Given the enormous disappointment this season has been to this point, I found myself asking, “How did we get here?” After a largely successful tear down and rebuild orchestrated by Rick Hahn, they broke through to barely achieve the final wild card berth in 2020. The arrow was pointing up. Hahn made the tough choice and fired Ricky Renteria after he showed an inability to lead the team to a championship level. Then the front office decided to hire Tony La Russa, which was clearly not Hahn’s decision. While 2021 resulted in a division title, the playoff results were equally disappointing in both years. In fact, the 2021 team had a slightly lower winning percentage (.574) than in 2020 (.583). Looking back as the team continues to struggle to achieve a greater than .500 record, I believe that the Tony La Russa hire was even worse than many would believe (except here at Sox Machine of course). Not only has his lineup construction, pitching staff management, and overall team accountability been lacking, but I believe that many of the roster moves that haven’t worked out are due to TLR’s direct influence through Jerry Reinsdorf, overriding the judgement of both Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn. Since the TLR hire, the Sox appear to favor adding players that let TLR “manage,” specifically relievers and multi-positional players.
For reference, TLR’s last year with the Cardinals was 2011, and he was with Arizona as their Chief Baseball Officer and Analyst from 2014-2017. Also, in 1999, Joe McEwing played every position except pitcher and catcher for TLR, who enjoyed managing him so much that he asked for a pair of his cleats (Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said he planned to keep a pair of McEwing’s cleats in his office “to remind me of what a professional ballplayer is supposed to be.” Why Cardinals traded Joe McEwing to Mets | RetroSimba). Since TLR was hired, it appears that many of the White Sox’s acquisitions have reflected TLR’s preferences.
October 29, 2020: Tony La Russa hired
December 8, 2020: White Sox trade Dane Dunning and Avery Weems to Texas for Lance Lynn – Lynn pitched for TLR with the Cardinals in 2011
January 15, 2021: White Sox sign Liam Hendriks – TLR loves the bullpen arms
March 30, 2021: White Sox sign Jake Lamb – All-star for Arizona in 2017
2021 Trade Deadline
July 29, 2021: Sox trade Bailey Horn to the Cubs for Ryan Tepera – TLR loves the bullpen arms
July 30, 2021: Sox trade Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer to the Cubs for Craig Kimbrel – TLR loves the bullpen arms
November 30, 2021: Sox sign Kendall Graveman – TLR loves the bullpen arms
December 1, 2021: Sox sign Leury Garcia – Is he the 2022 version of 1999 Super Joe McEwing?
March 14, 2022: Sox sign Joe Kelly – TLR loves the bullpen arms, he was also a St. Louis prospect in 2011
March 15, 2022: Sox sign Josh Harrison – Another possible reboot of 1999 Super Joe McEwing, he also had a solid rookie year in 2011 for Pittsburgh in the same division as St. Louis.
April 1, 2022: Sox trade Craig Kimbrel for A.J. Pollock – Pollock was an all-star for Arizona in 2015
2022 Trade Deadline
August 1, 2022: Sox trade Reese McGuire to Boston for Jake Diekman – TLR loves the bullpen arms
Prior to the TLR hire in the Rick Hahn era, the Sox have not spent free agent dollars on non-closers nor have they spent on utility players. The only variable which makes sense in this change of direction in free agent spending is Tony La Russa. This is yet another example of how his hiring may be the single most disastrous decision made during the current rebuild.
So if you’re Rick Hahn, you’ve essentially been neutered from above (Jerry and Kenny) and now below (TLR) for your entire career as General Manager of the Chicago White Sox. We’ll likely never know what Hahn would have done for all these years had he not had this interference. An owner should give his GM a budget and the GM should have the freedom to use that budget as he (or she) sees fit. The GM should also be free to make decisions relating to the manager without interference. Given that this hasn’t been the case with the White Sox, how would you respond if you were Rick Hahn?
Maybe…just maybe…you would be so fed up with the organizational ineptitude at the MLB level that you would take a slightly different approach to this year’s trading deadline in an attempt to avoid being mired in mediocrity in the future. Let’s assume that TLR, as he has shown throughout his career, wants pitching and more pitching, specifically a left handed reliever this year. Let’s also assume that TLR continues to be enamored by Leury Garcia as the filler of all lineup holes, which is not a stretch given his continued playing time. Therefore, TLR is only interested in superstar lineup help. TLR continues to stand by his guys Joe “Send ‘Em” McEwing and Frank “F the HR” Menechino and no staff changes are coming. TLR is the Hand of Jerry, and the Hand’s word is the word of Jerry.
Would you maybe trade a player you were destined to lose because he was out of options in Reese McGuire to get an aging, overpriced left handed reliever so you can tell your boss that you did what was asked of you? Would you make a strong offer for Shohei Ohtani hoping LA would accept but knowing that it was more likely you had no chance to land him? Would you tell your boss that Mike Rizzo (Nationals GM) laughed when you offered your top 4 young players for Juan Soto? Would you make several unrealistic offers for other available pitchers knowing your offers would be refused so you could say that you tried? Would you hold on to prospects who you believe will be major league contributors in the next 1-3 years despite the desire to win now? Would you do all of this knowing that this year’s team has no chance to succeed in the playoffs even if they somehow manage to back in? Would this lack of success in 2022 cause TLR to return to retirement next year where he belongs?
Knowing that selling was not an option, I believe that Rick Hahn may have done all White Sox fans a huge favor by not trading any of our surprisingly rising minor league talent for rental pitchers who are overpriced and underperforming. As painful as this year has been, if this results in TLR retiring and being replaced with a competent manager, Rick Hahn’s inaction in this trading season may have set the White Sox up for sustained success starting in 2023.