I gotta lot of problems with you people, and now you’re gonna hear about it!
— Jerry Stiller as Frank Costanza from Seinfeld’s “The Strike.”
While White Sox fans have the comfort of social media to scream into the void, it seems only fitting that in a year that started and ended with a Hall of Fame person looking beside himself, we honor the traditions of Festivus — with a South Side Sox twist.
In true, angry Sox fan fashion, the “Airing of Grievances” is an appropriate starting point. While you may have seen or heard our frustrations throughout the season in the form of a game recap, podcast, or an excellent written piece from the South Side Sox crew, it is time to deliver our official grievances for the season. — Tommy Barbee
This Soxivus, I’ve got a lot of problems with people constantly moving goalposts, and with the revisionist narrative that permeates every bit of this past 2021 White Sox season.
What started with World Series or bust, we are the best team in the league vibes, ended with spending way too much of the postgame wondering if José Abreu was hit on purpose. In the face of looking unprepared and out of place in the ALDS, the overall reaction of the players seemed to turn quickly to how successful the season was, even as the blood had barely dried from their postseason beating in Game 4 at Guaranteed Rate Field.
I also have a problem with the Sox front office already getting a pass from a big chunk of White Sox fans, for the absolute sleight-of-hand illusion of depth we were left with this year. For every miraculous signing off the scrap heap coming up big for the team, in the end, the lineup against the Astros still felt like it had two to four holes in it on any given night, and that is not what real depth looks like. Besides first base, the White Sox severely lack players who can hit right-handed pitching, and have several questions on the pitching staff heading into 2022. I am ready and waiting for my Soxivus miracle.
The White Sox fired Ricky Renteria for poor bullpen management, and for allowing his team to fade in the second half. And both issues somehow got worse with the Hall-of-Famer Baseball Person.
The Sox sacrificed likability — and got worse in the process. They brought in a manager who occasionally didn’t know the rules, chastised players for hitting home runs when they weren’t supposed to, and apparently thought shifts were illegal.
In 2020, the Sox lost in the playoffs but they didn’t look completely outclassed, like they were this year. Despite the window having just opened, the White Sox feel further away from a championship than they did a year ago.
But hey, at least Jerry gets to hang out with his friend, guilt-free.
My biggest Sox complaint is they didn’t have Dog Day.
Friday, July 30, 2021 was a bright, summer day. I was on my lunch break, in my car, listening to sports radio and trying to quickly scarf down some Portillo’s. My phone buzzed with a Twitter notification: The White Sox had acquired Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel.
I was ecstatic. Kimbrel had been nearly untouchable for the North Siders in 2021. I saw his addition as a bold and decisive move by the organization to address a bullpen that wasn’t quite ready for prime time. The White Sox were going for it. I texted my friends: “Are we really doing this?”
The answer, of course, was no. Kimbrel went from untouchable to unbearable. His 2021 team splits were vomit-inducing — especially his ERA.
“And, Craig ...?”
We all know that the Tony La Russa hire sent shockwaves not only nationally, but within the White Sox franchise. Despite a rough start, Sox PR spin sold folks on the idea that while Jerry Reinsdorf ultimately overruled Rick Hahn & Co., everyone could coexist, and all would be fine.
Like most things about the 2021 White Sox, that seemed all fine and good on paper. In execution, that’s a different story.
Let’s take a look at the White Sox likely wish list for 2022:
- Starting pitching
- Second base
- Right field
- Backup catcher
- Lefty bat help
Hmm ... I swear we’ve seen this list before.
And the year before.
And, hell, maybe even the year before that.
If you’ve followed me for any length of time, I’ve complained about roster construction all year long. Rick Hahn’s lighting $8 million on fire — I mean, signing of Adam Eaton — led to a Frankenstein approach in right field where 11 different players had to take over at least three games. Furthermore, while I give Hahn all the kudos in the world for daring to make aggressive moves at the trade deadline, outside of Ryan Tepera, they only added more question marks for a La Russa-led team.
Bringing in Craig Kimbrel should have resulted in the White Sox having the shutdown bullpen fans dreamt of at the start of the season. Instead, La Russa used Kimbrel solely as a setup man, a role he struggled with, and it caused more harm than good for the bullpen. Throw in the misuse of Michael Kopech and Garrett Crochet throughout the year, and you have a microcosm of the disconnect between upper management and La Russa.
Time will tell how the communication breakdown happened. As a team that doesn’t shift, solely used their best reliever in save situations and required half the position players to act as utility guys, the White Sox were understandably running on fumes by the time they reached the ALDS. No matter the fault, 2022 will only work if everyone is on the same page with expectations.
If La Russa is back again next year, Hahn and he will need better marriage counselors than Ken Williams and Reinsdorf. Maybe then, Hahn will finally have a shorter wish list in 2023.
