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The White Sox should learn a lot from a season gone very, very wrong.
A season that is now – finally – very, very over.
Rick Hahn acknowledged that there are many things that need fixing this winter. Improvements to team defense, team speed, team power and team injury prevention – not to mention finding a new manager – are all on the to-do list.
But considering that it will be tricky for Hahn to engineer a massive makeover of the roster, the guys who don the uniforms each night are going to have to go to work and learn from their mistakes, too.
“Unless we fix what we have as a player group, what we went through this year, it doesn’t matter who comes in (as the next manager), it won’t fix itself,” Liam Hendriks said. “There needs to be some soul-searching. There needs to be a lot of going through what we struggled at, what we succeeded at, what we can work on better, what we need to take away from what we did.
“There’s a lot of things that we did this year that weren’t very good. And there’s a lot of things this year that we really need to improve on. But the only way to look in on that is to look in on yourself and realize what you struggled at.
“There’s a lot of things we can work on as individuals, but unless you work on them individually, you’re not going to get that cohesive moment back as a team when we get to spring training next year.”
So it’s not just about what Hahn will be doing to tweak this roster and try to put the White Sox in a better position to capitalize on this contention window. This is a high-stakes offseason because of what the players themselves will have to do.
And it starts with, according to some of the veteran guys in the clubhouse, realizing that the approach to this season was just plain wrong.
“An overabundance of confidence that turned into arrogance,” Hendriks said when asked why it all went so wrong for these White Sox. “I think we played into the fact that we were expected to win the division too much, we were expected to be the team that challenged (for a World Series). It was going to be an easy ride, we’re in an easy division, all these things. I think everybody took this season for granted. It was like, ‘OK, we won by so many games last year, we’re going to roll through it again this year.’”
“A bunch of the guys here, they’ve started thinking, realizing,” Elvis Andrus said. “This is the first time for a few guys that they’re not going to be in the postseason. … I went to back-to-back World Series my first two or three years in the league and thought it was so easy. And I think it’s been like four or five years since I’ve been in the postseason. You have to be grateful and realize how lucky you are just to be able to make it to the postseason. I know everybody’s going to go home with that in their mind and put in a good offseason and not let that happen next year.”
Indeed, that’s the overarching mission for everyone involved with this organization as the focus turns to 2023: making sure this doesn’t happen again.
Whether that’s the front office trying to assemble a more well-rounded roster or the players themselves adjusting their mindsets moving forward, what should be apparent to all of them is that they just let a year slip away from that much ballyhooed window.
This team was built for long-term contention and could still achieve that goal. Team-friendly contracts might be boxing Hahn & Co. into certain moves this offseason, but they could also prove as beneficial as once hoped and keep guys like Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez in White Sox uniforms through some very productive seasons.
But this was supposed to be one of those seasons. The White Sox were preseason World Series picks for a reason, and they blew it big time. It’s warped the entire view of this rebuilt roster, the entire view of this supposed window, and now the onus is on the White Sox to prove the window still exists.
“There’s no one associated with this organization … who doesn’t find this past year unacceptable and extraordinarily frustrating and disappointing,” Hahn said. “The squandering of this year is something that I know, individually, I will carry with me for a while. I know the baseball (operations) side or (anyone) in uniform would echo those sentiments for themselves.
“We need to earn that respect back from the fans and earn their support over the coming months and into next season. Tony (La Russa) talked about it a little bit (in his retirement press conference), taking these opportunities for granted, realizing that you have a good team on paper and all the pundits and the internal projections and external projections have you as the favorite.
“And that’s something, a trap, that you simply can’t fall into. It’s one that we won’t fall into again.”
2022 as a learning experience – the kind of silver lining we heard about time and again from Rick Renteria when Lucas Giolito was the “worst pitcher in baseball” back in 2018 – is something no White Sox fan wants to hear about now. Learning time is over, right? Time to start winning?
Sure. But as La Russa so often pointed out, these players are “men, not machines.” And if the White Sox possessed the incredibly incorrect attitude that they were going to just show up and win, then this has been a learning experience, all right. A painful one. One that should not have been necessary. But a learning experience, nonetheless.
“I think it’s a good learning experience, us falling short of our goal,” Joe Kelly told CHGO last week. “I think there will be a lot of change, mentally. Going back and reflecting, you learn the most when you don’t perform as well or your season doesn’t go as well as you wanted it to. You can learn more from that than absolutely dominating.”
“In the grand scheme of things, I think this year will be a good thing, but only if people can take from it what they can,” Hendriks said. “If all the cards fall where they may and we’re able to look back and look at this season and realize what went wrong, where we can improve, that will be something that will pay dividends for next year. It’s similar to what I have been through in my career, where I ended up being sent to Triple-A. It was the worst time of my career, but also it was the greatest benefit to my career. You have to be able to take the positives from that, and hopefully we can do that this year.”
The solutions go far beyond just hoping that next year is better. In addition to a team-wide attitude adjustment, there are necessary fixes needed from players who had good years and players who had bad years. Hendriks laid out the list of things he knew he struggled with in 2022 and hopes to focus on this offseason. Giolito is eager to get to work on corrections following his tough season. And Hahn talked amply during his end-of-season press conference about White Sox players needing to rediscover the offensive approach of years past.
But the biggest lesson was taught over six months of disappointing baseball, with an emphatic exclamation point provided by the division-winning Guardians at season’s end. The success of years past did not automatically equal success in 2022. The Guardians took the AL Central from the White Sox because the White Sox thought it was incapable of being taken from them.
Prior to this season, Hahn bemoaned the idea that his team would be forced to keep progressing incrementally, suggesting instead that the step-by-step results of a year ending in a playoff appearance, followed by a year ending in a division championship, followed by a year ending in a playoff series win, followed by a year of true World Series contention didn’t have to be the way to go. The White Sox, he hoped, could go from where they ended 2021 straight to World Series champions.
What no one bothered to think at the time was: What if things went in the opposite direction? What if instead of skipping a step, the White Sox had to redo a step? Or a couple of them?
Mostly unthinkable then, it has proven reality now, all these months later.
Hahn got his wish, in a cruel, “Twilight Zone” kind of way. The White Sox have not taken that linear, step-by-step path from rebuilders to champions.
If they’re going to get to that end destination at all, they’ll have to learn the biggest lesson from what Hahn called the biggest disappointment of all their careers:
Don’t take seasons for granted.
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