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It figures to be getting late in the White Sox’ managerial search, and yet there’s not too much known about how things have gone over the last several weeks, with even those in-the-know national reporters describing the process as a mystery.
That’s probably music to the White Sox’ ears, of course, with Rick Hahn often reminding how the team believes it does its best work away from the spotlight.
That work, though, should be expected to be coming to a close fairly soon. Hahn will head to the GM meetings in Las Vegas next week, which because of the lockout start just days after the end of the World Series. Whether or not the White Sox were waiting till the end of the Fall Classic to make their announcement – all the other teams that had jobs to fill have filled them – there would seem to be a deadline, of sorts, coming not long after.
The latest from the weekend involved MLB.com’s Scott Merkin reporting that Astros bench coach Joe Espada – who seemed to be fans’ top choice for the hire – is out of the running and Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro, who like Espada interviewed for the White Sox’ opening, being hired to helm the division-rival Royals.
So let’s harken back to the criteria Hahn laid forth in his end-of-season press conference and see how the few names who have been reported as being interviewed or considered for Tony La Russa’s old job match up.
Let’s get Ozzie out of the way. Because he meets very little of the criteria set forth by Hahn.
Guillen is beloved by White Sox fans, most of them anyway, and while a much smaller percentage are banging the drum for a second go-round for the guy who helmed the most recent South Side world-champion squad, there are those banging and banging loudly.
But here’s the thing: It would be shocking to see history repeat itself so quickly.
Guillen deserves another shot at managing in the big leagues, but there’d be nothing more hypocritical than a team putting forth a desire for new ideas from outside the organization, a desire to move away from managers with “White Sox DNA,” as Hahn put it, only to do the exact same thing they did in hiring La Russa by giving Guillen a second tenure.
La Russa was mercilessly criticized by fans for being too far removed from his last managing gig, going from a World Series win in 2011 to the White Sox’ dugout in late 2020 without any major league managing in between. Well, Guillen hasn’t managed since 2012, a decade ago, and while La Russa could boast a championship in his final season, Guillen’s title win came seven years prior to his most recent job, in 2005. La Russa could cite jobs working in modern major league front offices. Guillen has no such experience, with just broadcasting work since his one-season tenure with the Marlins ended.
Guillen does not fit the model of a front-office collaborator, and the same independent streak, huge personality and lack of a filter that endeared him to fans could be the things that have kept him from getting another shot in a big league dugout. If the White Sox are looking for someone more willing to receive and implement that oft-debated “information” from the front office, Guillen seems unlikely to be that guy.
But really, the top criterion for the White Sox, according to Hahn’s comments, is recent winning experience. Guillen doesn’t have that. And in what would be the ultimate insular hire, there would be no doing things differently, no fresh perspectives from outside the organization.
I get fans long for the success of 2005 and that Ozzie tells them what they want to hear on TV every night. But installing him as the next White Sox manager would make absolutely no sense when viewed through the lens of what the White Sox themselves said they want in a new skipper.
When you think of “recent experience with a team that’s contended for championships,” does your mind immediately go to the Royals?
I guess it depends on how recent we’re talking about.
Grifol has been a longtime coach in the Royals’ organization, and before you scoff, there are a few positives you can glean from that fact. First, who better to show the White Sox their flaws than a division rival, specifically one the White Sox often have trouble beating? Even in a 93-win season in 2021, the White Sox went 9-10 against the Royals, with Grifol watching every pitch as Mike Matheny’s bench coach. Second, he was around for the Crowns’ back-to-back trips to the World Series in 2014 and 2015. That’s somewhat recent, far more recent than Guillen’s World Series experience and more recent than even Bruce Bochy’s.
But if seven years is too long ago for you, then Grifol has been an assistant coach on a largely bottom-dwelling team for the past half decade.
Though Hahn seemed to point to a preference for someone who has managed in the majors before – which makes sense, considering the team’s win-now position – he didn’t rule out the idea of someone who has been a key part of decision making, and certainly a bench coach fits that description.
Grifol is one of multiple Latinos on this list, Guillen included, and that certainly would seem to be a plus in the “communication” department. La Russa is bilingual, so this isn’t to point out that it’s merely a language thing. But to be able to communicate culturally, as well, is extremely important. It shouldn’t rule anyone out if they don’t have a similar background, but it could give those who do, such as Grifol, a leg up.
Remember what Elvis Andrus said at season’s end:
“If they bring in somebody new, they have to be a good communicator. For me, that’s always the key, a manager you can rely on, a manager that can communicate with you and just keep it real. This game is so complex and so hard. The last thing you want is a manager talking to you in two different ways. Especially for this clubhouse, a very mixed clubhouse. There’s a lot of Latin guys with a lot of talent. It’s a whole mix. You need to have somebody who can relate to both sides.”
