Don Cooper

State of the White Sox: Manager and coaching staff

State of the White Sox: Manager and coaching staff

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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.


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.”

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Rick Hahn says decisions on White Sox coaching staff yet to be finalized

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USA TODAY

Rick Hahn says decisions on White Sox coaching staff yet to be finalized

Will there be changes on the White Sox coaching staff? Those decisions have yet to be finalized, general manager Rick Hahn said.

While he sang the praises of manager Rick Renteria, Hahn said that the team is still finishing up discussion regarding the future of Renteria’s staff.

“It's still a little premature on 'everyone coming back' conversations,” he said during his end-of-season press conference Friday. “We need to sit down and finish up with Ricky the evaluation of where we're at.

“Certainly when we assembled this staff, we wanted it to be filled with guys with roots in player development so that they were able to teach our young players and hold them accountable and set standards. And we're certainly very pleased with how that's unfolded. We'll deal with specific staffing issues once the season's over.”

That’s not a “yes” or a “no,” obviously, to the question that was asked, whether the coaching staff would return in full for 2020.

Fans have been particularly critical of certain members of the coaching staff this season, though the coaches certainly have accomplished the goal of developing some of the team’s most important young players into stars in the making. Their work with players who aren’t a part of the team’s long-term future, players who have struggled during the team’s losing seasons in recent years, is nowhere near as important.

Though as Hahn declared Friday, the White Sox are moving into the “next stage” of their rebuilding effort, and if that stage has less of a focus on player development, perhaps — and this is pure speculation — there would be a desire to bring in coaches with different skill sets.

We’ll find out after the season ends.

And for fans who are frustrated with Renteria, know that the team still fully supports their skipper and believes him to be the right man for the job.

“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. “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 (soon to be) 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.”

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After Carlos Rodon shows frustration, Don Cooper talks him back into a groove

After Carlos Rodon shows frustration, Don Cooper talks him back into a groove

Carlos Rodon can be a fiery pitcher on the mound and on Sunday he showed some frustration when things weren’t going his way.

After giving up back-to-back singles in the third inning against the Yankees, Rodon appeared to be laboring through his start. He had already given up two runs on two walks and three hits before the end of the third.

The one that really appeared to get to Rodon was Gleyber Torres’ single in that third inning. Rodon threw a pitch that appeared to jam Torres, but Torres was able to get his hands inside and make enough contact to softly loop a single to left field. Rodon threw his arms up in frustration after he saw the ball land for a hit.

On the previous at-bat Rodon got ahead of Aaron Judge with a 1-2 count, but couldn’t get him out. Judge fouled off three straight pitches with two strikes before getting an RBI single.

“I tried to find a groove early, but it really wasn’t working so they made it tough,” Rodon said. “They were pretty patient, swung at pitches. They had some good at-bats, took me deep into counts. I’d get ahead and they’d seem to fight their way back into it. They drove the pitch count up.”

What happened after Rodon was visibly frustrated ended up being a turning point in the game. Pitching coach Don Cooper came out to talk to Rodon. Cooper had plenty to say and appeared fairly animated when talking to his pitcher.

On White Sox Postgame Live, Ozzie Guillen and Frank Thomas talked about that sequence. Guillen, who managed with Cooper as his pitching coach from 2004-2011, said “Cooper can get hot” when he talks to his pitchers.

“No coach wants to see that, especially from their ace pitcher,” Thomas said. “Cooper went out right away and let him have it. I loved it. It turned around the whole ballgame for the Sox.”

Rodon get out of the third without more trouble and went on to retire the next 11 batters he faced. He only had one more count with three balls the rest of his outing. Rodon went six innings, giving up two runs and picking up his second win of the season.

“We found a groove there after the third,” Rodon said. “(Catcher) James (McCann) and I got on the same page. The tempo went up and the strikes started coming.”

When asked what Cooper said to him, Rodon didn’t give much detail, but did say it was a mechanical fix.

“Just something quick mechanically that I know that I can get to and gets me back in the zone,” Rodon said. “It worked.”

 

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