The last two weeks have been a real gut punch for us. It’s been the culmination of two years of rhetoric that we were told would be the signaling of a contention window opening. While that may still happen, we were ultimately sold a bill of goods that ended up plain and simply being a lie.
As I sit here 30,000 feet above your heads, I reflect on what the last three months of free agency have looked like. All of the twists and turns, rumors, fake tweets, Instagram posts, and everything else that took place. In the end, we enter the 2019 season in the same position as we were when the 2018 season ended. Reliant on internal improvement that may or may not come, and unproven prospects. Ultimately, we know with a high level of certainty it will end with a seventh consecutive losing season and an eleventh season without meaningful baseball at 35th and Shields.
How It All Began
Following another uninspiring season in December of 2016, Chris Sale, the franchise’s lone bright spot was traded to the Boston Red Sox. It signaled a clear direction that the organization was needing. The following day, Adam Eaton was sent to the Washington Nationals. These two deals netted the White Sox 7 prospects of varying significance but industry consensus was that these two deals immediately elevated the Sox’s farm system to one of the tops in all of the Major Leagues.
What followed were quotes from Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams assuring the fan base that this process was meant to bring about a sustained period of excellence for the Pale Hose that simply hadn’t been seen in our lifetimes. We were also assured that when the time was right, this organization would allocate financial resources to the free agent market that had never been done before. For over two years, we heard Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams repeat the line that “when the time is right, money will not stand in the way of the White Sox acquiring premium talent.”
I sat at Reggie’s Rock Bar for an NBC Sports Chicago podcast taping where Hahn looked the crowd in the eye and said the financial resources would be there for the Sox to make a splash when the opportunity presented itself. Many were naturally skeptical of this. When you root for a team that is owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, you learn to be skeptical very early. Hahn cited examples of past narratives such as: the White Sox never being willing to rebuild, never being willing to go past their international spending pool limits and never trading with the Cubs as examples of why this time would be different.
As each of these examples was thrown to the wayside, we collectively allowed our optimism to grow and think that maybe, just maybe, this time would be different. Well, we were all played for fools. In a winter when a pair of 26-year-old superstars hit the open market, there was no better time for the Sox to break the mold. They didn’t have to deal with the true financial behemoths of MLB (Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants) vying for these stars on long-term, high dollar commitments.
There will never be a better opportunity for the Sox to break through. And they blew it! They blew it because at the end of the day, the White Sox, as has been the problem for most of their history, have an owner that wants to win at his desired profit margin. For all the talk about Jerry Reinsdorf’s loyalty and good nature, he sure doesn’t have any loyalty to the small group of people that truly give a damn about this team.
In the aftermath of Bryce Harper‘s decision to join the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday we heard the front office go out of their way to try and massage this situation. This came a week after Manny Machado spurned the Sox low-ball offer to join the lowly San Diego Padres. Following Machado’s decision to leave the Sox holding a bag of cash that wasn’t big enough, we heard the Sox PR machine trying to spin it as a great offer that was “more attractive in many ways” than what San Diego presented. We saw Hahn, Williams, and members of the Sox media brigade carrying water, yes I said carrying water, for this organization’s pathetic attempt to acquire Machado.
The fact is the Sox offer was not more attractive than the Padres. The Padres were willing to commit $300 million with an opt-out while the Sox were only willing to go to $250 million guaranteed and two vesting options that carried the value over $320 million. The fact of the matter is, that offer simply is not better than what San Diego presented. As someone who works in a profession where a great deal of my income is based on performance incentives, I can tell you that when looking for employment, 9 times out of 10 people in my profession will take the higher guarantee. Baseball players are no different and shouldn’t be looked at or expected to think differently. That’s why it is so insulting to hear people defending this offer.
In the last few days, we’ve heard Kenny Williams go out on the “offensive” in the media saying that he believes it’s sad that the White Sox are “perceived” as being cheap. Hey Kenny, it’s not perception when it’s the truth. When you are in the third largest market in the country and have never given out a contract larger than $68 million, you are cheap. When your owner refused for years to spend in the draft causing you to have a bottom tier farm system, you are cheap. When you have an owner that refused to spend money internationally to boost your prospect pipeline, you are cheap. When your owner refuses to take on larger contracts in trade discussions because you don’t have a prospect pipeline to get a deal done, you are cheap. So what’s really sad is people trying to defend this organization, and more specifically, the guy at the top who is, yes, very cheap.
No One Can Be Trusted
As I mentioned above, for two years we were told money wouldn’t stand in the way. We now know that isn’t the case, as many of us long suspected. This has caused a great deal of damage to the perception of the “brain trust” that leads this organization. I think it’s safe to say most fans have negative perceptions of Jerry Reinsdorf and Kenny Williams. But Rick Hahn has become a casualty in the court of public opinion because of this whole charade. I was in between on Hahn personally. I recognize the fact that he has made some significant mistakes with talent evaluation since becoming GM in 2013, however, I was hopeful that he learned from these mistakes when beginning this process in 2016.
