[James Fox is a longtime writer at Future Sox, and has been part of our Sports Illustrated/South Side Hit Pen team for a year now. This is his first piece for South Side Sox, where he will serve as our White Sox Insider.]
Ricky Renteria served his purpose for a rebuilding White Sox club. The tank commander took the reins of an operation for an organization readily reticent to lengthy tear downs. The skipper served four years in Chicago and while he compiled an overall record of 236-309, the 58-year-old baseball lifer did the job he was hired to do.
The White Sox finished the 2020 season with a 35-25 record and the organization’s first playoff appearance in more than a decade. The squad recorded the fifth-best record in the American League and tied for first in run differential. The abbreviated campaign brought plenty of positives and offered a glimpse of the future. Consternation and questionable decisions marred season’s end, as the club essentially played out the string in the final week, however.
Per the official press release from the franchise, the organization and its 40th manager had “agreed to part ways.” Sometimes, professional sports teams aren’t able to completely break a scab and essentially call a spade what it appears to be. Renteria was fired on Monday and there’s no time for sniveling over press release parlance, as longtime pitching coach Don Cooper was likewise “parted” with the organization.
“This isn’t about any of the decision-making in Game 3 of the Wild Card series. This isn’t about anything that happened over the last couple of weeks after we clinched our position getting into the playoffs,” Rick Hahn said Monday to the assembled media. “This is based upon where we are as an organization and what we do to take that next step and putting us in the best position to succeed.”
While Renteria appeared to struggle before our very eyes with bullpen management, lineup construction and tactical advantages, Game 3 was a microcosm of a man in over his head. Southpaw Garrett Crochet’s abrupt exit likely contributed to an early playoff series loss, but it was the panicked nature of the manager in a high-pressure moment that was a stark reminder of previous red flags and a potential glimpse into the future.
Hahn would like everyone to believe that this decision was one made by the organization using a four year sample. James Fegan of The Athletic reported that Renteria’s tactical decisions in the final weeks played a significant role in expediting his removal, though. Veteran baseball insider Ken Rosenthal echoed the sentiments and noted that some White Sox veterans questioned Renteria’s methods in holding players accountable.
Some White Sox veterans felt Renteria needed to hold players more accountable, but this is the Cubs’ situation all over again. CWS moving on in large part because more proven candidates (Hinch, Cora) are becoming available. Can anyone seriously imagine them hiring someone else?— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) October 12, 2020
“This is not how we wanted this to end,” Hahn said. “We wanted it to end with Ricky leading us to championships. That was the intent from the start. Over time, again through very candid and, quite frankly, personal conversations about where this organization is, what our time horizon is, what we need to do to win in October and get to that final, ultimate goal, it became evident that it was time to make a change.”
Renteria spending the bulk of the 2020’s in the dugout at 35th and Shields was always an unlikely outcome. Ricky has plenty of warts, but his stewardship of a club contending for Top 5 picks was exemplary. Renteria just isn’t the guy to lead the finished product to the promised land. Similar to the Cubs decision six years ago, the White Sox knew that they couldn’t get to Point B with Point A leadership.
The White Sox under the ownership of Jerry Reinsdorf have been inclusive in regards to hirings, but they don’t often make rash decisions. It’s unlikely that the organization overreacted to public pressure or noise from the outside. It doesn’t fit the modus operandi of the decision-makers, and that should enhance the expectations of Sox fans as the team goes forward in its managerial search.
AJ Hinch is the betting favorite for the job, and the 46-year-old would come with significant baggage of his own. Hinch is currently serving a one-year ban from the league after his negligence laid bare in the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal. Hinch is a smart, analytically-inclined decision-maker who often possesses a tactical advantage over the opposition.
His tactical chops and Stanford background will be appealing to executive vice president Ken Williams, but the organization states that they won’t cut off any avenues in finding their next manager. Alex Cora (former Red Sox manager, finishing up a similar one-year ban as Hinch), Sandy Alomar Jr. (Cleveland bench coach), Joe Espada (Astros bench coach) and Matt Quatraro (Rays bench coach) could be candidates for the opening as well.
Hinch has recent playoff experience with a championship-level club, and those specific qualifications will be appealing to the White Sox for what seems like the first time.
“The best candidate or the ideal candidate is going to be someone who has experience with a championship organization in recent years,” Hahn said. “Recent October experience with a championship organization would be ideal. But we’re going to keep an open mind.”
While skepticism is warranted when discussing candidates given the White Sox and recent past hirings, fans and observers should enjoy what the stated deviation from the norm signifies. The White Sox are trying to win baseball games, and the club is looking to upgrade the manager of a rapidly-improving team. The second team in the sport’s third-largest market is finally acting like a top dog, and it’s a sight for sore eyes.
As Hahn has alluded to on numerous occasions, the White Sox have broken a multitude of theoretical barriers. The organization went full steam ahead and orchestrated a rebuild that many assumed was unthinkable. Ownership doled out more than $50 million for an international amateur signing in Luis Robert. The White Sox and Cubs consummated a trade together that has earned plaudits for the South Siders. A Scott Boras client was signed this past year, and the southpaw (Dallas Keuchel) has already paid dividends.
Williams and Hahn are still at the top of the organizational flow chart, but the franchise is in a much different state than it was when Renteria entered it. Numerous changes have been made in scouting and player development, analytics are being prioritized, and biomechanics are prevalent. Deficiencies in professional scouting are being addressed and the department is undergoing substantial change. Former amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler, now a special assistant to the general manager, will have a significant influence on the pro side, along with Ben Hansen (biomechanical engineer) and Dan Fabian (director of baseball operations).
As the 2020 season reaches its culmination, a World Series champion will be crowned and an important offseason will commence. The White Sox will soon employ a new voice in the managerial seat, and that’s unlikely to be the most significant move of the winter for a budding franchise.
Buckle up and enjoy the ride! These aren’t your older brother’s White Sox.