What I’ve Learned About Love, Waiting, Giving Up and Winning

Most people know, either through my extensive writings on the subject or just by knowing me on a personal level, that I’ve been extreme anti-relationship for a long time. Even back in the days when I wasn’t anti-relationship I was still anti-marriage, for a number of reasons. Since 2018 I had been preparing to be a confirmed and lifelong bachelor.

But it’s funny how the smallest things can completely change our plans.

It’s common knowledge that I have a long experience as a single man and, for whatever reason, I’ve had no real options for a relationship in many years. In fact, I haven’t really talked to a girl on a romantic level since my last date in February 2019. I knew when I walked away after that date romance was not for me and I was tired of wasting my time. But God had a plan in place for me that I wasn’t even aware of until 2 years later.

In early 2019, shortly after that fateful final date, I sent a Facebook friend request to a beautiful girl in Illinois named Mary Jung. As most can ascertain, I’m a huge Chicago White Sox fan and have been for over 30 years. I use social media as a way to network with other White Sox fans, since I live in the depressing backwoods of West Virginia where no one likes baseball and the few who do are die-hard Pittsburgh Pirates fans. (Nothing against the Pirates, I used to follow them in my younger days but I have no interest anymore).

Mary was clearly just as hardcore a White Sox fan as I am. And it was great having such a large group of fans right inside my computer screen or phone or tablet. People I actually had things in common with and I began to realize just how much I hated West Virginia.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a beautiful state. But I don’t fit here, and I don’t think I ever did. The only way I could have ever survived here for an entire lifetime was to just go underground, keep to myself, never bother with anyone and live out my life.

So, back in 2019 I started thinking about relocating when the time comes and where I’d like to go. Illinois was an obvious answer, but a lot of people tried talking me out of it right away. Taxes, drugs, crime and cost of living were high on the list of reasons. I also started looking into Arizona and North Carolina, either of which would be a major upgrade.

As 2019 continued to unfold Mary and I took every chance to flirt with each other but it never seemed to click in either of our minds that there was a clear mutual interest. This was probably due to my mindset of knowing my dating life was over and having absolutely no local options. As 2019 came to an end I was so looking forward to the new decade.

Needless to say, 2020 wasn’t the perfect opening act I had hoped it would be, as COVID ruined pretty much everything. Clearly I wouldn’t be dating in 2020, not just because of social distancing, mask mandates and panic run-amok, but the fact that I literally had no one to ask out even if I did want to make an attempt at proving myself wrong about the future. And that was a bitter pill to swallow as I watched women snatch up guys whose value wasn’t half what mine is but for whatever reason, I wasn’t fashionable. And never have been.

Mary and I continued to openly flirt in 2020, through Facebook comments, but it still never clicked, though a friend had mentioned at one time that he thought Mary liked me and I had told a number of friends how smitten I was with Mary, it just never came together.

As I watched 2021 dawn and realized that every year was going to be similar to 2020 for me (whether there was a lockdown or not I still had no future) I fell into a pretty deep depression in February. There was no light at the end of my tunnel. Other than friends, I hadn’t spoken to a woman in a romantic sense in two full years. Not one woman in two years had shown any interest and there had not been one woman in that time I had any interest in.

Except Mary, who continued to have my eye into 2021. Finally, in April, for just a split second, I decided it was time to take one final chance at having a life and enjoying it. I decided to send Mary a Facebook message and give her my number. Yes, I had always been against long-distance relationships and I had no idea if she would have any actual interest, let alone if she would respond or text me. I sat at my PC and nervously typed out the message and hit send. Figuring it could be days or weeks before she saw it, I went outside.

I sat in the yard, lit up a cigar and put on an episode of CBS Radio Mystery Theater. I then sent a Facebook message to my best friend Cynthia and let her know I had actually taken a chance and messaged Mary. She was thrilled for me but I had to try to temper her reaction because I didn’t know if I would actually get a response or not, not just that day, but at all. As I enjoyed my cigar, my phone went off with a text message. It was Mary.

We texted for hours that day, hours the next day and hours the next day. That, subsequently, turned into hours talking on the phone. I fell madly in love with her. And in time, it hit me that she was absolutely The One. The one I’d waited my whole life for. The one that made all the previous disappointments worth it. I knew what I had to do. I had to start planning to move to Illinois because I’m going to marry that girl.

