When Robin Ventura announced Sunday he wouldn’t return as manager, one of his main reasons for coming to his decision was the need for a “new voice” into the clubhouse. The White Sox view Rick Renteria, despite his bench coach perch next to Ventura in 2016, as providing that new voice.
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn bristled at the notion that hiring Renteria signaled that this franchise prioritized continuity in the dugout after four consecutive losing seasons. So while Renteria was here for 2016’s 78-win campaign, Hahn believes Renteria will now have the platform to put his own stamp on a club that owns the American League's second-longest playoff drought.
So, for Hahn, it's less about clubhouse continuity and more about hiring a guy who knows where change needs to be made to pull this franchise out of being mired in mediocrity.
“It’s a completely different role,” Hahn said. “I think his familiarity with the clubhouse culture will help his initial understanding, or already has, about what needs to be improved. Him having already been there for a year and having those relationships will help improve his ability to execute that plan and make it likelier it’s going to be more successful from the start.
“But when a guy changes roles, there’s a different legitimacy that comes from being the guy in the big chair, so to speak, from being the manager — his influence is going to be greater than it is as the bench coach. He had a tremendous influence on our other coaches, which I think is going to continue. He had a tremendous influence on our players in a positive way, which I think is going to continue. But once he’s in the managerial chair and has the ultimate final say, I think you’re going to see a real change.”
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The White Sox, fair or not, had two separate incidents that made national headlines and cast a negative light on the clubhouse culture — players’ emphatic, public defense of Adam LaRoche in spring training, and ace Chris Sale’s destruction of the team’s 1976 throwback jerseys that earned him a five-day suspension.
Of course, a winning season and contending for the playoffs would’ve pushed whatever negative vibes existed off to the side (the team's 23-10 start quickly made the LaRoche stuff a non-story). But Renteria will take over managerial duties with a more positive, rah-rah tone than Ventura’s even-keel approach.
“I think (Renteria’s) got a lot of qualities that Robin has,” outfielder Adam Eaton said. “Maybe a little more vocal. He definitely will get his point across a little more, vocally. Not that he has more passion than Robin or anything like that, but he’s a little more upbeat, a little more bouncy. He’s kind of a bundle of baseball joy.”
Hahn said the White Sox would’ve hired Renteria for this position even had he not been with the organization for the last year, but noted that those pre-existing relationships and the ability to evaluate him all season helped bolster his case.
It’s clear the White Sox, who haven't made the playoffs since 2008 (only the Seattle Mariners, at 15 years, have a longer playoff drought in the AL, while the Miami Marlins haven't reached the postseason in 13 years) need things to change. From the front office’s perspective, the guy to help change things for the better was sitting next to Ventura the whole season.
“I don’t view hiring a guy who has been here for a year and in our opinion is a candidate who would be on the market in the offseason would be a big triumph for continuity,” Hahn said. “It’s a triumph for finding the highest caliber individual who’s the best fit for us going forward and making that person the manager.”