When it comes to Washington, his time in Atlanta is likely more important than his time in Texas.
He managed the Rangers for eight seasons and led them to back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011, losing the latter to La Russa’s Cardinals. That’s winning experience, certainly, but not the kind of recent winning experience the White Sox profess to crave. Being on Braves’ coaching staff for the past five seasons, though, Washington has been a part of a winning franchise, one that captured a World Series title last year.
Washington has developed strong bonds with many young stars on the Braves, who have taken the White Sox’ strategy of locking up their core pieces to another stratosphere and seem primed for a ridiculously lengthy period of contention. That’s obviously a plus in the communication department, which is starting to seem like it should have a different name considering how much more it is than just talking.
Combine that winning experience and Hahn’s mentioning of having respect for the old-school way of doing things, and you find Washington, who has racked up a resume of major league coaching and managing jobs that stretches all the way back to the mid-90s.
But what the White Sox will have likely already determined is whether Washington managing a team in 2023 would be more influenced by the present-day way of doing things he’s observed as the Braves’ third-base coach or by the way he did things for the better part of a decade managing the Rangers years ago.
The newest addition to the list, Mendoza was just reported Monday to be of interest to the White Sox, who according to the New York Post’s Jon Heyman received permission to interview Mendoza from the Yankees.
Mendoza has been a Yankees assistant for the past five seasons and Aaron Boone’s bench coach for the last three seasons. Certainly, being around the Yankees organization for years – including as a minor league manager – provides that winning experience the White Sox are looking for, a team that hasn’t finished with a sub-.500 record since I was 2 years old. Espada’s pre-Astros work with the Yankees was trumpeted by plenty as a plus, so it seems the same should be done when it comes to Mendoza’s long tenure there.
Mendoza has received past consideration for managerial jobs – specifically with the Red Sox and Tigers – with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman gushing in 2021:
“I think the industry recognizes who Carlos Mendoza is. We started getting a number of managerial requests on him. … Carlos is extremely talented, extremely organized, bilingual. The players trust him. He’s a superior candidate for the next chair within the industry. We’re fortunate right now that he’s here, and he’s served us well every step of the way in every capacity he’s served us.
“He is organized. He is extremely knowledgeable. I don’t know if anyone works harder than Carlos Mendoza, and his ceiling is extremely high. I was bracing myself if we lost him. … You brace yourself for losing someone like a Carlos Mendoza because they’re almost impossible quality talent to replace, and then you’re thankful, selfishly, when they’re still here.
“But his day is coming, without a doubt. He is going to manage a major league team, and I think he’s going to be really good at it.”
Cairo was the lone person with “White Sox DNA” who Hahn identified would definitely be a candidate, or at least receive an interview, in the wake of Cairo taking over for La Russa for the final month of the 2022 season.
The players definitely responded to hearing things in a new way, even if Cairo was delivering messages that, content-wise, were similar to what La Russa, who he called his mentor and described as a father-figure, had said throughout a disappointing season. But Cairo fired the White Sox up for a brief run of success in September and was complimented by his players at season’s end.
Whether that was impressive enough to allow him to officially become the team’s bench boss remains to be seen. Cairo was hired to La Russa’s staff after working in the Reds’ front office with La Russa’s friend Walt Jocketty. Cairo also played for La Russa.
While there’s actual data on Cairo as a major league manager, something some of the other guys on this list can’t say, does he represent the kind of change, or at least provide the kind of outside perspective, the White Sox could use as they look to fix everything that went wrong in 2022?
Though Long has not been reported to have interviewed for the job, he has emerged, especially after the recent news on Espada and Quatraro, as a fan-favorite choice, and it has been reported that the White Sox have interest in Long.
Currently the hitting coach with the NL-champion Phillies, he’s done that job for years in the big leagues, also serving with the Yankees, Mets and Nationals, coaching championship-winning offenses with the Yankees in 2009 and the Nationals in 2019. With the Phillies now ascended to the realm of winners, too, that’s plenty of winning experience on Long’s resume.
Considering Hahn acknowledged the offense as the biggest issue the White Sox experienced this past season, bringing in offensive expertise would make plenty of sense, even if Long would be graduating to a different set of responsibilities.
Plenty have drawn comparisons between the Phillies and the White Sox, two teams that were built to win in similar ways, specifically in sacrificing defensive excellence for offensive power. The White Sox failed to display much of that power and finished .500, while the Phillies hit homers and are playing in the World Series. The Kevin Long Effect? Maybe.
But is that a better argument for the White Sox to attempt to lure Long away from Philly as the new South Side hitting coach, rather than hand him the keys to a job he’s never done at the big league level? Good question.
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