First things first, I made plans for a short visit, a couple of days in mid-August. From there, I’ll start laying the groundwork to move to Illinois. It is all coming together.

Mary bought me a PS5 and sent me an incredible birthday box, the first time I’d had a proper birthday since probably 2003. I sent Mary a selection of Chicago White Sox memorabilia and collectibles. I’d never gotten to exchange gifts with anyone before in a “surprise” kind of way, where she didn’t know what she was getting and I didn’t know what I was getting. In fact, the last time someone bought me a birthday present, I had to pay for it myself.

Fate has finally smiled upon me after 15-plus years of unhappiness, misery and depression. It was either one extreme or the other, I was in an unhappy relationship with a girl I didn’t like, or I was single and had nothing to look forward to but tumbleweed blowing by. These past three years were horrible, every night spent alone, playing video games or watching TV and thinking I had nothing ahead of me except the same thing.

So, to Mary, I say even though this relationship is in its infancy it’s already everything I ever wanted in my life and never thought I would have. I didn’t think I would ever have a chance to be happy because no one ever wanted to be happy with me before. I look forward to spending the rest of forever with the most beautiful girl in the world, finally putting down roots and making all of the dreams I’ve ever had come true. It was worth the loneliness and unhappiness of the past ten times over. And I finally feel like I belong in the world.

It all finally worked out. Like I was crawling through a desert of absolutely nothing and suddenly, everything I had ever wanted just appeared to me out of nowhere. I thank God every night for giving me the strength to take one last chance before I walked away for good. No other girl could have gotten me to make that move. And now we’re in it for the long haul. It’s funny how things work out, but the important thing is, they DO work out.

Thank you for reading, and God bless.

Updated Thoughts On The 2020-21 Chicago White Sox Offseason

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 30: Yasmani Grandal #24 of the Chicago White Sox is congratulated by Jose Abreu #79 after Grandal hit a two-run home run against the Oakland Athletics during the eighth inning of Game Two of the American League Wild Card Round at RingCentral Coliseum on September 30, 2020 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

As a longtime Chicago White Sox fan, I can say this offseason has been quite a roller coaster ride. The disgust over the deciding third game of the 2020 American League Wild Card series against the A’s turned into absolute euphoria at the announcement that manager Rick Renteria and pitching coach Don Cooper had been relieved of their duties.

That quickly turned to surprise and confusion when general manager Rick Hahn did a 180 on his “what we’re looking for in a manager” talk, telling the press he wanted to hire a manager with recent championship experience, only to turn around and pass on the guy he was describing (A.J. Hinch) to bring back a nearly 80-year old Tony La Russa.

In turn, that negativity quickly turned around with the hiring of pitching coach Ethan Katz, who turned the career of Lucas Giolito around completely and will hopefully be the breath of fresh air the White Sox pitching staff has needed for five years or more.

While I really did think Hinch was the goal, I can live with La Russa for a couple of years managing the team because I know he’s well-schooled and one of the most successful managers in the history of the game. No one will out-manage him. But I do admit I’m worried about what comes after La Russa leaves the dugout, who will replace him.

As to the roster, I was never stupid enough to believe the White Sox would drop $30 million a year on Trevor Bauer, though I did think maybe there was a chance they would loosen the purse strings for George Springer, not at $30 million annually but maybe at or around $20 million. As it turns out, the purse strings are still quite taut, as instead of spending $30 million on one player, the White Sox will spend $15 million for two, acquiring starting pitcher Lance Lynn from the Texas Rangers and signing retread Adam Eaton as a free agent, with Lynn making $8 million in 2021 and Eaton pulling down $7 million.

So far, these are not the moves of a major market team gearing up for a championship run. These are the moves of a small market team who thinks they have enough in the tank to make a one-year run at a championship before it all comes crashing down.

Rick Hahn had said on numerous occasions that the White Sox would not be taking on “rentals,” or players with one year (or less, depending on when they were acquired) of control in exchange for younger talent that they had multiple years of control over. In a trade that reeks of Kenny Williams, the White Sox traded former Top 100 prospect Dane Dunning (who is basically under control until 2027, the last year he’ll be arb eligible) for ONE YEAR of Lance Lynn. And if Lynn goes out in his first Spring Training appearance and his elbow pops? The White Sox are just plain out of luck, without much depth behind him.

