The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.
With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.
We’re wrapping things up with the manager and the coaching staff.
What happened in 2019
While it’s easy to cruise through the statistical production of players and determine just how well they performed in 2019, that’s a little more difficult when it comes to manager Rick Renteria and his coaching staff.
In the end, managers and coaches are evaluated on win-loss record — or at least how close they came to meeting the expectations in that department. While the White Sox are a gruesome 83 games under .500 in Renteria’s three years at the helm, that’s not really falling outside the expectations he had when he took over a rebuilding club. So it’s pretty hard to argue that because the White Sox lost 89 games in 2019, Renteria did a poor job.
Truly, his performance as a manager can’t be determined until he’s managing a team with expectations of winning. Renteria more than anyone has been the one setting such expectations for 2020, spending much of the waning weeks of the 2019 campaign voicing his opinion that all this losing stops next season.
“I’m expecting that this is it,” Renteria said. “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.”
Renteria and his staff did plenty in 2019 to continue developing the team’s young players into the core of the future. But the skipper's most memorable on-field moment came in September, when even after he stopped making mound visits because of shoulder surgery, he went out to the mound and had an animated conversation with Reynaldo Lopez. Lopez made a habit of following up stellar performances with ugly ones, lacking consistency in a fashion that made even the optimistic Renteria throw up his hands at times. Renteria utilized that frustration on the mound in Detroit in an attempt to get some points across to the pitcher.
Renteria on his Lopez mound visit: "Concerned, and just making sure he was ok. That’s a young man who has some pretty good stuff and I wanted to make sure he was aware that he was actually pitching today."— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) September 22, 2019
When it comes to Renteria’s staff, certainly they deserve some credit for some of the breakout seasons on the roster. Hitting coach Todd Steverson did offseason work with both Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson ahead of 2019 campaigns that saw them transform into the best all-around hitter on the team and the big league batting champ, respectively. Pitching coach Don Cooper helped oversee Lucas Giolito’s transformation into an All Star. Infield coach Joe McEwing worked with Moncada, who made a smooth transition from second base to third base.
But if the coaches earn some of the credit for the things that went right, they must also be mentioned alongside the things that went wrong. Steverson coached an offense that ranked near the bottom of the game in most categories. Cooper coached a starting rotation that finished the season with a 5.30 ERA. McEwing coached Anderson, who committed a major league high 26 errors.
None of that is to say those guys are wholly responsible for those negative outcomes. Just as the players have to be the ones to turn in the good results, they’re the ones who have to turn in the poor ones, as well. Steverson, however, along with assistant hitting coach Greg Sparks, will not be back for the 2020 season.
What will happen this offseason
The White Sox have already made their coaching moves this offseason, parting ways with Steverson and Sparks and replacing Steverson with Frank Menechino, who after several seasons on the Miami Marlins staff took over as the hitting coach at Triple-A Charlotte in 2019.
Menechino impressed the White Sox with his work there, spent September with the big league club and was quickly promoted once the season was over. At Charlotte, he worked with top-ranked prospects Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, who both had fantastic seasons playing at three different minor league levels and figure to be everyday players for most of the 2020 season.
The change, in the end, seemed to be more about how the White Sox felt about what Menechino could bring to the table than a reaction to the offensive production from a team that didn’t have expectations of doing much more than it did during another rebuilding season.
General manager Rick Hahn announced that the rest of the staff will be back in 2020.
What to expect for 2020 and beyond
There will be a change in the expectations game come 2020. That should be mostly because of the breakout 2019 seasons from so many young players, the pending arrival of Robert and Madrigal and the offseason additions anticipated to be made by Hahn’s front office. But if nothing else, the expectations, when it comes to Renteria, will be different because he’s already said they will be.
“I'm not going to make any bones about it, it's time to turn the page,” he said just last week, “it's time to get us to another level of performance. That goes across the board, it goes with all aspects of our game.”
And so judging him and his staff can reach another level, too, because it will no longer solely be about hard-to-define development but the cold, hard wins and losses. Plenty of fans have taken to Twitter and complained about Renteria during this losing stretch, suggesting he’s not the one to manage this team into a winning era, but those were conclusions that cannot be drawn considering the quality of the rosters he’s managed in his three years on the South Side. How can you judge a manager’s ability to contend when he doesn’t have the tools to do so?
That’s about to change, so there will finally be some actual evidence to back up either side of that argument.
It’s clear where the White Sox stand in that discussion. They’ve been praising the job Renteria has done for three years now, and they’ve expressed nothing but confidence that he’ll be the guy to get it done.
“When Ricky was put in that role, it wasn't with the idea that he was just going to be the right guy for the first stage, the stage that is coming toward an end here, or is at an end here,” Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last month. “Obviously, the history and teaching and communicating and holding guys accountable is very important now. But even at the time we hired him, we felt he had the ability to not only set the right winning culture but to put guys in the best position to win.
