P.O. Sox: Leadership questions at every level

Now that the offseason is upon us, the P.O. Sox mailbag will be answered weekly in posts like this behind the Patreon paywall.

But because everybody has been through so much — and because we might have some new visitors who might not know the offseason rhythms of Sox Machine — this one’s going out to everybody.

Everybody just has to endure a quick pitch: Support Sox Machine on Patreon at the 2 WAR tier, and you get an ad-free version of the site and Sox Machine Podcast, as well as exclusive content like this. If you support Sox Machine at the 3 WAR tier or higher, you can help fill the mailbag over the course of the winter.

If you already support Sox Machine, it’s greatly appreciated, and thanks to everybody for the questions. Now, let’s proceed.

I know this lousy season isn’t Jose Abreu’s fault. But I keep hearing about his great leadership abilities however the Sox played like they desperately needed a real leader to step up. Should they let him go and shake up the roster?

— Two Dog

Beyond the fact that they were fixtures at first base, I think the Paul Konerko comparisons are appropriate when it comes to the idea of their leadership as well.

James Fegan had an interesting quote from Andrew Vaughn regarding Abreu: “It’s important to see how he does things. He’s a guy you can go talk to. Yes, there’s a language barrier, but if you talk to him, he can tell you how it really is.”

Well, Vaughn wore down during the second half, so even a guy who was conscientious about not taking Abreu’s presence for granted struggled to follow the example, just like Gordon Beckham couldn’t really pick up what Konerko was putting down besides the self-flagellation.

With both, I’m guessing there’s a little bit of conflating “universally respected” and “leader,” but I also wouldn’t let go of Abreu in an attempt to upgrade the clubhouse dynamics. For one, there’s no indication that he would block emerging parties from contributing their voices. For another, the Sox don’t have the richest track record of importing leaders from the outside. If he goes, just call it a financial decision driven by depth chart issues and leave it at that.

Speaking of which, it probably didn’t help that Tim Anderson, Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel all had issues that led to them missing games or being shells of themselves. Then you had Tony La Russa, who wore his Hall of Fame ring without possessing Hall of Fame skills. If they deferred to him, that might’ve been … suboptimal. Even teams with strong, defined clubhouse leaders have a manager who overrides them.

I don’t understand why Cairo, and I’m assuming the rest of the team, weren’t told the TLR news before Nightengale’s report. That’s just so shitty.

— Kevin Shannon

If that is the case, and it’s not a situation where Cairo is misrepresenting how much he knew in order to avoid having to answer more prying questions about somebody else’s medical condition, then I think it confirms what Ken Rosenthal heard — that La Russa’s autonomous style left everybody in a lurch when he wasn’t capable of making sound decisions (the 1-2 intentional walks), or decisions at all.

It wouldn’t be the first time Jerry Reinsdorf’s dueling loyalties completely screwed up the chain of command and left the organization paralyzed. It would be the third time in 11 years, actually, and this would be the most prolonged case of them all.

What was the true reason for having Cairo serve as bench coach under TLR? Was it to eventually replace Tony when he retired? If so, should he still be considered. What are the pros and cons.

— Scott Milburn

Cairo had managerial aspirations at the end of his playing career, and when those days were over, he immediately started working in different capacities for the Reds and Yankees, including a stint as a bench coach.

I don’t think the Sox hired Cairo as a direct Tony La Russa replacement the way they targeted Sandy Alomar Jr. (and eventually hired Rick Renteria) as a guy who could replace Robin Ventura seamlessly, but they liked Cairo’s trajectory independent of the fact that he’d played two stints under La Russa, so perhaps they saw him as a mutually agreeable youth-and-upside candidate.

He deserves an interview, if only to give him a setting to speak candidly about what he saw in the clubhouse without La Russa hovering over everything, but between the Sox’s unwillingness to search far and wide and the potential for baggage from a disastrous season, it’s hard to see a Cairo extension as anything but settling.

Which is a shame, but I think Cairo can hold his head high. He got some managing reps and has an over-.500 record to show for it, and when he interviews for future jobs, I’m sure his potential employers will have heard plenty of stories about the La Russa Sox, and what Cairo might have had to put up with. He should be fine in the long run.

I also want to pause to point out a Walt Jocketty quote from that linked story about Cairo’s managerial hopes:

It’s extremely important for a manager and general manager to have a good relationship. You don’t have to be best friends, but you have to have communication and respect for each other and a good working relationship, because it’s so vitally important to the success of the team and the organization. You talk about all those things we talked about—how they handle certain situations—but what it comes down to is how you interact with that person.

