Even during the dark days of the Chicago White Sox’s rebuild, there was very little doubt that the organization was on the right path to building a championship caliber team.
There was, however, doubt that the organization would know what to do once it became a contender. Would the White Sox make the necessary – and occasionally uncomfortable -- moves to finish the deal?
It remains to be seen if this will all result in a World Series title, but after a very promising 2020 season ended with an epic collapse and first-round departure in the playoffs, general manager Rick Hahn made a bold proclamation Monday by moving on from manager Rick Renteria and longtime pitching coach Don Cooper.
“This is not how we wanted this to end,” Hahn said. “We wanted it to end with Ricky leading us to championships. That was the intent from the start. Over time, through very candid and, quite frankly, personal conversations about where this organization is, what our time horizon is, what we need to do to win in October and get to that final, ultimate goal, it became evident that it was time to make a change.”
Hahn called both departures “mutual,” but he’ll have to forgive the baseball world for balking at the idea that Renteria and Cooper – two highly competitively coaches – would voluntarily walk away from a team seemingly poised to make a World Series run next year. The semantics hardly matter in the big picture though. The White Sox finished the 2020 season by losing 10 of their last 13 games, including the playoffs, and blew a three-game lead in the American League Central division in a matter of four days, ultimately finishing in third place due a tiebreaker. The collapse was accompanied by numerous puzzling pitching decisions that culminated in a disastrous “bullpen game” in Game 3 of the Wild Card series against the Athletics -- so it’s hardly surprising that the two main figures behind those decisions are no longer with the organization.
“This isn't about any of the decision making in Game 3 of the wild card series. This isn't about anything that happened over the last couple of weeks after we clinched our position getting into the playoffs,” Hahn said. “This is, again, based upon where we are as an organization and what we do to take that next step and putting us in the best position to succeed.”
Speculation of Renteria getting dumped near the end of the rebuild has always existed, mainly because that’s what happened to him on the North Side when the Cubs hired Joe Maddon. But Renteria does deserve a lot of credit for his influence on and development of the White Sox’s young prospects.
“When ultimately we get to where we want to go in terms of winning championships, I suspect Ricky Renteria's fingerprints will be all over that club and a big part of that success will be due to him,” Hahn said.
Frankly, I thought much of the criticism pointed at Renteria as the White Sox lost 284 games from 2017-19 was unfair and I vowed not to judge him until he got the opportunity to manage a contender.
Well, he got the opportunity. And it didn’t go well.
We could sit here and pick apart every single move, but to me, the most alarming decisions played out over two separate games exactly one week apart. On Sept. 24, Renteria brought starting pitcher Carlos Rodon into a bases loaded situation in the seventh inning against the Indians. Rodon hadn’t pitched since Aug. 3 and he hadn’t been used out of the bullpen in five years. The only defense of the move was that the White Sox needed to see if they could rely on Rodon out of the bullpen in the playoffs – division title be damned. It didn’t work. Rodon promptly allowed a single, double and a wild pitch as four runs crossed the plate, turning a 4-1 lead into a 5-4 deficit. All this while ace lefty Aaron Bummer was available to pitch.
Fast forward to Oct. 1 – Game 3 of the Wild Card series in Oakland – and Renteria once again turned to Rodon in a key situation, bringing him into the fourth inning of a playoff game. This time the bases were empty, but Rodon quickly loaded them with a walk, double and an intentional walk. Renteria then turned to rookie Matt Foster to put out the fire, but he walked the next two batters to give the A’s a 4-3 lead.
At some point, players need to take some of the blame for their failures, but in this case, the manager didn’t learn from a mistake that was made a week prior. Rodon wasn't proven -- and perhaps not comfortable -- coming out of the bullpen.
The playoff failures, of course, are not all Renteria’s fault. The White Sox did not have a reliable third starter to turn to, which is why the team was in the Game 3 bullpen mess to begin with. But Renteria still left enough doubt about his ability to manage a contender that the organization could not afford to go into 2021 with such a glaring question looming -- especially when the White Sox manager job is likely the most attractive in MLB right now.
“I will say that this is an opportunity of us as an organization," Hahn said. "I think the best candidate, or the ideal candidate, is going to be someone who has experience with a championship organization in recent years. Recent October experience with a championship organization would be ideal.”
Regardless of Renteria’s outstanding character and proven track record of development, he does not fit the criteria that Hahn now seeks – and, quite frankly, the organization needs.
Yes, this is obviously another brutal ending for Renteria in Chicago. No one is denying that.
But it’s also the best move for the Chicago White Sox.