White Sox’s fixation on marginal wins resulted in marginal team

Miguel Cairo fell on his sword after Tuesday’s season-shortening loss to the Cleveland Guardians, and he indeed made his share of mistakes. He underestimated the pressure that Jimmy Lambert experienced in a seventh inning that seemed better suited for Reynaldo López. He’d also made a habit of replacing Andrew Vaughn before his spot in the lineup was through. Tuesday marked the fourth time that Adam Engel hit for himself after entering as a defensive replacement, but it was the first time it ended up mattering.

Then there’s his management of Liam Hendriks.

On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with it. Hendriks pitched the ninth inning of a tie game at home and did so perfectly.

The problem is that Hendriks only pitched one inning. Cairo then gave the ball to Kendall Graveman, who is far more susceptible to contact hard and soft, and sure enough, the Guardians struck for two runs over the course of just eight pitches. After Graveman’s inning, Jake Diekman was the closest thing to a logical choice, and Rick Hahn’s only addition at the trade deadline melted down mostly because the Guardians noticed the multitude of things he was doing wrong.

Alas, the conservative usage of Hendriks isn’t a Cairo-specific problem. He was merely following the lead set by Tony La Russa, and maybe the White Sox organization as a whole.

With two weeks left in the season, Hendriks has thrown only 53⅔ innings. He’s being used like a normal closer, and he wasn’t supposed to be one of those.

Hendriks threw 85 innings during his last full season with Oakland in 2019. In the 2020 postseason, Hendriks threw 49 pitches during a rocky Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the White Sox, then came back the next day and struck out the side to seal the series. In Game 3 of the ALDS, Hendriks recorded a three-inning save to preserve a 9-7 victory and keep Oakland’s season alive.

Basically, every time Bob Melvin needed to get a crucial game across the finish line, he put the fate of the game in Hendriks’ hands no matter the unusual lengths, and nobody was worse for the wear.

That was the argument for making a guy like Hendriks the only major free agent investment of the last two years. I hated that the White Sox put the bulk of their eggs in the basket of a guy who only factors into games where everybody else must build the lead, but I could’ve maybe been swayed if the White Sox were willing to expand the types of games a pitcher of Hendriks’ caliber could affect.

Well, in a must-win game, with Hendriks having two days’ rest and appearances in only seven of September’s first 19 days, he threw one inning and 15 pitches, and then the White Sox manager went on to worse options in tougher situations, and failure ensued.

Hendriks isn’t the biggest problem with the White Sox. Individually, he’s not a problem at all. Every team would be happy to have him, and most would be fine paying him the money he’s making.

However, Hendriks best represents the loss-averse approach that plagues a team that hasn’t won anything. Between the drafting of Garrett Crochet in 2020 to trading for Diekman at the most recent deadline, Rick Hahn’s biggest moves over the last five acquisition periods have prioritized a jealous guarding of leads, ignoring the question of whether the Sox would have enough leads to guard in the first place. Now they’re baseball’s worst second-place team at the moment this whole rebuild project was supposed to be peaking.

There’s a fair amount of talent still on hand, but the forecast feels bleak because the White Sox have shown zero imagination and initiative, and there are few signs of leadership that might turn things around. Tony La Russa was washed well before he was deemed physically unable to perform, Hahn’s spent the last month and a half in hiding, and Jerry Reinsdorf only appears through anonymous comments to Bob Nightengale.

Cairo’s status boomed over the last couple weeks simply because five months into the season, the Sox finally had a guy who gave a detectable damn about the piss-poor product, and had the agency to affect who might be contributing to it. Alas, caring only goes so far, because when it came time to leverage the White Sox’s lone strength, Cairo stopped short.

It’s hard to hold any such shortcoming against Cairo because his first meaningful experience in the position is coming behind the eight ball in a pennant race, and he’s done enough by showing the White Sox what could’ve been accomplished with some measure of proactivity. White Sox coaches say Cairo will be a “hot commodity” if La Russa returns or the Sox decide to look elsewhere, and there’s certainly potential.

The catch is that if the Sox stick with Cairo, they’ll be repeating the same terrible process that led to a not-terrible choice in Rick Renteria. Like Cairo, Renteria also cared and wanted the job – two characteristics that should be a given, but weren’t with La Russa, Robin Ventura and late-stage Ozzie Guillen – and that was good enough for a certain period of time. It also reflected the White Sox’s greater stagnation and unwillingness to expand Reinsdorf’s social network, especially when Reinsdorf responded to Renteria’s dismissal by reliving the 1980s, another decade where the White Sox topped out at one postseason win.

