This is part one of a two-part series on the disappointing 2022 White Sox season. Part one explores where the White Sox might go from here and how their changes may ultimately be futile, while part two explores criticism directed by fans onto players.
While it is very debatable whether most of the blame for the disastrous White Sox season should be placed on the players, coaching, front office, or ownership, it should at least be easy to accept that each of the aforementioned groups is guilty to some degree. Wherever you choose to place blame, the avenues that may be realistically explored to fix the team prior to 2023 are equally inadequate.
Reactions to underperformance from players will be addressed in more detail tomorrow in the second article of this series. As for the coaching staff, several of us at Sox On 35th have spent the whole season — whether on social media or in these articles — lamenting the team’s plate approach, handling of injuries, and questionable managerial decisions. I cannot accept that the entire White Sox roster (including the players having good seasons) suddenly forgot how to hit home runs and became singles machines that rarely strike out relative to the rest of the league. Obviously, the coaching has had an impact there. I do believe in what appears to be the consensus, which is that every member of the coaching staff sans pitching coach Ethan Katz is likely not worth keeping going forward.
The front office had an offseason that appeared to be awful at the time, and the 2022 season has only reinforced that. I liked the Kendall Graveman signing at the time, but that was partially because I wrongly assumed he would not be the team’s biggest signing. He was, and the entire offseason was dedicated toward relievers, bench players, and depth signings until a last-minute trade for A.J. Pollock (which I really liked at the time, but it clearly has not worked out as hoped). Overall, the front office has seen practically every major move backfire since the 2021 season began, even if the infamous Craig Kimbrel deal is not quite haunting the White Sox the way some have expected (the absolute last thing this team needs is another hitter who excels at hitting singles and struggles at basically everything else).
When it comes to ownership, the banner that went viral on Saturday night certainly speaks volumes:
While the White Sox payroll (about $196 million, #7 in MLB this season) is not the primary issue right now, last year’s underwhelming offseason moves make more sense if one views them as made by a front office that assumed it had payroll flexibility to work with until, after the lockout, it suddenly did not.
On the bright side, there is still plenty of time for organizational changes and the rebuild to be salvaged, right? One would hope so, but personally, I am skeptical that the White Sox will do what is necessary to right the ship. Here’s why.
This may be controversial, but I do agree that this core is largely fixable. Obviously, it needs some sort of shake-up or major (as in not Josh Harrison and A.J. Pollock) supplementary acquisitions, but I would like to see these players with a new coaching staff before I write them all off as injury-prone singles hitters. A more functional organization might have already tried this method in order to enter the offseason with fewer question marks, but alas, we can only hope that a new philosophy at the plate coupled with some swing plane tweaks could return many of the team’s talented hitters to their 2021 or prior production.
However, I do not trust the team to carry this out adequately. In fact, I wrote immediately after last season that the team’s primary offseason focus should have been developing a plan to unlock power from right-handed hitters by pulling the ball in the air and avoiding what was then a heavy reliance on ground ball singles. Instead, the White Sox have gone harder in the other direction, becoming a team that does not pull the ball in the air, but instead relies on opposite field line drives and fly balls (which are good, but the worst kind of good contact when it comes to sustaining power production), all while still hitting an inordinate amount of singles. These are not just coincidences — the players are actively trying to hit the ball the other way, avoid strikeouts above all, and often even take overly-protective swings in hitters’ counts.
Even if we assume that the organization correctly identifies the problem, the solutions are unlikely to be sufficient. Tony La Russa will never be fired, but he may be “re-assigned” to an advisory role. This may sound like a good thing, but I think back to his past front office days, which include being on the wrong end of the infamous Shelby Miller trade. Getting La Russa out of the dugout sounds like a good thing until it results in a trade of Colson Montgomery and Oscar Colas for a washed-up and expensive Madison Bumgarner.
The coaching staff may get replaced, but by what front office? Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn are unlikely to go anywhere, barring more “re-assignments” and the creation of roles that maintain the existing hierarchy. For example, James Fox of FutureSox and SoxMachine has mentioned the idea of Chris Getz becoming general manager. This would be another internal promotion, and with Hahn and Williams still above him, the decisions from the front office would be unlikely to change in a meaningful way.
With Getz specifically, it is worth mentioning something that Jim Margalus of SoxMachine noted the other day. Getz has been the organization’s farm director or (currently) assistant general manager during Omar Vizquel‘s sexual harassment scandal at AA Birmingham, as well as Wes Helms‘ mysterious firing at AAA Charlotte (for which public information is still scarce, but the lack of reasoning or any sort of commentary surrounding the situation suggests something abnormal). While it would be fruitless to speculate about what Getz knows or never knew, the pattern at least is worth mentioning and perhaps reflects poorly on his judgment. (And to be fair, the same can be said about Hahn and other front office executives who were involved in the hiring/promotions of Vizquel and Helms.)
Regardless of who is in the front office, potential coaching staff changes also figure to be unexceptional. The White Sox have long been fond of more old-school hitting coaches and offensive approaches, and none of their last few managers (save for some sudden changes from Ricky Renteria in 2020) have been particularly analytically-minded. Therefore, the team is likely to hire another old-school manager. While he will likely be more able to connect with modern players than La Russa, he still would not bring anything new to the table that could unlock more of the roster’s potential.
For instance, A.J. Pierzynski is already being floated as a managerial candidate. I should lead by saying that I was a huge fan of Pierzynski as a player, as he was the catcher of all the White Sox teams I grew up watching. I loved the edge he brought to the team, and I agree that the current team needs more of an edge as well. However, there are a few potential issues with him as a manager.
Most importantly, he has no managerial experience that I am aware of, so the hiring would reek of another Robin Ventura. Secondly, I think it is important that the manager of this particular White Sox roster speak Spanish, as it is the primary language of most of the players. I do not know whether or not Pierzynski speaks Spanish, as all I could find was a 2005 article discussing how he would communicate using signals or general baseball lingo with Spanish-speaking teammates.
But overall, Pierzynski (at least from his broadcasts) appears to be yet another old-school baseball mind who would primarily be added to the team because he was once a White Sox player, and not due to his actual qualifications. There are dozens of qualified managerial candidates that the White Sox could interview, but because the organization has always been so insular, the prospect of a new manager is met with cries for Pierzynski or Jim Thome.
Being a former White Sox player or coach is seen as a positive when it comes to potential reunions, but in my opinion, it should be seen as a negative if anything. What is so great about the White Sox organization that gives former members preference over more qualified candidates? If anything, would it not be an improvement to hire people from other, more successful organizations so that they could share new ideas and processes with a team desperately in need of innovative thinking?
Again, I like Pierzynski, and anybody capable of staying awake during games is an instant upgrade for the White Sox, but I do not think he is a good fit as manager of this particular team. Since the White Sox love to hire from within and bring back familiar faces, we can only assume that any changes this offseason will be more of the same until the organization proves otherwise. While I still believe the team’s current core is capable of playing better baseball with proper coaching, investment, and supplementary additions, I do not trust the White Sox to provide them with any of these. At least not until the team is sold.
This is part one of a two-part series on the disappointing 2022 White Sox season. Part two, coming tomorrow, explores the extent to which criticism from fans onto players is warranted.
Be sure to follow us on social media @SoxOn35th for more updates!
Featured Photo: © Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports