How much have the White Sox really changed after seven straight losing seasons?

Before the White Sox lost their 82nd game of the year to lock in a seventh straight losing season on Thursday, Jon Greenberg posted an editor’s column at The Athletic that included a brief aside about a regrettable period in White Sox history.

Let’s go back to [Jeff] Samardzija to close this out. Samardzija gives off the air of a meatball athlete, but anyone who has talked to him at length knows that’s not the case. During the end of his Cubs tenure, he was keenly aware of not only his value, but the importance of free agency in baseball. So he scoffed when the Cubs tried to play the “hometown boy” angle during negotiations and he wound up getting traded in a deal to acquire Addison Russell. Samardzija went from Oakland to the White Sox (boy, does he have stories about that year with the Sox) and then wound up signing a five-year, $90 million deal with San Francisco.

In hindsight, the Jeff Samardzija deal was a warning that the James Shields trade would happen. They were both conceived as poorly as they turned out, with “Shark Cage” caps evidence of how little juice the “hometown boy” angle had for anybody outside the White Sox front office. In fact, it’s not out of the running that the Samardzija trade ended up costing the White Sox the better MLB player, because Marcus Semien is putting the finishing touches on a 6-7 WAR season. I wouldn’t bet on Fernando Tatis Jr. coming up short of that kind of peak, but a season-ending back injury introduces the possibility.

When the White Sox have tried to win during Rick Hahn’s seven seasons as general manager, they’ve lost. When they’ve looked likely to lose under Hahn’s administration, they’ve never warped expectations.

Hahn knows more about baseball than any of us, but you — yes, you — have the same amount of winning seasons. It’s a reprisal of the argument against Robin Ventura’s managerial career, where I could have also posted four consecutive losing seasons and presided over multiple clubhouse meltdowns that garnered national attention. I probably would’ve been locked in a garbage can three times a week, but who’s to say Ventura wasn’t? Maybe that’s one of Samardzija’s stories.

Rick Renteria says next year will be different:

“I’m expecting that this is it,” Renteria said, asked if he thinks 2019 will mark the end of this losing era. “We’re trying to win. We talk about it, we’re going through it. I know there’s still some refining to do, but I’ll be honest with you, we’re coming in, we’re finishing this season, we’re talking about coming into next season ready to battle. Period. Exclamation point. That’s what we’re looking to do.”

I noticed Renteria dropping the “honest” tell, which usually shows up when adopts an uncomfortable position. There’s nothing to dodge in that particular session, but the day before, Renteria said he expected his entire staff to return:

Now, it’s entirely possible that the problem lies with player procurement, not coaching. Well, the White Sox just promoted Nick Hostetler from amateur scouting director after a tenure that could most generously be described as “unfinished,” and they replaced him with an assistant who suggested no philosophical shifts. The White Sox saw their second-tier of minor-league depth erode and only have a top-10 farm system because suppressing Luis Robert gooses up the ranking, yet Chris Getz called the year on the farm “solid.”

The White Sox have the league’s worst combination of strike-zone control and power, as well as a bottom-third defense and the fifth-worst team FIP. These things don’t reflect a staff that does a great job.

The White Sox tried a different approach with the rebuild to some encouraging results, but there’s no evidence that the process of rebuilding has changed them. They might have built an excellent and affordable core, but the core wasn’t the problem during their last rebuild. No, the issues were:

  • Young players who never quite got on top of the learning curve, or did after it was too late.
  • A farm system that produced few in-house alternatives.
  • The 25-man roster rejecting damn near every talent transplant.

The White Sox have more young talent at more positions this time — second, third, shortstop, left and center field should be covered by the end of next season, as should three spots in the rotation. That’s great. These players have traveled on long bus rides with each other, so one would hope they’ve ironed out all their personality differences in advance and won’t choke each other in the clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field.

But when it comes to supplementing that core, the front office and coaching staff that oversaw seven consecutive losing seasons is almost entirely intact, and they’re bearing the same results in their fields. They still don’t walk, they still strike out too much, they still play leaky defense, the steps forward and backward with pitchers cancel out. They still lack top prospects who didn’t require a tremendous acquisition cost. Most recently, the only real success stories of Hahn’s offseason — James McCann and Alex Colomé — are on the risk of losing their places in the “positive” column thanks to dreadful second halves.