“His ability to communicate with all 25 or 26 guys on a daily basis, to know where they're at, to know what they're capable of doing and putting them in the best position, makes us fairly confident that once that roster is deep enough and strong enough that he's going to be able to maximize the win potential with that roster when the time comes.”
Backup catchers for Chicago World Series teams have been in the news lately, so why not take the time to look back at the career at Chris Widger?
Christopher Jon Widger was born May 21, 1971, in Wilmington, Delaware, and grew up in Pennsville, New Jersey, where he attended Pennsville High School, graduating in 1989. He started catching his senior year and played college baseball at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
The Seattle Mariners came calling in the third round of the 1992 MLB Draft, and Widger started his ascent to the major leagues. On June 23, 1995, he debuted for the Mariners in a 14-4 loss to the California Angels. He replaced Dan Wilson in the sixth inning, and his first big league plate appearance was a lineout against Mark Langston. One week later he picked up his first hit, a single off the Texas Rangers’ Kevin Gross. In his first start, Widger caught a shutout, a combined effort by Tim Belcher and Bobby Ayala. In all, Widger played 23 games in his first taste of major league action in 1995 and even appeared in five postseason games against the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians as the Mariners reached the postseason for the first time in franchise history. In 1996, Widger spent most of the season at Triple-A Tacoma, where he excelled at a .304/.355/.483 clip with 13 home runs in 97 games. He played eight games for the Mariners in August and September, going 2-for-11.
Widger got a fresh start north of the border when he was traded to the Montreal Expos in October 1996 along with pitchers Trey Moore and Matt Wagner in exchange for pitchers Jeff Fassero and Alex Pacheco. He went from catching Randy Johnson (OK, he caught him once in 1995) to catching Pedro Martinez (OK, he caught him only four times in 1997).
But at least Widger got a chance to play regularly. From 1997 to 2000, he appeared in a total of 436 games, more than 100 per year. He even hit double figures in home runs in 1998, 1999 and 2000 with 15, 14 and 13, respectively. In August 1999, Widger homered in four straight games, tying an Expos franchise record that still stands with the Washington Nationals. In August 2000, Widger was sent back to the Mariners for players to be named later, who turned out to be Sean Spencer and Termel Sledge. Unfortunately, Widger missed nearly all of 2001 with a shoulder injury and headed into free agency with an uncertain future.
In 2001, Widger’s sister Toni tragically passed away from complications with medications to treat a staph infection. She left behind five young girls including a set of quadruplets. Chris returned to Pennsville and built a new house, allowing his sister’s husband, Mike, and five children to move into the old house. Chris and his wife, Theresa, helped out with the kids when they could. Luckily, he signed a deal with the nearby Yankees for the 2002 season, but he had to work his way from Triple-A Columbus first.
Widger had limited major league opportunities over the next few seasons, appearing in 21 games for the Yankees in 2002 and 44 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003. He was out of the majors altogether in 2004.
It was during that 2004 season where Widger found himself playing in a fast-pitch softball league, then later for the Camden Riversharks in the Independent Atlantic League, only about 30 minutes from home. In 55 games, he hit .267/.336/.574 with 16 home runs and 43 RBIs, which earned him an invitation to spring training with the White Sox for 2005. Widger made the team and backed up A.J. Pierzynski during the White Sox improbable march to a World Series victory. He chipped in a .241/.296/.383 slash line with four home runs and 11 RBIs in 45 games for the champs. His most memorable moment was his home run off Randy Johnson on Aug. 21, 2005, the fourth home run off the future Hall of Famer that inning. It was one of only three times the Big Unit allowed four homers in a game in his legendary career.
Widger saw one game of postseason action in 2005. He caught the last five innings of Game 3 of the World Series, a 14-inning marathon. He went 0-for-1 with a pair of walks, including one with the bases loaded in the 14th to give the Sox a 7-5 lead. When Mark Buehrle came in to record his one-out save, Widger was behind the dish.
All good things eventually come to an end, and Widger was released by the White Sox in July 2006. He signed with the Baltimore Orioles shortly thereafter and finished up his big league career with nine final games.
In 10 major league season, Widger played in 613 games with a .238 batting average, 55 home runs and 222 RBIs. He ranks seventh in home runs among major leaguers born in Delaware (Paul Goldschmidt has lapped the field with 243). Four of his final 11 career home runs were off pitchers who won a Cy Young Award: Chris Carpenter, Tom Glavine, Barry Zito and Johnson.
Widger returned to baseball in 2012, taking a job as an assistant coach at his old high school. The following year, he returned to the Riversharks, who in 2004 had given him a chance to work his way back to the majors. He served as the Riversharks' pitching coach for two years under manager Ron Karkovice before taking over as manager in 2015. The Riversharks left Camden after the 2015 season.
Widger’s next job in baseball was as the bench coach for the Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, from 2016 to 2018. He remains with the Royals and recently completed his first season as the manager for the Burlington Royals, a rookie-ball team in the Appalachian League. He went 39-29.
Chris Widger. You remember that guy.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.