Tempting as it is to go with the hiring of the HOFBP, that’s bound to be covered already, along with Rick Hahn’s miserable trade deadline performance, running game control that would have turned Sherm Lollar into Ricky Henderson, and the apparent belief that the cutoff man is a gnome who sneaks into your room at night and commits mayhem on your beard and must be avoided at all costs, I have to complain about the HOFBP’s serial abuse of starting pitchers that had the staff worn down by the playoffs, with Carlos Rodón the most obvious and egregious example.
Despite warnings from many experts, including Steve Stone many times over, our esteemed manager paid no attention to the need to be careful with workloads after a short season. Instead, Sox starters threw many more games of 100+ pitches than any other team (until the Reds caught up at the end, when they were desperate and the HOFBP finally had taken the hint), more than twice the MLB average. Rodón, fresh off of 41 innings pitched in the previous two years, had a stretch in June and July of seven straight games with 97 or more pitches. Couple this with the remarkable inefficiency of Sox starters, all of them in the worst quarter in pitches per inning, and disaster was inevitable.
Inexcusable — even if the division title hadn’t for all practical purposes been wrapped up by late May, when the Minnesota collapse was obvious and the Cleveland pitching staff resembled the grandparents in Willy Wonka.
The Menechino Magic has run out.
The 2021 lineup has featured the most inconsistent hitters I can remember. The starting pitching was great and held up their end of the deal, at least until the playoffs. The hitters did not reciprocate by backing them up, day-in and day-out.
When the starter was throwing darts, the hitters grounded into double plays or left runners on base. If the team scored more than five runs in a game, it was a sure thing the bats would be ice-cold the next time out. The bats got even colder when playing teams with winning records or (when it really mattered) in the playoffs.
The White Sox won 12-6 in Game 3 of the ALDS, and scored one run in the next game. Where did the offense go? Why did we strand so many runners on base? Why did we hit so many grounders? How come one game we’re hitting with power, and the next it’s nothing? In 2022, it’s time to move on from Frank Menechino and NOT say “Fuck the home run.”
The White Sox had another below-average season from their right fielders, and this time around, it was quite easy to avoid.
I will cut the front office a little bit of slack because they did offer Joc Pederson a contract that he declined, only to sign with the Cubs later in the offseason, for less. However, the goal was to balance the lineup and gain some power, especially against right-handed pitchers. Even with some bad luck with Pederson, they should have done better than Adam Eaton.
Right in the thick of the contention window, the White Sox should not have been content settling for someone from the discount bin who was coming off a poor 2020 season. Eaton, who was entering his age-32 season, hadn’t had a season as a clearly above-average starter since 2016 — when he was still with the White Sox! Props to the front office for selling when his value was at its absolute highest, but in terms of 2021, aka Year No. 2 of contending with this core, it should not have brought Eaton back as Plan A for right field.
Poor thought process, poor results.
Eaton slashed .201/.298/.344 (80 wRC+), and that did not come close to cutting it. He got DFA’d after 58 games with the White Sox. Then, the Angels gave him a chance, and he did worse there (.200/.232/.277, 36 wRC+ in 26 games).
This signing reminded many White Sox fans of some past moves made in which the team has been too eager to bring back Family and Friends. The silver lining is that it was a good year for non-Plan A players within the organization, as Brian Goodwin and Leury García (the only others with more than 100 plate appearances in RF) held down the fort to prevent RF from becoming a complete disaster.
Weirdly enough, my biggest grievance with this team hasn’t really changed since the start of the season. Looking beyond which individuals succeeded and failed — and when they did it — the 2021 season didn’t give me much reassurance that this might not be just another half-baked Reinsdorf initiative that never fully gets off the ground.
We’ve seen the full degree to which Jerry’s managerial meddling has been a hindrance. From all reports, it doesn’t seem as if that’s changing anytime soon.
There’s no indication that Jerry is any more willing to invest in the depth and structure needed to sustain a consistent winner. Yermín Mercedes, Carlos Rodón, Brian Goodwin, Billy Hamilton, and Gavin Sheets were almost entirely unplanned successes. They probably won’t strike gold so many times again, if it turns out the organization doesn’t learn from the Adam Eaton Experience.
On the same note, even an optimistic reading of the team’s farm system easily places it in the bottom-third of the league. It’s unclear if reinforcements are coming when everything inevitably doesn’t go perfectly with the core. If going all-in on Yoelqui Céspedes, Norge Vera, and Oscar Colás doesn’t pan out, routes to improving the roster outside of large free-agent contracts become very limited.
We were told that the money would be spent, and money has been spent. Nobody regrets a dime on the $125+ million spent on Yasmani Grandal and Liam Hendriks. But with all the above still being true, it won’t be enough. There won’t be too many realistic paths to meaningfully improving the roster without once again smashing the franchise contract record. God knows what the likelihood of that is.