Big market championship teams have depth. They can overcome a serious injury and still make a run. If the White Sox were to lose one of their starting five, it’s anyone’s guess where they’re going to get a replacement. Pull Garrett Crochet out of the bullpen and stick him in the rotation to work 200 innings? To put that into perspective, in three years at the University of Tennessee, Crochet worked a total of 132 innings. Jonathan Stiever? He has worked a total of 173 minor league innings. Of course, there’s always Reynaldo Lopez.

After those three, there is literally nothing. A major injury would be a disaster. Two major injuries would cripple the franchise in 2021 and possibly beyond, especially if the injury turned out to be a Tommy John situation. These are dangerous waters.

There is also the back end of the White Sox bullpen, as they are rumored to be pursuing Oakland A’s closer Liam Hendriks (or at least the Chicago press is hoping they are) while the White Sox own closer for the past two years, Alex Colome, is also a free agent. While the smart money says they’ve GOT to bring one of those two in to close, there’s also the possibility that they hand the job to Aaron Bummer and his $3 million contract.

Again, this is what small market teams do, they make due with what they can.

The offense can be otherworldly, assuming catcher Yasmani Grandal doesn’t get injured, third baseman Yoan Moncada bounces back from COVID-19, Luis Robert makes adjustments from his poor final month of the season and Eaton shows his three year regression with the Nationals is a fluke rather than a trend (everyone already knows what I think).

Barring injury, there’s no reason this team can’t win the American League Central with the team they have. But one catastrophic injury, especially in the rotation, and their goose is cooked. I’m still hopeful of at least one more starting pitcher as well as one of the two closers mentioned earlier and maybe an extra outfielder who can split time with Eaton or Jimenez in the outfield and also spend time at DH. I think the perfect pick for that spot would be Michael Brantley, of the Houston Astros. A veteran and a winner, with a .297 career batting average, he could play a day or two a week in the outfield while Eaton or Jimenez serves as DH, and then DH himself while those two play the outfield.

This would also be good for top prospect Andrew Vaughn, who has never played above Class A and if he were handed the DH job with no safety net and failed, now you’ve got another hole in the lineup. Brantley would solve a lot of problems in one signing. You also can’t overestimate having a winning veteran in the clubhouse with a young team.

So at this point (December 18, 2020), I’m underwhelmed with the White Sox offseason so far. The bungled managerial hiring, trading seven years of Dane Dunning for one year of Lance Lynn and bringing back Adam Eaton were all poor decisions, but none of them should have lasting implications, as I doubt La Russa lasts more than two years in the dugout and Lynn and Eaton will both likely be gone in 2022, regardless of Eaton’s option.

However, a lot can be rectified by signing Brantley and either Colome or Hendriks, as well as another starter, preferably either Jose Quintana or James Paxton, who can fill in the back of the rotation, allow Dylan Cease to hold down the fifth spot as he works to regain his lost command, let Michael Kopech get himself back into game shape at AAA Charlotte after a full two years off and move Reynaldo Lopez into a swingman role as a long reliever and spot starter, a role I think he would excel in because he still has outstanding stuff.

Next year (2021) will mark 30 years I’ve been a Chicago White Sox fan, and while it’s been great to experience the 2005 World Series title and the division titles in 1993, 2000, 2005 and 2008 and the Wild Card appearance in 2020, that’s not much to show in 30 years. I’m hoping the 30 years going forward, and especially the next five or six, will exceed the previous 30, but this team needs to develop a winning attitude, not so much on the field as they do in the front office. So I’ll wait to see what happens between now and February before I make a final grade on the White Sox offseason. But there definitely needs to be some more improvement and it would still be cheaper overall than signing Trevor Bauer for $30 million.

Peace. And GO SOX!

2020 A Personal Retrospective

You don’t have to scroll too far back in my blog to see what high hopes I held for 2020. The beginning of a new decade, and putting an end to the worst decade of my life. It felt like the right time and the stars were aligning to make 2020 a real direction-changer for me. It was going to be the beginning of something special.

Well, we all know 2020 wasn’t exactly the “best year ever.”

