The 2020 World Series began this week, and White Sox fans should be hoping for a short series because at the conclusion of the event the South Siders can earnestly begin the search for their next skipper. While general manager Rick Hahn made a clear distinction to not “cut off any avenues” in the impending search, his end-of-season comments clearly hinted to the hope of hiring someone who has done the job before — and at a high level.
In referencing the playoff teams still alive last week, Hahn said, “I’ll say this, managerial experience is probably ideal. It’s not essential, we’re not going to unduly limit ourselves. I believe six of the eight managers that were still playing as of last week were in their first jobs.” But it would be a surprise if the organization tapped a first-timer as the 41st manager in team history. Anything is possible, though, and there’s at least one candidate with no prior managerial experience on the interview list.
Ricky Renteria led the White Sox to a 35-25 record and the club’s first playoff appearance in 12 seasons. He deserves credit for the development of some young players, and his stewardship in getting the team to this point.
Things weren’t always as they appeared, though, and Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times recently reported on the “growing friction” that consumed the relationship between the dugout and the front office down the stretch. According to the report, the coaching staff (including Renteria and pitching coach Don Cooper) pushed back some on the insistence of specific in-game metrics supplied by the baseball operations staff. Sources have also indicated to South Side Sox that Hahn and Renteria often shared dialogue about certain “old school tendencies” that the former manager favored.
Another tipping point for the coaching staff was after the incident with Willson Contreras during the Cubs series to close out the regular season. The front office was not on board with the decision to throw a projectile at a member of the opposition, and it’s more evidence of an overmatched leader in a changing game. Communication skills and data interpretation will be important skills for the next White Sox manager to possess.
“It’s going to be important for the next coaching staff to be able to communicate directly with players,” Hahn said. “Being able to bond with players, motivate players and create relationships with players is important for any skilled manager. Being able to do that in their native language is a positive toward helping that happen, but it’s not necessarily essential.”
Tales of yesteryear
Bruce Levine reported on The Score that the White Sox interviewed Tony La Russa for their managerial vacancy yesterday. When the news broke last week courtesy of Bob Nightengale, everyone immediately scoffed and waved off the possibility. The idea is kind of insane, but at least Dave Duncan is already on the White Sox payroll. It’s unlikely that the law firm of La Russa, Duncan and Oquendo moves full time to the South Side, but it’s still something to monitor.
The 76-year-old is currently serving as a senior advisor to baseball operations for the Los Angeles Angels. La Russa is a Hall of Fame manager who has won three World Series titles with the St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland Athletics. While not actively looking to manage again, La Russa could be swayed to change that tune due to his tremendous friendship with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The baseball lifer isn’t the ideal choice to manage the 2021 club and he likely doesn’t get the job, but he’s been dismissed for the wrong reasons by many.
La Russa was ahead of his time in regards to modern analytics and bullpen usage, and he’s reportedly kept up to date with recent trends. He hasn’t managed since 2011 but it hasn’t been a complete vacation since he hung up the uniform, either. Prior to joining the Angels, La Russa was in Boston with Dave Dombrowski and served as a sounding board for manager Alex Cora. Before his time in Boston, La Russa served as the chief baseball officer for the Arizona Diamondbacks and it ended abruptly after GM Dave Stewart’s disastrous tenure.
La Russa managed the White Sox from 1979-86 before being fired by then-general manager Ken Harrelson. Reinsdorf describes this decision as his biggest regret, and that relationship weighs heavily according to James Fegan of The Athletic. While the redemption story is seen as an interesting one by some of the Chicago media, it remains unlikely that the former 1983 division-winning manager will be putting that uniform back on every Sunday.
Despite some archaic and flawed views in regards to pressing issues of late, there’s no evidence to suggest that La Russa couldn’t handle a clubhouse full of modern players. During his lengthy career, athletes like Ricky Henderson, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco strolled through the manager’s office. It’s been reported in multiple outlets that the organization will embark on a lengthy search for their next manager, which downplays any talk of an assumed front-runner.
The White Sox search is expected to be fairly extensive, with multiple realistic candidates. La Russa appears to be one of those candidates, and with the holy trinity of sports executives operating the franchise like a mob family on the South Side, fireworks should be expected. La Russa is third on the all-time wins list, and adding to that total would be in defiance of baseball’s Hall of Fame, but the short-term nature of said arrangement makes it seem more unlikely by the day.
Meet the candidates
The White Sox don’t want to limit themselves to a few candidates, but taking Hahn’s words at face value doesn’t leave a ton of available choices presently. “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.”
A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora are the two most noteworthy names available, but they can’t even interview until the season concludes and their league suspensions are lifted. Both were fired for the roles they played in the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal and their punishments have been well-documented. Bruce Bochy, 65, is the recently-retired manager of the San Francisco Giants, and the veteran skipper has three titles in his ledger. There’s been no rumored interest between the two sides to this point.
