A certain smugness (or gravitas, depending on your perspective) exists within the White Sox front office. It has always been there, but it has become increasingly disconnected from the on-field results under the purview of Rick Hahn.
Between chiding fans who question aspects of the rebuild to bulletin-board material that has resulted in numerous memes, Hahn always talked like he and the White Sox are on the precipice of greatness. Unfortunately, there isn’t an award for having a seat at the table; the goal is to win. In his official 10-year tenure as general manager, Hahn has a record of 716-846, with two short-lived playoff runs — and that record is becoming impossible to hide behind.
In the drama that led up to the eventual Tony La Russa hire, everyone knew Hahn’s top choice was beleaguered manager A.J. Hinch, who was fresh off of the longest ban this century for in-game misconduct for his role in the Houston Astros cheating scandal. You might even remember the initial White Sox-tweeted press release with Hinch’s signature instead of La Russa’s. But, instead of going according to Hahn’s plan, Jerry Reinsdorf decided now was the time for him to bring back La Russa and make amends for firing him more than 30 years ago.
The press conference that followed — virtually presented on Zoom during the pandemic — looked more like a hostage video, with Rick Hahn hardly mustering any excitement about La Russa coming on board, and La Russa looking equally surprised to be the new manager for the White Sox.
For Hahn, though, the La Russa hire was more of a gift than a curse. Contrasting the brashness of Ken Williams, who was always ready to take responsibility for any significant move that improved the team, Hahn has always been a bit more nebulous in how much or little a role he has played in shaping the roster. By design, that has made it easier for Hahn to deflect the many issues that have plagued the franchise for most of his tenure.
La Russa is the most public example of that design in action.
See, Tony was a Reinsdorf hire, and by extension, Jerry will make sure he gets anything that Tony wants, and Hahn has to go along with it.
All of the above sounds incredibly stupid, but it was (and sometimes still is) the firm belief of many irrational White Sox fans.
The roster was not decidedly different from any other year under Hahn, and the issues that have plagued his teams in the past continued to rear their ugly head (injuries, lack of depth, no left-handed power, lack of corner outfielders). Even so, fans put the boogeyman in place, and the entire blame of the La Russa era, and its impact, was placed on Reinsdorf.
If all of the faults around La Russa are on Reinsdorf, then everything that has happened this year — including the ineptitude of Pedro Grifol — is on Hahn alone.
For a team in desperate need of pitching depth coming into the year, Hahn invested in a replacement-level starter with enough off-field baggage that he otherwise would likely not be in the league. Based on this signing and Hahn’s original stumping for Hinch, character isn’t high on the GM’s list of priorities, but after the clubhouse issues surrounding the team in recent years, it should have been of greater importance. Currently, the White Sox are among the worst in team ERA and, with Triple-A starter Davis Martin out for the year, have zero pitching depth to supplement the majors, should one of their starters get hurt.
Furthermore, of all players, Hahn gave Andrew Benintendi the most valuable contract in team history. Sure, there was a time Benintendi was one of the highly-touted prospects in the Red Sox system, but he’s far removed from that, and has yet to see his power recover after injuring his wrist last year. Never mind that Joey Gallo and Cody Bellinger were available for an equal or better price, and both players have outperformed Benintendi so far this year.
Oh, and that renowned communicator that was supposed to bring the clubhouse together and had Hahn irritatingly giddy at the start of the year? Grifol has “led” the team to a lowly record well below .500, and his biggest claim to fame so far is benching Luis Robert Jr. for not hustling and broadcasting it to press row in-game — when it turned out he was injured.
Absolutely nothing has gone well, and after being known as a team that’s “mired in mediocrity,” as Hahn famously said, this team is now flat-out bad with no real direction to improve. Heading into 2024, the White Sox will have $68 million committed to a healthy list of aging veterans such as Lance Lynn, Liam Hendriks, and Joe Kelly. That doesn’t bode well for a team that has shown increasing unwillingness to spend in free agency on pitching and has very little talent in the pipeline.
I can see some of you jumping to the comments now to bring up how Reinsdorf is the problem. You’re right; he meddles when he doesn’t need to, and he will never be the owner that signs off on the types of megadeals that attract baseball’s top talent. Even so, the White Sox have averaged in the top percentile for payroll (with the most expensive bullpen for several years, to boot), with no playoff series wins to show for it. In addition, the White Sox have utilized their recent top draft picks on high-floor, MLB-ready college prospects as an attempted cheat code to avoid paying for that same talent in free agency. While Jake Burger is having a fantastic year, the approach has yet to pay off for guys like Andrew Vaughn, who now has the impossible task of not only coming into his own as a starter but replacing the production left by José Abreu.
When demanding to be both a head coach and a GM, Bill Parcells once said, “If they want you to cook the dinner ... they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.” After being willingly perceived as hamstrung by Reinsdorf, I appreciate Hahn finally demanding to call all the shots after the TLR drama — it just turns out the ingredients are beginning to expire, and he can’t cook for shit.