There are just too many shared characteristics with previous White Sox failures to write it off as “year three of the rebuild,” and that’s if you haven’t already rejected the premise of the five-year plan (look at those aforementioned Oakland A’s, doing more with less in a tougher division). Maybe Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay only were acquired to lure Manny Machado, but they turned out no differently from Kelvin Herrera, who had no such strings attached and was viewed by the front office as a guy who could solve a problem.

The stakes only get higher from here, assuming Hahn regains the will and nerve to add again in a meaningful way. Four years since Samardzija and seven years since their last winning season, I’m still not quite sure how and when the White Sox will acquire a key veteran who doesn’t leave the organization shaking his head in awe of all the ways it went wrong.

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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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mikeyb

Why would Hahn try to win in 2020? Jerry obviously has no timeline on when the winning needs to start, and the longer Hahn can kick the can down the road, the longer he gets to be “the GM who is only losing because he’s trying to because he’s so smart and not losing because he actually doesn’t have a damn clue what he’s doing and maybe Jerry will actually consider firing him if he’s truly this bad probably not but maybe.”

There just really isn’t any incentive for him to go for it this offseason.

Un Perro

“Hahn knows more about baseball than any of us” . . . really, Jim? I’d bet dollars to donuts that you know much more about baseball than Rick Hahn, because I only watch about a hundred ballgames a year and I’m pretty sure I know infintely more than Rick Hahn. The Shark trade was a disaster when it happened. Semien had an elite eye, athletic tools for days, and a bat to dream on. The fact that Chris f***ing Bassitt has turned out to be good as well is just icing on the cake.

The list of good moves that Hahn has made range from obvious (getting top prospects for elite talent) to extensions to the James McCann signing. That’s it. His missteps include Melky, LaRoche, the Shark trade, the Shields acquisition, the Alonso/Jay debacle–all of which were objectively bad at hte time they were done, this isn’t a 20/20 hindsight thing–and a horrible draft record to boot. We have an awful GM, and we shouldn’t really mince words about it. In any other system Hahn would have been fired years ago. But we’re stuck with Reinsdorf.

Margalus/anyone else for GM 2020.

marquettepark

Margalus for White Sox GM. Hell yes!

texag10

I’m not 100% sure Hahn knows where it is either.

Chris Pummer

I think if Hahn knew where the waiver wire was he’d have gotten Yonder Alonso there sooner. 

stevegingto

Good one. Yonder – a .180 hitter with a .575 OPS. Good enough for Rookie League. Maybe.

karkovice squad

I’d also question the value of some of that knowledge.

Josh Nelson

That’s what interns are for, Jim.

texag10

Now now, Hahn was able to turn Brandon Jacobs and Hector Santiago into Giolito. And let’s also not forget about the umm…you know, that other trade where he uhh….with that one guy and the other guy. You know, that one. That was a good one.

Energyman

That one line about Hahn knowing more about baseball than any of us is eating away at me. I reject the premise and Jim’s response about the waiver wire doesn’t support the original mistaken statement. A smart baseball man surrounds himself with others who may know specific details of how the waiver wire works or negotiating contracts. We need someone, however, that can identify good coaches, players who can play or be developed, players who we have that must be dumped when the time is right. Handling the logistics of payroll would certainly help also. No, Hahn may not be more knowledgeable than any of us.

karkovice squad

It’s also something Rick chirps about when dismissing fan criticism in general.

MrTopaz

I don’t have to know more to expect more.

