puts Renteria in stark contrast to Robin Ventura's reserved demeanor. The fans enjoyed themselves, Benetti's humor was on-point, and Hahn gave effective answers to questions, but the real winner of the session was Renteria, who surely won over the heart of every Sox fan in the room. Renteria's eloquence and thoughtfulness in answering questions was both impressive and extremely refreshing after the last five years. The Sox may not be winners under Renteria right away, but there is every reason in the world to be confident in this man right now.