The 2022 version of the Chicago White Sox are in serious trouble. And with the schedule they have there’s every reason to think that by the end of June unless something dramatically changes, for all intents and purposes the season will be as good as lost.
How could this happen to a supposed “World Series contender” coming off a 93-win season in 2021?
Honestly, it shouldn’t be a complete surprise. Many Sox fans and some in the mainstream media both locally and nationally were warning about what could happen given what took place or didn’t take place over the offseason to move the needle forward towards a possible championship. There were red flags … a number of them.
I’ve narrowed it down to four areas, areas that unfortunately I don’t see changing and which puts the entire rebuild and thoughts of championships into the category of “long shots.”
As with everything regarding this franchise, for good or bad, it starts at the top with Jerry Reinsdorf, a hands-on owner. Every major decision involving the club both on and off the field runs through him.
It’s clear from this past off season that despite the gaping holes at second base, right field, and the back end of the starting rotation he was not willing to go beyond a certain limit payroll-wise.
The 2022 White Sox have the highest payroll in their history, but because a percentage of that has been spent on over-the-hill, unproductive players by the general manager there was no real room for improvement.
Should there have been, even with some dead weight?
If you go by reputable business magazines such as Forbes, MLB is literally printing money through their various revenue streams, both domestically and internationally. No team in baseball is losing money.
But Reinsdorf is set in his ways when it comes to fiscal responsibility. Make no mistake, he wants to win … badly … BUT he wants to win his way. Part of that philosophy involves holding the line when it comes to overall payroll, even though Chicago has more advantages financially than any other team in the division.
Rick Hahn made his bones in the organization dealing with contracts, for the most part. Studying to be a lawyer by degree (Michigan) and then at Harvard business school doesn’t necessarily mean he was qualified for a hands-on role in decisions impacting team performance. For wont of a better phrase, Hahn was a “bean-counter.”
Since he has taken over, he literally has spent hundreds of millions of dollars bringing in players who are on the wrong side of 30, injury-prone, released by other organizations or having real liabilities. It’s as if he’s always trying to catch lightning in a bottle.
That doesn’t happen often.
A few years ago, I read an interesting story. A fan looked at every single player Hahn brought to the team by various means, starting in the Jeff Keppinger days. The overwhelming majority of said players turned up a negative WAR during their time with the White Sox.
If you want a recent example of this ineptitude, look at what happened this offseason. How have Leury García, Josh Harrison, AJ Pollock, Vince Velasquez, Kyle Crick and Reese McGuire been performing?
It’s not pretty is it?
About the only guy Hahn brought in (and that was when there were no better/other options left) who has been contributing in a positive way is Johnny Cueto.
Bottom line, Hahn’s track record at evaluating and getting talent that makes a positive contribution is poor. Granted, that’s not all his fault, as you can go back the owner and consider the subpar Sox scouting and talent evaluation. But the bottom line is that Hahn’s the GM and the buck stops with him regarding these situations.
For all of his faults, and he had a lot, Ken Williams at least played the game at the highest level and understood the nuances of what makes teams win. Hahn doesn’t seem to have that capability.
Tony La Russa
Former Sox manager Jeff Torborg told me that when he watched the press conference announcing La Russa’s return it was the “unhappiest” presser he ever saw.
It’s clear from all the evidence, both directly or circumstantially, that La Russa was the choice of the owner and not the front office — certainly not Hahn. In fact, the hiring appeared to have caught the entire organization by surprise. Remember the social media photo welcoming Tony? It had A.J. Hinch’s signature on it.
La Russa is a Hall of Fame manager, one of only five in the Hall with a law degree. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing him many times since the early 80’s, but something is missing with him now. He’s just not the same guy.
Last year he didn’t know all the rules, and it caught up with him and the team. This year, his bizarre lineups and explanations for such have left baseball people and fans shaking their heads. Leury García hitting third, or leading off? Gavin Sheets homers in consecutive games, then is benched because he’s left-handed. Andrew Vaughn has a four-hit night, then the next day is slotted seventh in the order behind guys who aren’t hitting or getting on base.
The list goes on and on.
Something to consider: In 1983 when the White Sox won 99 games and rampaged through the Western Division to take it by 20 games, here were the number of games played by the regulars with La Russa as manager:
Carlton Fisk: 138 games catching
Julio Cruz: 99 games at second base
Vance Law: 145 games at third base
Ron Kittle: 145 games in the outfield
Rudy Law: 141 games in the outfield
Harold Baines: 156 games in the outfield
Greg Luzinski: 144 games as the DH
Tom Paciorek, Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher also played at least 114 games, usually in a set position.
In short, TLR went with a set lineup practically every day.
That’s certainly not the case today. The mystery remains why, especially when a slumping player is trying to get back into a rhythm.
For years the White Sox boasted about, with very good reason, their ability to keep guys healthy and on the field.
Those days are long gone.
Now the White Sox can’t go a week without someone, usually a key player, getting hurt.
What has happened?
Keep in mind, it’s not just this year the Sox have been gutted by injuries, and not just last year, but in the few years even before the COVID-shortened 2020 season. And not just at the big-league level, but up and down Chicago’s minor league system. It wasn’t such an issue before, because the Sox weren’t in a position to contend and fans weren’t that interested in an injury to a minor league player.
“Core” guys — the guys the team was counting on to anchor the rebuild — like Tim Anderson, Eloy Jiménez, Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert have spent significant time on the injured list EVERY SINGLE SEASON.
Since April 2019, to cite one example, Jiménez has missed games because of various injuries or ailments 11 times.
In recent years the Sox have worked through three head trainers, Herm Schneider, Brian Ball and now James Kruk. Two people, Allen Thomas and Dale Torborg, were in charge of strength and conditioning, and neither remain with the organization.
Something appears to be fundamentally missed by the Sox medical, training and conditioning staffs that may be contributing to the injury epidemic.
For what it’s worth, I read a comment by an individual who was in the Chicago media at one time, talking about the overall situation. What that person was told by people close to the White Sox situation is that the team was playing checkers while other clubs were playing chess when it came to things like conditioning, nutrition, sleep schedules — things that helped keep athletes healthy and at their peak.
This past offseason Hahn publicly announced that the Sox were conducting a study to try to get a handle on the injuries and what could be done to limit them. I thought this was well-needed and applauded the move. Those results were never made public, so we don’t know exactly what was found or if anything was deficient.
What I was told, though, was that Thomas disagreed with the conclusions, felt the Sox injury issues were caused by all the COVID-related changes (which ignored the fact that the organization was getting badly hurt by injuries before the COVID limitations) and decided to leave.
There are those who feel the Sox injury issues are the result of “bad luck.” And certainly that has something to do with it, over the course of 162 games in a physical sport, injuries will happen. But this number? And with such severity?
I can only respond to that line of thinking by quoting Hall of Fame executive Branch Rickey: “Luck is the residual of design.”
Jerry Reinsdorf is going to have to take a hard look at his front office, how things are done, why certain things aren’t being done, and potentially do something historically he has been loath to do … hold people accountable, and perhaps fire some.
If he doesn’t, this “contention window” is going to close rapidly, and a fan base already frustrated and angry could devolve into something worse … apathetic.
The decision will rest with him.