This puts me in mind of when people throw around Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech as if it’s some trump card in the face of criticism. Like, yeah, sure, spectators don’t know as much about being in the arena as the gladiators, but they’ve got a really good view, and they don’t have any trouble telling who’s the winner, and who’s the loser.

roke1960

I agree with this completely. Almost everyone who posts on here has a very good idea of what the White Sox need going forward. We pretty much all agree that now is the time to strike (only because they didn’t last year with Machado/Harper). Yet Hahn is now pushing a 5-year rebuild on us. He is thoroughly incompetent. And if it’s because of Jerry’s cheapness that they didn’t add Machado or Harper last year, then any self-respecting GM would have quit because he is not being allowed to do his job. We need to grill him with thoughtful, specific questions at Soxfest and watch him squirm and lie his way through answers. The problem for him will be that most people in the crowd there will see right through his lies and be able to call him out on them.

joewho112

Being able to tell whether a cake tastes good doesn’t mean you can bake a good one

Un Perro

True, but it might give you a suggestion that it requires butter and eggs, not–you know–Ervin Santana.

stevegingto

Yeah. I agree. Watching 100 games a year for 30 or 50 years, fans DO know a lot about what is going on. Hahn has managed to snow upper management and a good number of fans, but whatever happened to the contenders we used to be consistently? Hahn is a loser who hasn’t enough baseball sense that God gave a toad. He needed more than 10 pitchers to replace the AA level people of 2018, and all he came up with was Colomé and Herrera, where he batted .500. And still now needs ten more pitchers with major league skill sets.

Rule #1: Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Got it?

The Yanks at the end of the 1990s bought the best pitching money could buy, plus 2 or 3 stars and a gaggle of .250 banjo hitters. And won 3 straight WSs. Pitching wins.

With no MLB pitching a year ago, Hahn got TWO and no more.

WE NEED PITCHING. BUY SOME.

karkovice squad

That’s a gross oversimplification at best since those “.250 banjo hitters” produced the 2nd most runs in baseball ’98-’00.

There isn’t only 1 way to have a good pitching staff let alone only 1 way to build a winning team. Rick’s problem is he hasn’t found any way to do either.

Willardmarshall

What is it that keeps me caring about the White Sox?

GoGoSoxFan

If you find an answer to this question please share it with me.

Milky✌️

Part of it is Jim’s fault. I grew up a Sox fan but didn’t really start following day-to-day until I found SSS. With its headlines that are just blunt TMBG references

WBWSF

The big change is that the White Sox franchise is making nothing but money. Forbes said the White Sox were the 6th most profitable team in MLB in 2018. The team has become a goldmine for the owners. They could care less about winning as long as they keep raking in the money.Hahn has the worse record of any MLB GM the last 7 seasons and he keeps his job. If he was employed by a owner who wanted to win he would have been gone by now,

asinwreck

I was going to make a historical comparison between the last decade of Jerry Reinsdorf’s ownership and the final decade of Connie Mack’s ownership of the Philadelphia A’s before he had to sell to Arnold Johnson, who moved the team to Kansas City.

The problem with making such a comparison is the A’s finished better than .500 four times in that decade. Ninety-something, financially-strapped Connie Mack fielded a more competitive product than Jerry Reinsdorf has with a franchise valued at well over a billion dollars.

Greg Nix

Hahn is going to sign Nick Castellanos and Kyle Gibson and they’re both going to suck and the payroll is going to be $90 mil and Hahn is going to bitch about how the fans don’t appreciate that the team spent money. 76 wins, Eat at Arby’s. 

texag10

Not gonna lie, I’d be okay with the Cubs version of Castellanos. I don’t know where he’d play (assuming RF) but the dude is raking. And he fits in well with the rest of the team since he also seems allergic to walking.

Greg Nix

Signing someone based off a hot month is almost always a bad idea which is why I’m confident the Sox will consider it. Not to mention that Castellanos is probably the worst defensive outfielder in MLB (including Eloy).

As Cirensica

I would put money on this bet…

zerobs

They’re more likely to get Puig than Castellanos, but you are correct that anyone Hahn signs will suck. And signing Gibson would be one of those dumb things the Sox do – forfeiting a draft pick to a division rival.

NorthSideSouthSider

I don’t think the Cubs will let Castellanos leave. They’ll be back to spending this off season and he may be their first priority.

lil jimmy

I’d be fine with Kyle Gibson, if he was second best Starter that they signed this off season.

roke1960

Yeah, I’d like to see 2 starters added, then move Lopez to the bullpen when Kopech is ready. He could reach 100mph consistently if he worked out of the pen.