Will the org perform an honest and thorough managerial search or will they do White Sox things?

— Mr. Hand

I’ve been going back and forth about this, because everything about the context says they should, but everything about their history says they won’t. I think I’ve settled on, “They do an honest search that results in a candidate that looks like a half-assed White Sox process,” meaning Miguel Cairo or Willie Harris. The fan base again goes to war against itself.

Aside from Dylan Cease, what are some things that went right for the White Sox in 2022?

— Maker’s Mark

Johnny Cueto both made it easy to move on from Keuchel and easier to disregard the decision to not extend the qualifying offer to Carlos Rodón. With the former, it was a direct swap. With the latter, Cueto wouldn’t have seen a pathway to a rotation spot were Rodón in the mix.

Also, imagine if the White Sox got Elvis Andrus’ production from César Hernández in 2021. Andrus hit .271/.309/.464, and his 1.7 WAR over 43 games was only topped by Abreu and Luis Robert among position players. What a waste of lightning in a bottle.

It was cool to see Reynaldo López turn into a bullpen force, because given Rick Hahn’s inclinations to add there, they need all the in-house reinforcements they can muster.

That’s about it at the major-league level. On the farm, it was actually a pretty good year considering they opened the season at the bottom of everybody’s organizational rankings. Colson Montgomery and Oscar Colás give the Sox two more top-100 prospects than they had before, and the other consensus top-10 prospects all had decent-to-exciting years. It still won’t translate to leaps and bounds, at least until we see whether this most recent, Noah Schultz-led draft class shores up the pitching ranks a little.

The new rules on limitations of utilizing the shift in 2023- does it help , hinder or no effect with the White Sox?

— Terrence

I’m planning to answer this question over the winter, partially because it gives me something to write about during slow periods, but more because I’m awaiting the release of resources that will help me better answer the question. The annual Bill James Handbook usually includes leaderboards about which teams and players best utilized/were most harmed by the shifts, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the rule changes prompt the new edition to emphasize certain facts. Also, Mike Petriello at MLB.com has hinted at some new defensive tools that the Statcast crew is working on for public consumption, so stay tuned.

What of the Mets? When I see them, I think of trade possibilities. If Diaz leaves in free agency, and the Sox cut payroll, Liam Hendriks I would think would be of interest, maybe for Jeff McNeil. I could also see the possibility of a Grandal and McCann swap (money would have to be evened out). Then there is Eduardo Escobar, only because the Sox love to go back to an old well. Thoughts on trade possibilities with the Mets?

— Tim

I can see the Mets as a possible landing spot for Hendriks, but the time to have traded for Jeff McNeil was last year, when he was average at best and had reportedly clashed with Francisco Lindor. Now he’s coming off a batting title and a 6 WAR season, so they’d be selling as high as they would’ve been selling low. They can ask for plenty, though, because with two arb years remaining, he’s going to be paid well below market value, whereas Hendriks is basically retail.

I have no interest in McCann, because he’s been more messed up than Grandal and has two years left. The Sox dodged that bullet, so there’s no need to jump back into its path. Escobar is the best fit of the bunch, but if there’s anybody on the Mets that gives the Sox exactly what they need, it’s Brandon Nimmo.

Why do you have more faith in staying healthy and reaching their potential next year, Kopech or Luis Robert? Both have all the talent in the world but it’s becoming incredibly hard to rely on them to reach it.

— Joe M.

I’m going with Robert because of the question’s two-part nature. If it were only “Who stands a better chance at staying healthy?”, I’d still be mulling it over, but we’ve seen Robert summon his best time and time again over a six-month season in between interruptions, while Kopech’s best hasn’t shown the ability to withstand a whole-season grind.

The Sox are now 0-3 having been outscored 17-6 at Sox Machine meetup games. However the Sox are 3-0 the day after Sox Machine meetups with a combined score of 16-2. So should all future Sox Machine meet ups actually be the day after the originally scheduled date?

— Mark H.

I’m for trying it out. Cincinnati’s within easy driving distance from Nashville, so I’ll have the flexibility to stay a day longer than planned this time around. That series is May 5-7 for those who are mapping out their 2023 calendars, by the way. Book the whole weekend just in case.

I know we’re all tired of the front office and leadership… but how are THEY not tired of being the pets of Jerry Reinsdorf? What does it say about them that they’re rarely interviewed and never poached? Do they not see that staying in the same job with the same organization makes them bad and unambitious, especially since their success is minimal?

— Rob L.