Whether he ever actually said it out loud or not, we know that Jerry is typically more than happy to just make the playoffs, to keep the fans at bay and call it a day. My biggest grievance is that there’s still no way of knowing whether this iteration of a Reinsdorf Contender™ will be any different.
In my best Jerry Seinfeld voice: What’s the deal with Michael Kopech?
Seriously, though. Is Kopech going to start next year? Will he be a reliever? An elite closer? Where was he in the first two ALDS games, when the Astros had a chokehold on White Sox pitchers?
I know I have harped on this all season, but I never felt like my questions were answered. Kopech can’t start next year without being stretched out, and he certainly can’t throw 101 mph pitches if he starts. So what’s the deal, Tony? Ethan? WHAT IS THE PLAN?
Kopech should’ve had more spot-starts, and a longer leash as a reliever. But maybe I’m wrong, and that’s why I don’t make the big bucks.
Despite rooting for a 93-win team, I was hot under the collar often in 2021. There’s a line of thinking that might position that as gift-horse-mouth peering, but I’d counter with the notion that, “window” or not, the division might never be so easily won again, the wins may not spill so freely, injuries may widen in plague ... in other words, don’t break an arm patting backs for breaking 90 wins, let’s win the damn thing if we’re invited to the dance.
The staff above has overlaid many of my own concerns, but what most annoys me, to this day, even more than Tony, is the sham offseason.
The White Sox made three moves of consequence over the winter. One, Dane Dunning swapped for Lance Lynn, came with considerable risk, but admirable gusto (and, with an extension inked, a winning play). The last, bidding against themselves to sign Liam Hendriks on an overpay deal, again packed gusto, so all good (plus, seeing Liam’s leadership on the White Sox earns him a bit of potential Pito overpay, no sweat.)
But it’s that middle move that grates: Signing Adam Eaton for $8 million, and worse, on the first day of free agency, was an almost-unimaginable miscalculation and misallocation of resources. In 2020, a Major League Baseball team felt Eaton was worth that price, and would fill the right-field hole. Even if Eaton had a sparkling personality (he doesn’t), or the White Sox were rolling in Dodger or Yankee dough (they’re not, so they say), this was a terrible call.
And that was it. NO other offensive additions. No other additions at all. The outfield was left completely exposed, and the starting rotation just kept rubbing dirt and spit into shoulders to motor along, with no true options in the case of injury or slump.
Hahn, and Ken Williams before him, are the quickest draws in Chicago when it comes to pointing to tight purse strings when their roster sins are counted at the end of each year. The idea that, with options aplenty among right fielders and veteran starter arms, the team punted during the contention window bodes ill for this coming offseason, and all the ghosts of offseason future.
Year of the Hamster
There were embarrassments in 2021, to be sure. But one was greatest of all: the utter sham of a hiring process for manager.
Quick trivia: Do you know when the White Sox last held a true managerial hiring process?
It was 18 years ago, in 2003, when Ken Williams had settled on Cito Gaston as the next White Sox manager, after interviewing or examining dozens of options. And then, granted a courtesy interview after the 2003 Marlins World Series win, a hungover Ozzie Guillén blew into town, blew a gasket upon learning Williams’ decision had already been made, and basically barked his way into the job. Two seasons later, he was a World Series champion as manager.
Since Ozzie, the White Sox have hired three managers — and interviewed three managers. It’s said that Paul Konerko was asked to be White Sox player-manager after Ozzie left, so maybe counts as a fourth interview for three positions.
A coveted job, prized now more than ever with this talented core, was filled by completely skirting the interviewing process (one extending outside of the organization, Rick Hahn promised after the surprising dismissal of Ricky Renteria); do the White Sox have any idea how embarrassing that is?
Forget a need to interview candidates of color, or how the interviewing process in and of itself can introduce new ways of thinking into the isolation tank that is a front office, or how you don’t really know until you ask (see: Guillén, Ozzie). The White Sox made a mockery of trying to get better in the manager’s chair by not even bothering to hold a dog-and-pony interview process. (Reinsdorf, for his part, could have said, hey, I want Tony, but interview 10 guys and see if you can beat him — and even if Reinsdorf didn’t mean it, who would it hurt? Did Hahn and Williams eschew interviews completely, in order to get holiday shopping out of the way early?)
The styrofoam hiring process was, broadly, an insult to baseball. Directly, it was a slap in the face to White Sox fans. Independent of whether you love Tony La Russa or hate him, the idea that it was only him was a pathetic play from an organization who days earlier had promised differently.
What should the top theme of Soxvius 2021 be?
This poll is closed
Moving window of contention goalposts
Tony La Russa
No Dog Day
Front office-manager disconnect
Starting pitcher overuse/abuse
Michael Kopech misuse
Free agency flailing
Sham manager hiring process
Other (please comment below)