The White Sox had just lost at home to the Kansas City Royals 9-7 at a crucial time late in the season that included the team losing embattled manager, Tony La Russa, earlier in the day for medical reasons. Acting manager, Miguel Cairo, had seen another performance where some more “hustle” might have led to a victory that led to him holding a team meeting telling the team, “If you don’t want to be here get the fuck out!” It’s a message that needed to be said in June, July, and at the latest the beginning of August. Instead, it happened on August 30th, the first day that Cairo felt empowered to say something. That’s right, La Russa’s bench coach didn’t want to step over the “hall-of-famer type of person” and call the team out. He had essentially been neutered by owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s buddy, La Russa, that managed like someone not conscious of the things happening on the field or in the clubhouse.
Player’s meetings had to be held because before Cairo took over, no meetings were being held, and courtesy of White Sox beat reporter, Scott Merkin, the players were barely communicating with La Russa. We all know the stories throughout the season of sleeping in the dugout, questionable intentional walks, jogging to first, and a defense that hasn’t been solid since Ozzie Guillen was manager. All of that is awful, but the biggest crime committed by La Russa was the conflicting messaging regarding hitting that undermined hitting coach, Frank Menechino’s philosophy, make contact with hitter’s strikes, not pitcher’s strikes. This was the philosophy that had the White Sox looking like world beaters in 2020 under Rick Renteria. However, La Russa brought more of a “small ball” or maybe better put a “little league” philosophy to the team of put the ball in play and good things will happen. That leads to lots of bad contacts and is the same type of coaching my 11-year-old son gets in travel baseball. The reason that this is so frustrating is we’ve seen this season at the alarming rate that the White Sox can hit the ball out of the park.
Since Cairo took over as manager, the White Sox have hit 38 homers a few days shy of a month’s worth of baseball only trailing the Mariners (39) and the Yankees (40). To put that in perspective they hit only 22 homers over the prior month of games that included two more games with double headers. Folks, this is not a coincidence or an anomaly, this is the work of a manager that did not let his coaches do their jobs and out of respect, they suffered in silence. Most of this was exploited by Ken Rosenthal in his brilliant open letter to La Russa that basically told him to stay home. We know now that is the case, but that’s also the case for the White Sox as their postseason hopes are on life support after losing six games in a row to the AL Central champ, Guardians, and the lowly Tigers.
As of today, the White Sox elimination number from the Wild Card is three with two teams to catch the Mariners and Orioles. The idea that the White Sox will go 7-2 over their final nine with the Mariners going 2-8 and the O’s 2-7 seems the most unlikely scenario facing the White Sox this season, but what I’m saying is there’s a chance. This leads me to 2023, where there is a real chance that the White Sox can completely rebound from their most disappointing season in White Sox history to win the AL Central and make a real run into the playoffs; here’s how.
1. Part ways with La Russa
While this is glaringly obvious it still needs to be said, Tony LaRussa needs to be removed as White Sox manager, and however, that needs to be presented to the public to make it happen quickly after the season ends. I can only assume that he’ll be stepping away from managing due to health reasons, and I’m hopeful from baseball as the idea of TLR lurking in the White Sox front office bothers me.
That then tasks Rick Hahn with hiring a manager that he wants, and I think that might be Sandy Alomar, current first base coach of the Cleveland Guardians. Learning under Terry Francona is a plus as well as Alomar’s knowledge of the game. He’s been stuck behind Francona waiting for an opportunity to manage a team, and I think that time is now. Past that there are plenty of veteran managers available, but it’s questionable how effective the available candidates would be as many were removed for being ineffective in 2022.
Along with TLR most of the coaches need to go except for Ethan Katz and Menechino. While a lot of White Sox fans called for Menechino’s head, it’s clear that he’s not the problem.