However, I’m also going to be the first to admit it was far from being the “worst year ever.” Yes, there were challenges and things didn’t always work to plan. But 2020 was still a far cry better than, for instance, 2018. And it was perfection when compared to any year between 2010 and 2017. So I’m not here to bury 2020, just to remember it.

I will say the first six weeks of the year were as close to perfect as they could have been. I was so happy. I was working on my MLB The Show rosters because I wanted to kick off MLB Spring Training on the actual date and play a full season on the game in franchise mode, so when the offseason hit I could make the transactions as I saw fit.

And this plan worked up until COVID-19 shut down baseball for almost five months.

At some point in mid-February it felt like everything changed. Where as everything had been so perfect those first six weeks, there was a negative connotation to everything and when we went on lockdown, it felt like everything had fallen apart. My new year/new decade triumph wasn’t a loss, but it was shaping up to be far from what I had anticipated, which I am sure was the case for everyone on earth, not just me.

One of the highlights of February and March was getting Doom Eternal for my PlayStation 4, as I was a huge fan of the original Doom games dating back to the Super Nintendo in 1996. And I was so happy with Doom Eternal that I also bought the Doom Slayer’s Collection, which covered several of the games for the newer consoles I hadn’t played before.

March, April and May were enjoyable because I played Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead Redemption II all the way through to completion, back to back. But I played II before I because I wanted to play the games in chronological order in regard to the timeline of the games. I also was neck-deep in watching old western shows and movies.

Looking back, I wish I had taken that time to play my baseball season on MLB The Show and saved the Red Dead Redemption games for winter.

June and July are a complete blur. I have no idea what I was doing during that time. Clearly nothing constructive. I wasn’t even taking time to smoke cigars or watch Star Trek or do any of the other things I wanted to do even before baseball had been rescheduled. The very idea that I just threw time away like that annoys me to no end.

August brought “MLB Training Camp” and a sixty-game season. So I got a couple of months of baseball and that was enough to whet my appetite for MLB The Show, so when the season ended I downloaded the latest roster and began making all the real transactions (and a few of my own with the White Sox that weren’t made in reality but that I wanted to do) so that when Spring Training 2021 comes, I can do what I wanted last year.

I was also concerned when the season ended about what direction I was going to go in terms of entertaining myself for the winter. I used to play one of the Grand Theft Auto games to completion back in the late 2000s and early 2010s, and in 2015 began a yearly tradition of playing a Batman Arkham game as soon as baseball season ended.

This year I thought about immersing myself in Spider-Man games, shows and movies. I bought several Spider-Man video games, as well as the early 1980s cartoon series and the 1994 cartoon series, as well as the original movie trilogy on Blu-ray.

Then, by a complete fluke, I happened onto the show Chicago Fire. And I realized I had my winter all sewn up. So I bought eight seasons of Chicago Fire, seven seasons of Chicago P.D., five seasons of Chicago Med and one season of Chicago Justice on DVD. I started watching them in chronological order, along with the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit crossover episodes. As of today (December 18), I am 111 episodes into a 448 episode marathon, with new episodes set to begin in January 2021.

Enjoying these new shows has definitely been the highlight of the year for me, because I haven’t watched a “current” show since Family Guy debuted in 1999.

So, as 2020 comes to a close, I can’t say I’m altogether thrilled its over, like a lot of people can, but all the same I’m ready for a new year. I’m also ready to do the things I neglected to do in 2020, like working on my White Sox franchise on MLB The Show, smoking cigars and just enjoying life. And working myself back into good physical shape.

In closing, on a scale of one to ten, I’d give 2020 a six. I can’t really complain but I did miss out on a lot of opportunities I’d hoped to take advantage of. The major positives (finishing both Red Dead Redemption games and beginning my fandom with the Chicago shows) definitely outweighed the negatives this year. And I guarantee no one on earth is looking at 2020 ending the way they had anticipated or wanted. Hopefully 2021 will remedy that situation and everyone can move forward with their hopes and dreams.

Peace.

My Take On The Sox Machine 2020-21 Offseason Plan Project

Every year the Sox Machine blog posts a template for what is known as the “offseason plan project,” where anyone can give their thoughts on what they would like the White Sox to do in the offseason, in terms of whether to tender or non-tender eligible players, sign or not sign pending free agents, propose trades and things like that.