I’m keying in on Hendriks partially because I don’t want to do all my eulogizing with two weeks left in the season, and he represents the diminishing returns of the way the White Sox allocated their money. Hahn spent so much time focusing on the edges of the roster that he ignored the rot in the center of it.

Now, Hendriks is on the payroll for the next two years, and at age 34 in 2023, it’s hard to imagine the White Sox expanding his duties. Beyond him, Graveman will be 32, Diekman and Joe Kelly will be 35, and they’re all combining to make $34.5 million. Hahn’s on Year 10 of trying to win a single playoff series, and he’ll be on Year Three of trying to think of a different way to improve the team. If Reinsdorf actually cared about the product, he’d give somebody from outside the organization a Year One to back out of the dead end.


Postscript: Just as I finished editing this, the Kansas City Royals announced the firing of Dayton Moore, giving the Central two teams that stopped accepting the status quo.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Shingos Cheeseburgers

The Sox tried to win on the margins before writing anything meaningful within them.

As Cirensica

Mired in the Margins of Mediocrity.

I really hope Jerry awakes, and consider that enough is enough and promotes Hahn to some talking head job within the organization. The problem is that Jerry will be in charge to pick the next Hahn, and we know how that works out.

GrinnellSteve

Dayton Moore has championship experience, and he’s available!

upnorthsox

But he’s done a poor job of drafting with high draft picks and a lot of them.

dwjm3

I think the right move would be to appoint a CEO well-versed in the business of baseball. In essence a commercial business background focused on baseball.

If you look at a lot of the teams that have had recent sucess they all have a Chief Executive who the President of Baseball Operations reports to.

The Braves CEO is Derek Schiller who held significant roles in the NHL and with the Yankees before working his way to the CEO chair. Anthopoulos reports to him.

The Dodgers have Stan Kasten who hired Andrew Freidman to run the baseball operation. Kasten was a past President of the Braves before running the Dodgers.

Larry Baer is and was the CEO of the Giants during their period of winning 3 WS in five years.
Their owner was retired and living in Palm Beach during that period. He sure as heck wasn’t meddling like Jerry does.

He is the guy that shook up their front office when they began stagnating after their run of World Series sucess as well.

If Jerry was serious about putting the organization on the right footing he would need people with commercial expertise and baseball player personnel expertise in my view.

The Sox model is basically to run everything through the owner like a 1980s baseball team.

Last edited 2 months ago by dwjm3
JimMargalusBiggestFan

Can’t Shawne Dunston’s daughter do that?

karkovice squad

It’s not just adding a CEO, commercial and baseball player personnel expertise, though those are probably necessary. They need a CTO/CIO to make analytics, R&D, and applied innovation a priority for every part of the org.

My last attempt at an off-season plan was making that a director-level role and department. Given their failed attempts to just throw personnel at the problem, how far behind they’ve fallen, and how poor their reputation probably is, I think that wouldn’t cut it. They need C-suite buy-in for the changes they need to implement everywhere else.

dwjm3

Good points

dwjm3

A lot of movement in the league

Cubs did a front office shakeup last year
Angels are getting a new owner

New front office in Detroit

Change in KC as you mentioned

New owner in Washington

We are truly one of the few stagnant organizations in the game

Last edited 2 months ago by dwjm3
BenwithVen

Just a bleak reminder that nothing is really going to change until Jerry no longer control’s the team.

I can already see Jerry replacing KW when his current (and final according to Kenny) deal is up with TLR.

Last edited 2 months ago by BenwithVen
GrinnellSteve

Hawk for team president!

BenwithVen

I’m down for hiring him for a day so he can fire TLR again.

JimMargalusBiggestFan

I’m just resigned to everyone being back. Why wouldn’t they?

When has Reinsdorf prioritized winning over comfortability?

Why would he allow a new structure to be in place that overthrows the existing stagnation he covets?

You think he has any appetite to see Kenny Williams gone, or God forbid, Kenny Williams Jr. out of a job? I can’t see it.

You think he’s going to force Rick Hahn to make it in baseball on merit? Why now?

He’s certainly not going to tell Tony La Russa he can’t come back. And even if Tony’s heart and liver say he can’t come back, the comfortable thing to do is to hire Miguel Cairo!

Why would we get out of our comfort zones now? If winning isn’t a priority (and all evidence says it isn’t) why would Reinsdorf impact relationships that he values greatly?

dwjm3

I think you are missing the point. Jim isn’t expecting change but his job as a journalist is to speak truth to power, so he is saying what should be done knowing full well Jerry likely won’t listen.

