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Is the White Sox front office good now?

Sorry for the question headline, but I don’t want to lead the witness

MLB: Winter Meetings Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Over at FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan is soliciting responses from fans about their teams’ front offices. I submitted a response, and I recommend you do the same, or at least give it some thought before peeking at the results.





Will Leitch looked at the results of the FanGraphs poll and found that only five groups of fans called their front offices worse than average: the Marlins, Mets, Orioles, Reds and Tigers. The other 25 teams’ fans are “actively pleased with their front offices.”

Leitch said that it’s partially a reflection of a more level playing field between teams, with everybody using data to some degree.

But that's the world we live in now. Our default is to assume competence in our executives. That's a greater change than I think we've appreciated. Not too long ago, we cheered a movie in which Billy Beane outsmarted the good ol' boys network. Now everybody is Billy Beane. And we're all collectively more satisfied. Even though … well, everybody still has the same record. The collective baseball record is still .500. There is still only one champion.

That’s a part of it. The decision-making is a whole lot more defensible on the whole, even if a fair portion of them don’t work (a zero-sum game and all).

In the White Sox’ case, it’s also a case of setting a really low bar. Looking at the results, nearly 53 percent of respondents called Rick Hahn and friends “pretty good” or “very good,” while only 15 percent called the front office “pretty bad” or “very bad.”

As somebody who selected “pretty bad,” that genuinely surprised me, because it doesn’t seem consistent with the recent past.

The Sox front office wouldn’t have come close to those marks after 2015 or 2016, as the first attempt at rebuilding ate it and Robin Ventura was allowed to lead the team all the way into the turf. I doubt that a cross-section of fans would look at the compound failure of the Adam LaRoche signing and the inability to even get to .500 despite a group of four cost-controlled stars and call the front office “average.”

The closest data point we have is Sullivan’s first poll, which he conducted at the All-Star break in 2015:

  • Pretty bad: 41.9 percent
  • Average: 35 percent
  • Very bad: 13.3 percent
  • Pretty good: 9.1 percent
  • Very good: 0.7 percent

Considering all the disappointment that followed, fans probably held it lower esteem over the following eight baseball months.

So what happened in between this period where the White Sox front office’s “good” vote went from below 10 percent to over 50?

Two more losing seasons, including one where the White Sox won 67 games.

That’s an oversimplification of course. The White Sox decided to tear it down, trading Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana for a wave of prospects. The stars-and-scrubs model didn’t work, so the White Sox decided to sell off an unprecedented cluster of great contracts in order to yield a wider array of talent. They also hired an eminently qualified manager this time. They deserve some credit for realizing they couldn’t make the old way work, committing to a different model and being open about it.

But man, I don’t think they deserve that much credit. This front office hasn’t reached the postseason in nine years, they’ve had five losing seasons in a row, and they very much tried to win in two of them, during which Rick Hahn was the general manager.* That they got a great return for the AL Cy Young runner-up and their best position player doesn’t change the math much, because a better team wouldn’t have had to trade them in the first place.

(*I’m convinced that a significant part of Kenny Williams’ value to the White Sox is being somebody to blame for lesser moves regardless of his level of input.)

I think most front offices could start a rebuild in an intriguing way if they had to, especially with the assets the White Sox dealt. A dozen other teams have collected losses and young players at the same time over the past several years. This part doesn’t seem to define a front office, so I’m inclined to weigh the failed first rebuilding attempt far more heavily.

The part that will actually distinguish the White Sox is coming up. It includes finishing the development of players, evaluating which players are expendable, evaluating outside talent and integrating it into the organization without the destructive adjustment period of the past. These things tripped up the front office the last time, and they haven’t yet proven they’ve fixed the glitch.

Maybe I’m excessively negative, but I think “good job with this one, but ...” is a generous-enough assessment. Perhaps it’s a problem with the poll, and specifically the modifier “pretty.” Some people use it to soften an adjective, and other times it’s used to amplify the description. I interpreted it as “below average” based on its spot on the scale, but another could interpret it as “terrible,” and I’d probably want to avoid that description myself.