2. Fill voids with Veteran Free Agents
Reinsdorf needs to let Hahn do his job without being reined in if there’s any hope of winning a championship before he dies. Get out of the way Jerry and let Rick do his job, and part of that would involve making real offers to a great free agent class for 2023. What I’m referencing with real offers is we’ve all heard “media leaks” of the White Sox making similar offers on big names over the past few seasons, but not being able to close the deal making it sound like they were real players in the game. They’re not, nor have they been. Do I need to remind everyone of Kenny Williams’ math on the Manny Machado offer? What I’m saying is if a team is offering Aaron Judge, $37mm a year for 10 years, make it $38mm and close the deal.
The White Sox do have money to spend, despite popular belief. While they have $144mm committed to salaries in 2023 that includes a team option for $5.5mm on Josh Harrison that they will not exercise, they only have $108mm against the cap. Why a $37mm benefit? Well, those long-term contracts that we signed our future All-Stars to are only counted against the cap at an Average Annual Value (AAV), which provides financial flexibility for the team and was the reason I was in favor of the White Sox doing it. The jury is still out on if those young players getting paid early have affected their on-field performance long-term. I can tell you that a healthy Eloy Jimenez and Yoan Moncada seem to be worth the money, but more on that later.
The White Sox have the money to take real runs at the Jacob DeGrom, Judge, and Carlos Correa (I’m suggesting Tim Anderson move to 2B), and that would put their payroll at roughly $210mm and solve a lot of fucking problems. Stronger offensively and defensively and a legit World Series contender in three moves. That leaves more than enough money on all the players under control and gives the 2023 White Sox the following roster:
1. Anderson – 2B
2. Correa – SS
3. Judge – RF
4. Jimenez – DH
5. Robert – CF
6. Vaughan – 1B
7. Moncada – 3B
8. Pollock – LF
9. Grandal – C
Rotation: DeGrom, Cease, Lynn, Kopech, Gio (1-year contract)
I’ll take my chances…
3. The Team Turnaround
While saying goodbye to Jose Abreu will not be easy, it’s a necessity, it frees up the money to make the aforementioned free agent moves and allow Andrew Vaughn to play his natural position. I hinted a few paragraphs ago at a healthy Eloy and Yo-Yo and how that should change everyone’s thoughts on long-term contracts.
Let’s start with Big Baby, Jimenez, who since coming back from injury has 1.000 ops in 58 games with 13 homers and 39 RBIs, these numbers were the reason we traded for him. His current pace projects out to a 40 homer, 115 RBI season, and the naysayers will say he’s never played a full season! True, but he’s never played a full season at DH, and I think that can keep him on the field for a full season.
Onto to Yo-Yo, who since La Russa has left put up 2019 numbers that led to his current contract. He has an OPS of .824 with 5 homers, 4 doubles, 2 SBs, and 9 RBIs. This projects out to 40 homers and 72 RBIs over an entire season.
Before I close this out, let’s look at one more hated player by White Sox Twitter and fans that had an unbelievable turnaround since TLR left the building, AJ Pollock. Pollock, who while TLR was at the helm barely had an OPS in the .600, but since he’s left, he’s at 5 homers, 4 doubles, and 13 RBIs with an .838 OPS… you get the idea and probably can figure out how these numbers project out over an entire season.
Those are three key players for the 2023 White Sox, and all are trending upward, and all performed when their backs were against the wall needing to perform their best to make a playoff push, and while it wasn’t enough due to shaky bullpen performances and defense, they stepped offensively in a high-pressure situation and there’s no reason to believe this will continue into next season for these players. This is a reason to remain optimistic the White Sox will be AL Central champs again next season.
The three keys I’ve outlined here are all attainable for the White Sox, but you may ask are they realistic? Parting ways with La Russa to me is a done deal, so yes to that being realistic, and I think players’ turnaround is sustainable also, but let’s get to the elephant in the room; free agent signings for BIG DOLLARS!!! While my thoughts on free agent signings seem very unrealistic based on Reinsdorf‘s tenure as owner, I have a strong belief that he knows his time is limited and will be willing to let Hahn do his job to bring him at least one more championship. This type of speculation can lead to false hope, but every baseball season is built on a fan’s hope.