Last edited 2 months ago by dwjm3
JimMargalusBiggestFan

I think you’re missing the point. Not blaming Jim. His job is his job, and it’s much appreciated.

But there’s zero evidence to expect anything different going forward. With that, it’s ok to be nihilistic. We can put together off-season plan projects, but at the end of the day, the real plan will be formulated and executed by a rudderless Bill Lumbergh, and underwritten by an older miser more concerned about making amends with friends and ensuring his children pay as little in estate taxes as possible.

palkadance

Such a great essay. It really bothered me when Hendriks didn’t come back out last night for the tenth with the season in the balance, considering he threw less than 20 pitches. But I hadn’t considered just how terribly they have leveraged such a significant asset in Hendriks all season long. So pathetic, both LaRussa for managing this way, and for Hahn, who, I suppose even if he desired to bring instruction to the situation, lost any opportunity the day TLR was hired and Hahn was neutered.

jorgefabregas

Re: Moore. So both rebuilding central teams fired their top baseball ops guy mid-rebuild because it seemed that the building blocks weren’t there for a good team. This rebuild seems like it went better than those two, but Moore’s first rebuild resulted in a championship and another World Series trip. Hahn had at least one failed rebuild before this.

upnorthsox

“Hahn spent so much time focusing on the edges of the roster that he ignored the rot in the center of it.”

Hear here.

2021soxodyssey

Hahn spent so much time focusing on the edges of the roster that he ignored the rot in the center of it.” your writing is just gold. pure gold. so often I have a hard time putting into words what I’m feeling, and then I read Jim Margalus and say “that’s it!!”. Thanks for your outstanding article.

Jason

Here again to add if it wasn’t for writing like this I’d have nothing to do with the White Sox.

I love Jim’s writing with the same passion I hate what this organization is. Listless, complacent, lazy, absurd, ignorant. They are in the “how did I sleep with that” while-hate-scrolling-social-media stage with me. I need major changes before I commit my time and money, or
allow my kids to fall any further into the trap that is a fan of a Reinsdorf organization.

El Arvo

One of my life goals was to see my children indoctrinated into White Sox Fandom. This organization has made so many poor decisions it’s hard to fane enthusiasm this year

HouseOfTheRisingSox

Great write-up, Jim. I can’t stand how we save Hendriks for situations that never come to fruition. I can’t think of another team that would intentionally sideline (or fail to extend) one of their better players today just in case they need him tomorrow. We put first basemen and DHs in the outfield for f’ sake, so we should be able to pitch a closer in a non-save situation or multi-inning stint way more often than it actually happened. His total innings for the season is criminal.

metasox

He was also out part of the season with a forearm injury (which certainly put a scare in fans). I just don’t think the Sox share the view that he can be worked at age 33 the way he was at age 30 and prior. And even in the past, he really wasn’t throwing multiple innings with great regularity. In 2020, he threw 25.1 in 24 games. In 2019, he threw 85 in 75 games, but that was a lot of innings for him. I can see using him multiple innings last night because of the circumstances. But I am not sure it is fair for this to be a general season-long complaint

Last edited 2 months ago by metasox
asinwreck

The idea of 96-year-old Jerry Reinsdorf still in charge of this organization in 2032 is perhaps the most bleak aspect of all. This team, perhaps more than the 2019-20 Bulls, is a reflection of how wretched an owner this man is.

SoxBulldog13

Gosh I forgot about that version of Liam Hendricks. The one we were promised could go 2 innings regularly. Not Liam’s fault by any means but trying for 2 innings woulda been nice last night when season was on the line.

ChiSoxND12

Hendriks actually got the win, not the save, in that 3-inning appearance during the 2020 ALDS. I remember bc I really, really hate the Astros and was pulling hard for Oakland to stay alive that day

Last edited 2 months ago by ChiSoxND12
lifelongjd

As the WS champion Royals showed the league, there is a lot of potential value in a lockdown bullpen and was probably their greatest asset. However, great bullpens are almost never bought through expensive contracts. Paying Graveman and Kelly (and now Diekman) on top of Bummer and Hendriks is literally wasting resources that should be used for more valuable positions that need to be filled on a daily basis.

Finding bullpen arms is a weird thing. Never know who’s going to be effective. The Sox have done it, most recently with Lopez and Lambert. The fact that Hahn doesn’t realize this is really confounding.

Chris

Brilliant take on WS management