WBWSF

I find it ironic that JR fired his best GM (Larry Himes) and he keeps rehiring his worse GM, (Rick Hahn)

texag10

You misspelled “depressing”

ForsterFTOG

You think any combo of Hahn’s 4 best draft picks will approach 180 career war?

asinwreck

And he fired Himes at the end of a season when the Sox won 94 games. The Sox have matched or bettered that total exactly three times since 1990.

texag10

All we really need in the lineup is a really good RF, preferably one that can hit lefty. If he can walk a lot and hit some homers, that would be ideal as well. It’s a shame young RFs like that never hit the FA market…

ForsterFTOG

We offered him millions and millions. In fact, it was some random percentage of a billion. We did all we could.

-K Williams

roke1960

He didn’t finish that last sentence. It should read, “We did all we could to make sure we lost out on him while making it look like we tried.”

As Cirensica

Thank you Jim.

iowasox1971

Jim, Hahn does NOT know more about baseball than you or many others on this board.

What Hahn DOES know is how to be a yes man and how to b.s. his way through complicated situations with his gullible superiors and some others. Hahn, for instance, doesn’t have any problems with lying to the public when he says that service-time considerations had no role in Robert not being promoted this season. If he can blatantly lie about something like that, instead of deflecting the question, what else is he hiding?

Jim, if you became GM today, I’m sure you would find a way to build a Sox team with a winning season sometime in the next seven years.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Dave doesn’t get enough credit for Annie’s success. His kid’s band is pretty talented, too.

ForsterFTOG

Well played.

roke1960

Don’t sell yourself short. If you surrounded yourself with people who knew the inner workings of a front office and you stuck to the roster construction, you would be fine.

karkovice squad

Management experience is overrated. But editor of a blog isn’t management experience?

What you don’t have is credibility with baseball insiders. But we can also see how much on-field success that’s brought the Sox.

ParisSox

But better than Hawk Harrelson. 

lil jimmy

Dadgum Right!

Right Size Wrong Shape

GM Hawk was underrated.

GoGoSoxFan

Only in his own mind.

BenjaminButton

short version: they havent.

roke1960

We are probably overreacting in saying that Jim or someone in this group can do a better job than Hahn. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Hahn has been horrible at his job. About the only thing he has done well is acquire premium talent for Sale, Q and Eaton. But a good GM would have surrounded those 3 with enough quality that he would have won with them and not have had to trade them. Now we are approaching the time when he either has to surround Giolito, Moncada, Eloy, Robert… with talent to push this team into contention or trade them before they leave. Is there anyone here who has confidence that Hahn will be able to do that?

knoxfire30

People are massively overrating Hahn at this point if they dont think a lot of other baseball people couldnt accomplish what he has or gasp, do a better job.

roke1960

Setting aside all the other things that a GM must do, on straight roster composition I’m pretty sure most of us here can do a better job than him. Just listening to him talk, it seems like he has no clue how to put together a winning team.

knoxfire30

He let robin ventura manage a talented team to 4 straight losing seasons and thought his manager didnt matter……….. I will never get over that

35Shields

I’m not saying that I could do a better job than Hahn, but the White Sox are the 29th worst team in baseball by W-L under his tenure. Even if I could do worse, it would only be barely.

roke1960

I think the point Jim is trying to make is that he doesn’t have the qualifications to be an MLB GM. None of us do. Which is why we probably couldn’t do an overall better job as a GM than Hahn. But in roster construction and putting a competent team on the field, Hahn has proven over the last 7 years that he is terrible at that. Maybe he is decent at other aspects of being a GM, but the most visible one- putting a winning White Sox team on the field- he has failed miserably.

karkovice squad

Not having the credentials to get hired isn’t the same thing as not having the skills to do the job.

GoGoSoxFan

Conversely, having the credentials isn’t the same as having the skills to do a job.

Sophist

I think any one of us would be a better GM than Hahn. Just ask us.

GoGoSoxFan

I loled at this.

itaita

Is it bad that ive pretty much resigned myself to watching mediocrity until Renisdorf sells the team or dies and the team gets an owner that might give a shit. It worked for the Blackhawks afterall.

Sophist

careful. lots of blackhawks fans died before Dollar Bill did.

