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The funny thing about Bob Nightengale’s coverage of the drama with Tony La Russa is that his stories often work in one small detail the White Sox have never divulged themselves.
For instance, Nightengale’s the only reporter who plainly states that La Russa had a problem with his pacemaker, and he did so in his most recent notebook when addressing the announcement that La Russa is done for the year.
But the next sentence drops in both La Russa’s contract terms — including salary — and that’s new to me:
On the South Side, the White Sox have to determine whether their window of opportunity has already closed. Do they continue to go for it with their same group or blow up the team?
They almost must decide whether or not to bring back manager Tony La Russa, who’s out the rest of the year after undergoing a procedure for his pacemaker.
La Russa has one year and $4 million left on his deal, but there’s a deep divide in the organization whether they should bring him back, boot him upstairs, give the manager’s job to interim Miguel Cairo – or look outside the organization and target someone like three-time World Series champion Bruce Bochy.
Of course the one time Jerry Reinsdorf decides to invest in a manager, it’s really just a way to redirect funds to his friend.
There isn’t a comprehensive database of MLB manager contracts, but with the salaries that do come out, it’s fair to say that $4 million is real manager money. That’s what Joe Maddon made with the Angels. That’s what Buck Showalter will be making in the final year of his deal with the Mets in 2024. That’s what Bob Melvin makes. That’s the neighborhood of Terry Francona’s salary when Cleveland hired him a decade ago.
According to Jon Heyman, Rick Renteria averaged $1.2 million a season over his three-year deal. That’s not bad money — the Yankees hired Aaron Boone for that neighborhood — but it reflected both the White Sox’s plans to tear it all down, and Renteria’s status as a manager with plenty to prove.
There are plenty of reasons why the White Sox should set their sights higher than Miguel Cairo for a La Russa replacement, but the fact that Reinsdorf was willing to pay real-manager money for a manager nobody else in his organization wanted makes a cheap bench-coach promotion a lot harder to swallow.
This discussion assumes that the “deep divide in the organization” will cost La Russa his job for 2023, and as long as Reinsdorf is in charge, nobody should think Sox fans are in the clear. It’s more that retaining La Russa isn’t worth discussing because it’ll just make the White Sox even more of a league laughingstock. What little is left to discuss is depressing as hell.
But even if La Russa leaves his post, his $4 million is still on the books. A similar investment would have the Sox devoting $7 million to their 2023 manager, and if the on-field product is any indication, you can’t count on them having the stomach to spend their way past a sunk cost.
It’d be one thing if the White Sox hired La Russa for a Renteria-like salary that reflected the risk of the hire. It’s another if La Russa’s salary limits their ability to hire the manager they wanted in the first place. Were the White Sox a government entity, the attorney general would probably have to launch an investigation into this no-bid contract, and you’d get an answer in a year, and maybe some arraignments.