Well, look at it from Hahn’s standpoint: He’s gotten to perform a very scarce job in his hometown, and being in the position for “20-odd years” means he’s gotten to raise his family without moving once. That stability is enviable on a personal level, even if baseball is supposed to be competitive enough to weed out this kind of underachievement.

Re-reading the stories about his end-of-season press conference, this quote stood out to me:

Think about the idea of “the accountability we all want to have.” Do people actually want accountability? Most people willingly accept accountability as a trade-off for getting paid more, having more say in the direction of an enterprise, and wielding impact on the lives of employees, because it’s part of the deal.

For instance, let’s say Project Birmingham was a way for Chris Getz to stretch out within a confined role, and it points to a greater ambition. If he wants to try bigger things, he might have to go to an another organization, even if it may be less forgiving. He’d probably be fine with higher expectations, because there’s usually a correlation between compensation and responsibilities and every adult understands that.

But if he could import the White Sox’s ample margin for error, why wouldn’t he? The combination of an enviable job title backed by a mother’s love sounds pretty hard to beat. Most people just have to pick one or the other.

Hahn has reached a state where he doesn’t have to choose. He can do the exact job he wants to do in the place he wants to do it without having to own up to mistakes or suffer consequences for setbacks. Wouldn’t that really be “the accountability you want to have”? His career record might be 700-817, but he’s winning at life.

Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
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.

Articles: 3791
12 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Josh Nelson

I blame the Fromthe108 Crew for poor meetup games.

mikeschach

Let me add my thanks for another season where you outperformed the product on the field by several orders of magnitude. I finally paid up this year in anticipation of baseball bliss- so perhaps I am at fault for jinxing the b team… but no buyers remorse. Thanks for being the brightest spot in a gloomy year.

Greg Nix

That last answer is why Hahn’s quote about quitting if he’s the wrong guy for the job rings so false. Why would anyone quit his job? The only limitations are 1) stay on the boss’s good side, 2) don’t sign huge contracts. He’s made in the shade.

soxfan

I don’t know, man. I see Jim’s point about Hahn winning at life, but by that standard you could argue he’s already WON at life (financially and professionally anyway) and at some point should be looking to move up Maslow’s pyramid. If I made $400K a year (or whatever he’s making) for 20 years, I’d be hard pressed to listen to a guy make decisions that I knew were contrary to the stated mission of the organization. Unless he’s very bad at managing money he should already have eff you money and should be able to stand up to his boss without fear of loss of income or status.

I imagine my net worth is an order of magnitude (or two?) smaller than his, and I’ve left money on the table because I couldn’t stand the organization I was working for at the time. At some point enough money is enough and you should be seeking to satisfy yourself in other ways.

lifelongjd

Yeah maybe, but it’s easy for us to say we’d be more principled if we had Hahn’s money and title. We all have bosses that we answer to, so Hahn toeing the company line enables him to stay in a comfortable lifestyle without much risk.

Wayne

So should all future Sox Machine meet ups actually be the day after the originally scheduled date?

Sox Machine meetups to be scheduled for every off-day next season, so they can win the next game.

Wayne

What does it say about them that they’re rarely interviewed and never poached?

Rick Hahn withdrew his name from consideration with St Louis in 2007-08 offseason and declined to interview for the Pirates job. Rick Hahn was seen as a top GM Candidate 2008-2011. He finally got his promotion to GM in 2012-13 offseason, when Kenny Williams got promoted.

GrinnellSteve

And Jerry wouldn’t let Kenny interview for Toronto many years ago.

fustercluck

“That’s just the fun of being in pro sports.”

Spoken as flippantly as one blessed to live a carefree life without consequence. Let’s ask Dayton Moore and Al Avila how fun it is with real expectations and no safety net.

To Err is Herrmann

I have been following the work of Jim Margalus for 7 seasons now and Sox Machine when it rebooted, and all of this reading has increased my knowledge of baseball quite a bit. To think, there was a time I did not even know fWAR and bWAR and WRC+, much less that armoires can play in the outfield. What I did not expect was that I would also get a masterclass on analyzing dysfunctional business organizations as a side dish. I now understand my workplace much better now. One of our administrators has been saying the word “robust” several times in every conversation now for 5-6 years. I just noticed that for 5-6 years nothing has been robust.

We once had an administrator who often talked and wrote messages about “insensitizing” employees. After years of hearing this, I finally realized she meant “incentivizing” which made more sense (possibly because it is a real word).

To Err is Herrmann

The sad thing is that she might have actually meant insensitizing. Being insensitized might also help workers be more productive. it would certainly help me get through meetings.