GoGoSoxFan

It’s the only logical position to take. Nothing will change until JR is gone and working yourself into a frenzy over every dumb, money grabbing move will only add to the likelyhood you die of a stroke before Reinsdorf.

ParisSox

Once upon a time a young Michael Jordan and his fiery coach, who was beloved by the city, had their team on the verge of beating the dreaded Pistons and ready to take the next step towards a championship.  

Then one day to everybody’s shock, this curly headed coach was fired by Jerry Riensdorf and replaced by some unknown assistant named Phil Jackson.  And the rest is history.  

Dare to dream …

roke1960

But in the White Sox case, it’s a young Yoan Moncada and his sometimes fiery coach who is scorned by the city have their team on the verge of winning 70 games and ready to take the next step toward mediocrity.

soxfan1959

Oy…this subject is depressing.

vanillablue

Hahn is certainly a smart baseball guy – he’s just smart at all of the things we hate about the business of baseball (particularly White Sox baseball). He knows how loyal Reinsdorf is, so as long as he stays in his good graces, he’s fine. The 2 essential elements of GM job security these days are 1) keep payroll low and 2) keep on-field performance focused on the future, not the present. Hahn knows that owners would rather have a highly ranked farm system than a playoff team, so they can sell the future rather than pay for the present. He also benefits from the media and fans having bought into the idea that a Cubs/Astros style total teardown is the only way to build a good team, so he reinforces that idea every time he speaks publicly. Since he has Reinsdorf’s loyalty, he knows he has the leeway to overtly screw over fans and players with things like service time manipulation. And on and on.

roke1960

But a year from now, the Sox will have one of the worst farm systems, with only Andrew Vaughn a top 50 prospect, unless some of the guys who sucked/were injured this year come back strong.

Yolmer's gatorade

It is kind of a stretch, but you could say they have learned some patience in this rebuild. They probably should have never won the offseason in 2015, and if they treated 2015 like 2019, they probably would have been in a much more interesting place heading to the 2015-16 offseason. They didn’t really shell out long term money in the 2018 offseason like they did in 2015. That is a thing.

roke1960

Rick can really change the narrative by keeping his word and spending this winter. With Giolito, Moncada, Eloy, Timmy in place and hopefully Cease, Kopech, Robert and Madrigal becoming solid players next year, that is 8 long term pieces. Adding two bats (plus resigning Abreu) and adding 2 pitchers, and a case can be made for this team making huge gains next year. But as most of us have said from the start of this, they will not win with just the young players they acquired. They will have to supplement that with several legitimate major league veterans. The national media seems to think the Sox will spend big this winter. Let’s hope it happens.

Yolmer's gatorade

2 good bats and 2 good pitchers is probably going to stretch them too thin. If they sign Cole or Wheeler, they can dumpster dive for a LAIM, maybe bring back Nova for a 1 year $5 million deal. If they sign a frontline pitcher and a good outfielder, that’s fine with me. They might have to scramble for a DH and bullpen innings, but they have enough mid level young talent that someone will rise. Spending the same amount of money on average players is what I’d fear. They should pay for obvious talent even if they can only get 2 or so guys.

PauliePaulie

When did Hahn say they would be spending this winter?

roke1960

He said the money will be spent. I just assumed that would be some time in our lifetimes.

roke1960

In 2018, the Twins won 78 games and hit 166 home runs. Over the winter they added $42 million in free agent signings (Gonzalez, Schoop, Cron, Perez, Cruz), and added another $20 million in payroll with extensions/arbitration raises. This year they will win 95+ games and hit 300 home runs. They had a payroll of $124 million starting the year.

The 2020 White Sox can be the 2019 Twins. They will have about $40 million committed to payroll going into the offseason. Let’s say they add $65 million to get to $105 million. JD Martinez ($25M per year), Bumgarner ($20M per year), Abreu ($10M per year), Joc Pederson ($8 million per year) would put them in that range.

They would have 2 players with 40+ home run potential (Jimenez, Martinez), 3 more with 30+ homer potential (Abreu, Pederson, Moncada, and 4 if you count Robert), and another with 20+ potential (Anderson). The starting staff would be Bumgarner, Giolito, Cease, Kopech and Lopez, which is potentially better than Gibson, Berrios, Odorizzi, Pineda and Perez.

