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A year after winning their first World Series since 1917, the 2006 Chicago White Sox looked primed for a repeat, adding Hall of Fame slugger Jim Thome to an efficient lineup and Javier Vazquez to a rotation that carried them to the title.
Those moves were admirable, and the Sox posted a 90-win season but finished third in the American League Central. That was about as good as it got for a fan base that has experienced only two brief postseason runs since despite the Sox’s relentless efforts at the expense of their farm system until 2017.
Fans also have tolerated — to varying degrees — their North Side rivals’ glorification of the 2016 World Series championship, no matter how many layers of dust have collected on those replica trophies, pennants and commemorative bobbleheads since the Cubs ended their 107-year drought.
Now, with an outrageously talented core supplemented by a strong farm system, no decision in the Jerry Reinsdorf era is more important than the hiring of the next Sox manager.
There’s no unanimous choice, but that shouldn’t matter. What should matter is that Rick Renteria’s successor display astute in-game strategy to win close games and elevate the talent and acumen of his younger players.
And let’s face it: Nearly every candidate has some baggage. A.J. Hinch was fired for his part in the Houston Astros cheating scandal. And Tony La Russa, 76, hasn’t managed since 2001 and has been criticized for voicing displeasure for those who kneel during the national anthem.
Ron Washington tested positive for cocaine in 2009 before leading the Texas Rangers to consecutive World Series appearances, and Washington has been hailed for his work with infielders from the Oakland Athletics in the late 1990s to currently with the Atlanta Braves.
It’s not certain whether Washington, 68, is a candidate or even a fit in the eyes of the Sox front office. But after watching Jose Abreu and Tim Anderson develop into American League Most Valuable Player candidates, Lucas Giolito emerge as one of the league’s best starters and young outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert display prolific talent at the plate, the Sox don’t need any major additions to advance to the next level.
The exception is the next manager and the structure he plans to implement.
The Sox, according to multiple sources, plan to apply more analytical data into their game planning. Gone are the days when a staffer would place data on the desk of former manager Ozzie Guillen, suggesting that longtime leadoff batter Juan Pierre would be better served as a No. 9 hitter, only for the information to be crumpled and tossed into a waste basket.
La Russa was well advanced in applying statistical data well before the analytics craze. Hall of Famer Larry Walker hit 10 home runs and drove in 25 runs in 34 games from the No. 2 spot in the lineup, helping lead La Russa’s Cardinals to the 2004 National League pennant. La Russa’s method of batting the pitcher eighth influenced Joe Maddon after Maddon switched leagues from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Cubs in 2015.
Hinch, who in October 2013 interviewed for the Cubs’ vacancy that went to Renteria, worked in player development with the Arizona Diamondbacks and pro scouting with the San Diego Padres, so he understands virtually all facets of baseball operations. And Hinch is very familiar with pitch data — the Astros were the first team to use an Edgertronic high-speed camera to study mechanics and spin rates.
The bottom line is hiring a seasoned leader who can bring a championship to the South Side after more than a decade of bold but failed front-office moves.
Nick Swisher and Orlando Cabrera contributed to a 2008 AL Central title. But Swisher alienated veterans by riding a motorbike in the spring training clubhouse within a week of his arrival, and his pouting over a lack of playing time late in the season accelerated efforts to trade him.
Cabrera and the Sox quickly had a difference of opinion on his worth, and tension with teammates resulted in his free-agency departure after one season.
Jake Peavy didn’t pitch for more than three months after the Sox acquired him from the Padres before the 2009 trade deadline because of a bum ankle, and he never was the same after suffering a detached right lat muscle the next season.
Adam Dunn’s .197 batting average .197 /over his first three seasons with the Sox was only one digit higher than his average strikeout total from 2011-13.
And the go-for-it-all strategy in 2016 that brought veterans Todd Frazier, Jimmy Rollins, Mat Latos, Brett Lawrie, James Shields and Justin Morneau backfired and led to a major rebuild that should have started after the 2007 season, when the Sox lost 90 games with too many comfortable veterans.
Credit the front office, Renteria and his coaches and the players for reaching the playoffs one year ahead of schedule. But Sox fans have been teased and tortured by unfulfilled expectations, and they deserve a bona fide difference maker who can manage the team to a championship and sustained success.
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