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Optimism for White Sox? Even after 101 losses, Chris Getz’s front-office hires energizing organization
On the heels of a 101-loss season and with question marks all over the diamond, White Sox fans are well within reason to be short on optimism.
But you’ll find it in ample supply at 35th and Shields.
Chris Getz might come across as more of the same to a frustrated fan base still smarting from Rick Hahn’s rebuilding project failing to get off the ground. After all, Getz served as Hahn’s assistant general manager for seven years before being elevated to general manager when Hahn and Kenny Williams were shockingly fired in August.
But Getz symbolizes some newness inside the building at Guaranteed Rate Field, and in particular, his recent trio of front-office hires have brought in fresh perspectives from outside the organization. Fans might not have gotten what they wanted — something that screamed “different” in big, bold letters — when Getz was promoted, but they’ve gotten it in Getz’s newly installed lieutenants.
Getz brought in Josh Barfield as assistant general manager, hired away after years helming the player-development department with the Diamondbacks; Brian Bannister as senior adviser to pitching, coming back to the place his father, Floyd, pitched after successful stints molding pitching staffs with the Red Sox and Giants; and Gene Watson as director of player personnel, who’s been part of front offices for years — most recently, the Royals — including four that took teams to the World Series.
The resumes are intriguing. Most importantly, though, these three bring a break from “White Sox DNA,” something the organization has leaned on heavily for past hires stocking the front office, field staff and minor league staff.
“Part of (Getz’s) vision was bringing in the people from other places where things have gone pretty well,” Barfield said last month. “Between me and Gene Watson and Bannister, a lot of this first week (on the job) has been kind of downloading ideas and things we have seen, things that have worked, things that maybe haven’t worked and also getting to know how things are done here. I like the collection of ideas we have so far, and we’ll continue to build on that.“
It doesn’t take too deep of a dig to find the intriguing elements of each of the hires.
Plenty of the players Barfield helped develop in Arizona are in the middle of an exciting playoff run, with Corbin Carroll likely to win NL Rookie of the Year honors. Bannister won a World Series with the Red Sox and has already revved up certain segments of White Sox Twitter as his comments on pitching, data and revitalizing pitchers’ careers have been sifted through. Watson has a couple World Series rings on his fingers (2003 Marlins, 2015 Royals) and a ton of experience in the game.
“I’ve never been more excited to get up and get to the stadium with Chris and Josh and Brian and Pedro (Grifol) and just talk about the future and shape up a plan,” Watson said. “Those conversations are continuously going. But the excitement.
“I’ve been a part of this, and I know what it feels like, and I know what it looks like. I’m so excited we have these individuals working together trying to get this done.”
So what are all these guys here to do?
Well, that’s where things might get exciting for fans, too, who are clamoring for a major overhaul of the roster and a bevy of new additions. That’s not a terribly different stance than the one taken most offseasons, but it’s plenty elevated after back-to-back seasons of massive disappointments and multiple core players failing to live up to expectations.
Watson, Barfield and Bannister will all play roles in acquiring new talent, with the latter two also responsible, to varying degrees, for molding talent into impact players on the South Side.
“I’m here to help find the best players I can, and we’re going to use every vehicle we can,” Watson said. “Our professional scouting staff is outstanding, and when it comes to six-year free agents, Rule 5, major league free agents, comeback guys, going to facilities in the winter to watch bullpens, our relationships with agents, our relationships with past players, we’re going to turn over every stone we can to improve this team brick by brick in the days, months and years ahead.”
As mentioned, Bannister is already lighting up the eyes of fans ready for an entirely different approach to pitching, when it comes to both finding new arms and fixing the arms already part of the organization.
A sampling of the kind of things he’s thinking about:
“When I got to Boston, when I got to San Francisco, I talked about: You have ingredients in the organization when you get there. It’s the drafts that have occurred in previous years, it’s the players that are in the system, it’s the expertise of the staff and what they’re comfortable teaching,” Bannister said. “But ultimately, you’re looking to bake the best cakes possible. These are the ingredients you have, bake the best cakes.
“You do what you can with the ingredients you have available, as well as setting sights, in the future and the long term, of going out and finding the best available arms and taking them to the highest ceiling possible.”
Did all that cake talk make you hungry? Hold on, Bannister’s not done with the food analogies yet.
“On the pitching side, we say we’re always the ones who set the table and the hitters have to eat off our table,” he said. “It goes through trends. When I got to Boston in ‘14 and ‘15, we started leveraging high fastballs, more spin. Hitters didn’t have a solution for it because pitchers had mainly been pitching at the bottom of the zone with their fastball. They had to come up with a swing to handle the high fastball.
“And we were able to flip that in San Francisco and start sinking the ball again and leverage some of the newer physics concepts to really make the ball sink, and then hitters had to come up with a swing for that.
“We’re always setting the trends. The hitters have to react. So we always have the advantage of being the first mover.”
When it comes to Barfield, while he won’t ultimately be the White Sox’ farm director — he’ll do plenty of work in player development, particularly while the search is on for a new farm boss — all you have to do is flip on the NLDS to see the fruits of his labor with the Diamondbacks.
“To see finished products on the field from guys I had when they were 15, 16, 17 years old and seeing where they were then to where they are now and where the organization kind of was a few years ago to where they are now,” Barfield said, “it’s exciting and gives a lot of hope and optimism here.”
“You look at their roster,” Getz said of the Diamondbacks, “they’ve got a lot of young players who have come through their system. Having discussions with (Barfield) about what they’ve done as an organization the last couple years, from some struggles to getting a taste of success in a playoff hunt here, there’s been a lot of deep takeaways that I think can apply to our situation.”
It’s all adding up to an energizing feeling, even for those who dealt with the day-in, day-out disappointment of the White Sox’ 2023 campaign.
“I’m really comfortable and excited about Chris and his staff,” Grifol told CHGO last month. “They’ve done this. Gene Watson’s been a part of four World Series teams. Josh Barfield’s coming from a team that’s going into the playoffs. Bannister’s been a part of winning organizations in Boston, in San Francisco.
“I’m just excited to watch them assemble it. And then I’ll get a chance to manage it.”
Even if excitement is building inside the building for what these guys can do, their arrival is far from ensuring that things will change overnight. Jerry Reinsdorf went with Getz instead of an outside hire — completely eschewing a search of any kind — because he believed Getz’s familiarity with the organization would produce a turnaround as quickly as possible.
While Reinsdorf said he envisions a much better team in 2024, Getz hasn’t committed to whether he’s expecting a contender or not, perhaps a reflection of how much there is on his to-do list this winter. It would make sense that he couldn’t predict how competitive this team will be, even in the weak AL Central, before he knows how many items he can cross off that list.
One of his new hires made that notion a little more concrete with his pledge to turn the White Sox into a winner.
“We want to win, and we are not going to put a timetable on it,” Watson said. “We are looking forward to going to work, rolling our sleeves up and going to work.”
But even if that doesn’t get fans going the same way it’s exciting people within the White Sox, it should still strike as the breath of fresh air that it is. Obviously, Hahn and Williams wanted to win, too, and fans were all in on Hahn’s rebuilding project in its early years. But they had been running the show for a long time, their surprise firings ending nearly 25 years of consistency atop the team’s baseball department.
Getz, of course, was there for a significant number of those years, but the three newcomers are delivering the outside perspectives and different ideas that have long seemed necessary on the South Side.
“I’ve been to four World Series. … I know what it feels like when you got the right people,” Watson said. “And Chris got the right people.”
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