There are other players that could be added (Grandal, Castellanos, Ozuna, Gregorius, Moustakas) who could fit into that increased payroll. There’s no reason for Hahn to not spend this winter. Who knows what can happen if you add the right players as the Twins did.

roke1960

I compared the 2019 stats at 6 postions for the Twins and the White Sox, if you add JD Martinez and Joc Pederson.
1st base Abreu 33 HR, .851 OPS Cron 24 HR, .788 OPS
Shortstop Anderson .865 OPS, 25 errors Polanco .850 OPS, 19 E
3rd base Moncada .898 OPS, 23 HR Sano 27 HR, .885 OPS
Left field Eloy .793 OPS, 27 HR Rosario .783 OPS, 28 HR
Right field Pederson .860 OPS, 32 HR Kepler .860 OPS, 36 HR
DH JD Martinez .951 OPS, 35 HR Cruz 1.004 OPS, 36 HR
At all 6 of these positions, the stats are very similar. In left, Eloy should improve next year, likely giving him significantly better stats than Rosario.
2nd base and center field are hard to compare, since Madrigal and Robert should be starters for the Sox next year.
The only real advantage lies at catcher, where Mitch Garver significantly outperforms McCann. Spending $18M more per year to get Grandal would even that out.

If Rick Hahn makes the right additions, there is no reason the Sox can’t improve by 20 games next year as the Twins did this year. Will they spend the money to boost the payroll over $100 million (even higher if they add Grandal)? I doubt it. But for those who think that the Sox shouldn’t add this winter because they are not ready yet, you need to look no further than the 2018-19 Twins.

soxfan4life

Trust the process? i think not until theres a complete overhaul start with the very top with reinsdorf. maybe its the fan in me but i just dont see how an owner is ok of losing like this. its about to be 11 years the sox smelled a playoff berth. its just been all kind of bad after ozzie left, starting with clown #1 kenny williams who hired ventura that was his guy,not only robin was inexperienced,ventura turned it down the offer but kenny kept persisting til ventura said ok so right there robin wasnt interested of being the manager in the first place&we all know the results from his tenure.Clown #2 rick hahn.in the seven years of trying to contend,rebuild,trying to contend to now rebuild again.its painfully obvious that he inept& has no idea of what hes doing. any smart owner with some sense wouldve sent his ass packing,minor leagues has been poor under his watch till the trades which also show you how desperate he was trying to save face by saying”rebuild”.and clown #3 rick renteria. im sure rick is a nice good guy but i really dont think hes the right guy to run the ship even if the sox get good starting on 2020.he juggles the lineup way too much&continues to mishandle the bullpen in key situations&that is something i can t trust so theres that. so jerry with all the faults,mistakes,&too much loyalty now its time to make it right by blowing it all up&start over like HOU&MINN look where they at now or stop being cheap and pay for what you want/need stop being about you for once. the sox need a good offseason to get back in good graces with the fan base or it could get ugly going in the 4th season of the “rebuild”time to take off the losing tag&start winning&contending for WS titles. we got some of the pieces but maybe need a player or two(RF&aFRONTLINE STARTER)&i just dont trust the owner,gm or the manager so now where do we go from here????

stevegingto

Easy answer: The Sox have become the Cubs. The 107 year Cubs. GMs that don’t know what they are doing. Managers who will never get above 75 wins. And fans who enable losing ways.

stevegingto

I’ve been a Sox fan since 1976, a baseball fan since 1960. I had Harry Caray for more years than I want to admit.

When I came to Chicago, I liked the way the Sox seened to always make a very good effort to put a quality team on the field. Some years it didn’t work as planned, but they righted the ship quick enough. And that was something to admire.

Fast forward to today. Hahn has no idea what a winning club does. The losing just goes on and on. And they scam the fans with something that sounds WAAY too much like that other team’s, “Wait till next year”, crap. Renteria is in the vlass if manager I refer to as the San Diego type. A placeholder who can get nothing out of the AA players they give him. The kind of manager that other team used to hire, 3 or 4 per decade.

Please, Jerry, dump this Renteria flunkie and this Hahn pea brain. Get some real baseball men in here.