Hahn has been the most public figure over the last two years trying to garner support for the rebuild and the “plan” that the organization has put together. Hahn through his diplomatic and articulate messaging was able to be the lone member of this “brain trust” that seemingly had public support. Well, that is all gone now. Because Hahn was either in on the lie, or conned himself. I’m not sure which is actually worse in this instance. If he knew all along that there was a spending threshold, Hahn was negligent in his messaging to this fan base in creating the perception that money would not ultimately stand in their way.
A very disheartening aspect of the last two weeks is the organization’s inability to have a unified message. Shortly after Manny Machado’s decision to join the Padres was announced, Kenny Williams was interviewed in which he indicated the team simply couldn’t go to the $300 million level on a guaranteed deal. Minutes later Hahn was heard saying that there was no specific ceiling on which the team could spend for a player. These two messages are at odds with one another and this is just another example of this team speaking out of both sides of their mouth.
Either the team can go to a $300 million level for a single player or they can’t, which one is it? I know which one I think it is, but it would be nice to see an organization at least present a unified message. Again, this leads fans to being incapable of trusting the “leadership” that is guiding this team.
The Fish Stinks From The Head
At the end of the day, the last two weeks have confirmed what many of us have long feared. Nothing will change with the White Sox organization, until Jerry Reinsdorf’s reign of terror is over. Again, spare me all the garbage about his loyalty. The man purchased this team for $20 million almost 40 years ago, and it is now worth over $1.5 billion, so he has more than enough ROI on this deal. He wouldn’t notice the $300 million spent over 10 years for Manny Machado, nor would his great-great-great grandchildren. If Jerry Reinsdorf wants to prove his “loyalty” to people, he should start by proving it to the small fraction of people that are true fans of this team.
Be loyal to us and give us a reason to come to the ballpark every night and watch this team. Given some of the issues on the other side of town from a PR standpoint, this was a great opportunity to begin reclaiming some of the fans within Chicago, but again Jerry was too short-sighted in his thought process to realize this. When this rebuild began, we were told that Jerry was tired of losing and was willing to do whatever was necessary to turn it around quickly. Well, as Maury would say “that was a lie.”
Look, the Sox don’t have a large fan base. But we do have a passionate fan base. Sadly, this is going to cause a lot of that passion to go into hiding until Reinsdorf is gone now. We’ve been taken advantage of too many times at this point, to believe any further. This is eerily similar to what Blackhawks fans faced during the final years of the Dollar Bill Wirtz reign of terror. I believe that it will take a new, innovative owner coming to 35th/Shields to truly reinvigorate this fan base.
We don’t know when that will be, but at this point I feel fairly certain that many will simply wait until this happens to re-emerge. As we saw with the Blackhawks, a new owner with a serious focus on presenting a quality product can quickly rejuvenate peoples’ interest. For close to ten years, the Blackhawks were the hottest ticket in Chicago and turned casual hockey fans into a new generation of supporters. This can happen with the White Sox too.
For the record, I’m not advocating for people to turn their backs on this organization. I know I won’t, but this lie will greatly impact my willingness to go to the ballpark and support an owner that simply doesn’t give a damn about me. I used to routinely go to 30 games a year (I know you’re very impressed), but I just can’t justify it at this point. I’m too pissed off at this. In fact, I’ve never been more pissed off at the White Sox in my soon to be 35 years of life. I won’t blame anyone for staying away from the ballpark this year or in the coming years, either. Frankly, this organization has to earn my patronage and the patronage of countless others now for the first time.
Margin For Error
When you undertake a major rebuild like the Sox did in 2016, you realize that accumulating prospects carries a great deal of risk. Development isn’t linear among prospects (I heard that somewhere), and frankly many of the prospects won’t pan out. So to insulate yourself from this reality, you need to spend money on established Major League players. We thought that was the point of stripping this roster and payroll down to the studs, but again, Jerry lied about that.
Could this process still work? Sure, but the fact is now the Sox have essentially given themselves very little margin for error. As we’ve seen with slowed development and injuries to key prospects, this process has not gone according to plan. Adding a 5-6 WAR player at 26 years of age would’ve been the perfect way to supplement this roster. So now the Sox are going to bank on significant internal improvement from its core of prospects because there isn’t any significant addition they can make at this point to move the needle. And don’t bother looking at next year’s free agent class unless you want to vomit.
In the end, life will go on. People will read this and tell me I’m being overly dramatic and that Harper and Machado weren’t worth the investment, and well, they’re wrong but people have bad opinions sometimes. At the end of the day, there is no more doubt that nothing changes until Jerry Reinsdorf is out of the picture. It sucks, but this is the reality we are faced with at this point. We were all played for fools by a greedy conman. Jerry lied, and we all got screwed.
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