Dear Mr. Hahn, Mr. Williams, and Mr. Reinsdorf,
I’m sure you are already well aware, but the past couple weeks have not been good for us Chicago White Sox fans. I don’t care to speculate on just how much you care that fans such as myself have been hurt by recent events (or, more accurately for the purposes of the White Sox, non-events), but your statements have, at a minimum, acknowledged you are at least aware of our anger, pain, and frustration.
Unfortunately, the statements from the front office lead me to believe that, while you are aware of these things, you don’t really understand the underlying issues. Let me spell out the primary one for you, if I might:
Stop being dishonest.
Mr. Hahn, you stated two years ago that the White Sox would be prepared to spend money with an eye on this free agent class. Nobody from the front office has denied that this offseason was a part of the long-term plans of the team from the outset. Then why is it that, when the time came, you seemed totally unprepared for this undertaking? Both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado signed deals commensurate with what most any reasoned analyst would have predicted. In the case of Machado, you were way off the mark, and in the case of Harper, you didn’t even really seem to try at all.
Look, there were plenty of scenarios in which a failure to sign them would have elicited mild disappointment and a shrug of the shoulders. For example, a large number of suitors could have brought the bidding into the realm of the absurd, a stratosphere into which we could all agree you would not be wise to ascend. Or maybe a player just did not care for Chicago, and it was out of your hands. Similarly, a player could have had a preferred destination, taking a discount to go there even if you offered up more money. There could have been marketing opportunities, family concerns, and the list goes on.
What was not acceptable to most of us was for the final price for these two superstars to be basically exactly what everybody was expecting and you refused to meet it, or even come close to it — and in the case of Machado, get outbid by a rebuilding, low/mid-market team to boot. And sorry, $250 million plus $70 million in vesting options is simply not a superior option to $300 million guaranteed with an opt-out, no matter how you spin it.
Even Mr. Williams’ assertion that the average annual value was higher, while true, rings hollow knowing that he was trying to reduce risk on the back end of the contract. Sure, this strategy is prudent in many signings, but suicide when pursuing a player who is the cream of the crop, like Machado. You should have known your offer was insufficient from the beginning, and if you weren’t willing to reach to where this was expected to land, you shouldn’t have set fans’s sights on Machado or Harper.
It’s bad enough to be dishonest with fans, but don’t be dishonest with yourselves. We deserve a front office that doesn’t operate in a state of utter delusion.
I understand the desire to have constant, upbeat, positive messaging, but there’s simply no sugarcoating this turd you’ve dropped in our baskets. Yes, fans can be unreasonable and petty, but in general, we can deal with the truth.
Most of us were able to get behind the rebuild and the trading of our favorite players, not because we were happy to see them go or were looking forward to top-three draft picks, but because you plainly plotted out a course and stuck to it. Yes, there was disappointment, but also interest and optimism in the new direction.
But here we are, more than two years later, and the company line has become disingenuous at best and outright false at worst. Personally, I can take failure to a point, but this throwing up a thin smokescreen just leaves me gagging.
If you have a modest spending limit by industry standards, just say so. I’m not saying to quote a hard figure, but if you aren’t going to set the market on premier free agents, please be upfront about it. Again, a spending cap is disappointing for fans, but at least it allows us to focus our expectations appropriately — and maybe we get pleasantly surprised sometime down the road. I’d prefer feeling disappointed to feeling duped. Just as you were upfront about the beginning of the rebuild, don’t B.S. us about the middle and end.
Which leads to another simple request: If these are the limitations within which you intend to operate, just be good at working within them. The Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s have proven that you can be relatively successful on a modest budget.
What your organization has proven is that you lack the ability to succeed in these conditions. Being hamstrung in free agency is a handicap, but it isn’t a crippling one. What is, crippling, however, is when you continually blow past your now-reduced margin for error. Teams like the Rays and A’s continually draft well, and develop competent-to-superstar players from within consistently. While the White Sox farm system is much improved, even discounting the prospects acquired via trade, there remain limited returns in this arena.
Also, when those teams do dip into free agency, they tend to keep their missteps to a minimum. They generally don’t sign players like Adam LaRoche or Jeff Keppinger or Mark Kotsay or Scott Linebrink and expect them to be critical pieces — only to have them fall far short of expectations. They also don’t sign the likes of David Robertson, Zach Duke, and Melky Cabrera to be star players on a budding contender, as opposed to complementary pieces on a ready contender.
It’s sad that in Mr. Hahn’s tenure, probably the most value-added free agent signing he’s managed was Miguel González (the first time, anyhow). While I could look at that and say, “Nice, that turned out better than I expected,” pretty much everything else was a range of “about what I expected” down to “unmitigated disaster.”
I’ll leave it there, gentlemen. Wherever you choose to set the goalposts, just put them there and we’ll follow. Most of us are die-hard fans; we don’t really have a choice but to follow along. But don’t leave us feeling burned because you can’t or won’t back up what you say. Just establish the guidelines and work well within them. And if you can’t work well within them, well, Mr. Reinsdorf, you’re the only one we can look to for accountability for that failure. Needless to say, fan confidence in that regard is pretty low right now, as well.
Be better, gentlemen. Please, for my sanity’s sake.
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