Hensley Meuelens (Mets bench coach), Joe Espada (Astros bench coach) and Matt Quatraro (Rays bench coach) could all be contenders for the job as first-time managers. One potential name to keep an eye on that doesn’t possess the desired experience stated by Hahn is former big-leaguer Sam Fuld. The 38-year-old is currently serving as the major league information coordinator for the Philadelphia Phillies.
The former outfielder played in the big leagues for eight seasons with type-1 diabetes. He interviewed for the Toronto Blue Jays managerial position in 2018 and has drawn interest from numerous clubs. The Stanford graduate is the all-time leader in runs scored for the Cardinal and in the Pac 12 overall. Fuld was injured early in his professional career and used the time to complete his degree in statistics from Stanford.
In his current role for the Phillies, Fuld focuses on data integration, but last year RJ Anderson of CBS Sports stated that Fuld “was on the fast track to holding down a managerial post of his own.” That opportunity could be in Chicago.
Some other candidates for the job with previous managerial experience are John Farrell, Bob Geren and Andy Green. Farrell is currently serving as a special assignment scout for the Cincinnati Reds. The 58-year-old spent 2007-10 as Boston’s pitching coach before serving as Toronto’s manager in 2011 and 2012. Farrell managed the Red Sox between 2013-17 and won the 2013 World Series. (Farrell’s son was drafted by the White Sox, as well.) He’s expected to speak with the organization about the managerial opening.
Geren is a former big-league catcher and currently the bench coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 59-year-old managed the Athletics from 2007-11. He spent 1999-2002 as a minor league manager in the Oakland organization as well. The Southern California native was on the bench with the Mets after his stint in Oakland. He’s been praised for his statistical aptitude and strong knowledge of modern analytics, and is expected to interview on the South Side.
The 43-year-old Green is David Ross’ bench coach with the Chicago Cubs. He served as the manager for the San Diego Padres from 2015-19 and was a minor league manager in the Diamondbacks organization from 2011-14. Green worked as the third base coach in Arizona back in 2015 when La Russa was there. Green could also be a candidate for the opening with the Sox.
Commissioner Rob Manfred stated that a manager is responsible for “ensuring that the players both understand the rules and adhere to them.” A.J. Hinch failed to uphold this responsibility while managing in Houston, and while he was in a no-win situation he allowed the strategic sign-stealing scandal to occur on his watch even though he wasn’t reportedly in favor of said scheme. Hinch is currently serving a one-year suspension and he’s eligible to speak with clubs about job opportunities at the conclusion of the Fall Classic.
Hinch managed the Astros from 2015-19 and oversaw three division titles and a World Series championship in 2017. Prior to his time in Houston, he served as the vice president of scouting for the San Diego Padres between 2010-14. As a 34-year-old, the former big league backstop managed the Diamondbacks from May 2009 through July 2010.
Hinch was drafted by the A’s in the third round in 1996, playing in Oakland from 1998-2000, Kansas City in 2001-02 and ended his playing career with the Tigers and Phillies in 2003 and 2004. The former catcher also has experience as a farm director in Arizona.
Who are A.J. Hinch's prior connections to the #WhiteSox? Here's a good one: Rick Hahn. Two decades ago, Hinch's agent was Jeff Moorad. Hahn worked for Moorad's agency at the time, prior to starting his career as a team executive.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) October 13, 2020
At times during Hahn’s 2020 post-mortem, it seemed as if he was describing Hinch. While other candidates match Hahn’s desired profile, none have similar organizational ties.
Skepticism from ownership over Hinch’s recent dalliances is warranted, but managers with his resume and skillset only become available due to extenuating circumstances in most cases. Hinch is well-versed in advanced metrics and often possesses a tactical advantage in the dugout. He also understands players — and young players in particular. His experience as a director of player development and his time as the vice president of scouting have served him well in the dugout.
The 46-year-old also has a degree in psychology from Stanford, and Ken Williams has always been fond of fellow Palo Altoans. Cardinal blood isn’t the only link to the White Sox’s braintrust, though. Hinch was also drafted by the White Sox in the past, and has a strong history with Hahn. Hahn represented Hinch as a player when he worked in Jeff Moorad’s agency before breaking into baseball on the front office side.
There’s a chance that some of the managerial candidates above could be lined up for spots on a potential Hinch staff. Whether that’s true or not, however, it’s clear that the organization has a “type” for this position: Analytically-focused, open-minded tacticians are aplenty in this search. The White Sox offer their next manager a premium opportunity, and if they choose wisely, the club will benefit greatly as well.
It’s an organization loaded with talent, in a top-three market located in a world-class city. “Quite frankly, that we should be viewed as a very desirable landing spot for potential managers,” Hahn said. “We’re a team that not only gets to play in Chicago and have tremendous support, we’re a team that’s poised to potentially go on an extended run here. So we’re looking for that right fit that’s going to be able to take us to that next step.”
Hahn is right. Enjoy the search.