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Who Follows Tony?

With age comes experience — but not longevity. Here’s an intriguing path forward post-La Russa

Chicago White Sox v St Louis Cardinals Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

For many White Sox fans, the signing of Tony La Russa as manager raised more questions than it did answers. Will he mesh with this young team? Was this solely a Jerry Reinsdorf move? Is La Russa too old?

You get the idea. Cheating aside, it certainly looked like the logical choice to replace Rick Renteria was AJ Hinch, a former player and World Series champion manager with the Astros. But the Sox made the decision to sign the 76-year-old La Russa to a multiyear deal even though he’s been away from the dugout for a decade. It is a truly baffling choice for fans and frankly, one of the most surprising moves the White Sox have made dating back to, well, 1976, when Bill Veeck introduced shorts into baseball.

The White Sox haven’t specified how long La Russa’s tenure will be, but at his age, and the average manager lasting for about three years, it’s safe to say that it will be on the shorter side. Which brings up the next question: Who is going to replace La Russa when he finally calls it quits?

The Path Most Followed

A likely scenario would be new bench coach Miguel Cairo. The former infielder spent 17 seasons as a player, with nine different teams — one of them the St. Louis Cardinals, managed by La Russa. In his post-playing career, Cairo spent time as a coach and executive in both the Reds and Yankees organizations before coming to Chicago in November 2020. His experience managing a dugout will only grow when he watches La Russa do his thing.

Some bench coaches have managed previously. For younger bench coaches, it’s often a stepping stone to the dream job, managing their own team. Cairo will be La Russa’s right-hand man, but offers a different set of eyes when it comes to decision-making. And with 87 ejections over La Russa’s managerial career, Cairo’s probably going to see the lineup card in his hands a few times over the next couple years.

The Interesting Path

That being said, there’s another option that is incredibly intriguing, an option that fills the deep void that James McCann left when he signed with the Mets. A future manager who’s already been made.

That’s right: Yadier Molina.

Molina is currently a free agent after spending 17 seasons (sound familiar?) with the Cardinals. He’s a nine-time All-Star, a nine-time Gold Glove winner, and a two-time World Series champion — under, you guessed it, La Russa. Molina has a career batting average of .281 with over 2,000 hits, and over the last five seasons has had a better oWAR than McCann. He is already seen as a future Hall-of-Famer. Sure, McCann is on the upswing and Yadi on the down, but Molina still wants to play. The White Sox need to find a suitable backup for Grandal, with McCann off to the Mets. And with a young club like the Sox, there’s no better player to come in and guide them than Molina.

Molina is reportedly looking for a multiyear deal, and in recent days has drawn interest from the Blue Jays and Cardinals, who are offering a one-year deal for an undisclosed amount of money. While Yadier weighs his options, the White Sox should really weigh theirs. La Russa managed Molina from 2004-11. They have two World Series together, and their relationship remains solid even after La Russa’s first retirement. The Sox current backup options are Zack Collins and Jonathan Lucroy — the latter past his prime, the former still with a lot to learn behind the plate. And that’s another benefit to bringing in Molina.

And, assuming La Russa stays the course for the average manager and lasts three years, in slides Molina.

In a 2018 interview with ESPN, Yadi expressed his interest in becoming a manager: “For any player, that would be a dream to be considered for such a role. It would be a dream. I’m not shutting the door to anything. I am very open. Of course, maybe I would like to spend some time with my family first. But if such an opportunity comes up, obviously I would accept it.”

The White Sox Path?

The White Sox should offer Molina a deal to play behind Grandal. And pending on how La Russa does in his first couple years as skipper, Molina should be groomed to take his place. How about a two- or three-year deal just under $30 million, enough to pull him away from a Cardinals offer? He may be a bit expensive but at age 38, half La Russa’s age, Molina is certainly an “Old Reliable.” He has years of playoff experience that will benefit a team that could potentially have multiple appearances in the postseason. After 17 years behind the plate, he understands a thing or two about pitching. Molina, along with Ethan Katz, can help guide the young pitching staff in the right direction. He’s well rounded, hard-working, and knows baseball like the back of his mitt. (The inside of his glove?)

The White Sox will have plenty of options when La Russa is done. Cairo is a solid choice, but Molina’s knowledge of the game is insurmountable and his athleticism would fill the hole left by McCann in the meantime. The Sox need to act now, before it’s too late — but that’s not the White Sox way.

Whoever they choose, let’s hope it answers more questions than it raises.