Rather than filling it out and posting on their blog I just decided to pinch their template and fill it out myself, which will make my offseason plans blog a lot easier to follow along with. I don’t want this to end up being 5,000 words like my last entry. And I need to point out, this isn’t what I think the team is going to do, this is what I would do.

So, here we go.

PREAMBLE

I have no question whatsoever that this team is a World Series contender. The Sox need depth more than they need any front-line players, so I will be using that as a guide through this exercise.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE PLAYERS

The first number after the player name is his 2020 salary and the second is what MLB Trade Rumors projects the player will receive in arbitration.

Nomar Mazara: $5.6M | $5.9M – Tender. I can’t believe I’m saying that under the circumstances, but since he’s under team control for one more year, let him be in a legit platoon with Adam Engel. When I get to free agency, I’ll expand on this decision.

Carlos Rodon: $4.5M | $4.5M – Non-tender. It’s almost funny that a team with starting pitching depth problems would non-tender a former #3 overall pick but this guy has never made 30 starts at the MLB level (and was called up in 2015). Let him be someone else’s problem.

Lucas Giolito: $2.5M | $5.3M – Tender. That’s a no-brainer. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not going to rush in with a contract extension offer just yet. I want to see how he reacts to not having James McCann carrying him through a game.

Reynaldo Lopez: $1.7M | $2.2M – Tender. But I’m moving him to a long-reliever/spot starter swingman role. I think if he’s asked to do less than go five innings, he may be a lot better at his job.

Evan Marshall: $1.3M | $1.9M – Tender. That’s getting a little expensive for a middle relief type, but the guy’s been pretty much lights-out the past two years (2.49 ERA in 2019 and 2.38 ERA in 2020).

Adam Engel: $1M | $1.4M – Tender. See Nomar Mazara. Engel has improved every year and is absolutely worthy of a chance to get some legitimate playing time again, even if it is in a platoon. And sometimes platoons just work themselves out and one guy separates himself while the other flounders.

Jace Fry: $800K | $1M – Non-tender. Dude had a career-low ERA in 2020, but it was still 3.66. That’s the first time since his 2017 call-up he’s had an ERA below 4.00. A million dollars is a little steep for that kind of production. And in spite of the ERA drop, he walked 12 in 19.2 innings. No, thanks.

Yolmer Sanchez: Uncertain – Non-tender. Anyone who knows me knows what I think of Yolmer. While he was more subdued and professional in 2020, I just don’t think he is of any real value. Danny Mendick can do his job just as well, just with more speed and more power (but admittedly less glove).

CLUB OPTIONS

Write “pick up” or “decline” or “rework” after the option.

Edwin Encarnacion: $12M – Decline. A .157 batting average and 19 RBI in 44 games? He gone. Now hand the everyday DH job to Andrew Vaughn, because he was drafted for his bat, not his glove.

Gio Gonzalez: $7M ($500K buyout) – Decline. A 4.83 ERA and declining stats over the past several years says this was likely Gio’s last hurrah. At least he finally got to pitch for the White Sox. It wasn’t worth the wait.

Leury Garcia: $3.5M ($250K buyout) – Pick Up. My main reason is to have a buffer in case Nick Madrigal has issues post-surgery or if he gets injured again. Leury can play all over the diamond (except 1B, C and P) and that kind of versatility is valuable.

OTHER IMPENDING FREE AGENTS

Try to retain, or let go?

Alex Colome (Made $10,532,500 in 2020) – I would do everything I could to hold onto Colome. Outstanding closers are not as easy to find as some people think, and I would definitely NOT hand the job to Cody Heuer or Matt Foster, or even Aaron Bummer just yet. Yes, I know the White Sox caught lightning in a bottle in 2005 with Bobby Jenks but let’s not tempt fate twice. Better to have an experienced, successful closer.

James McCann (Made $5.4M in 2020) – I was one of the few people who were stoked when the Sox signed McCann prior to the 2019 season, because I knew he would be a massive upgrade behind the plate. The offense came out of nowhere. In a perfect world, the Sox would have given him an extension last offseason and used the money they spent on Yasmani Grandal to acquire more pitching. Now, I let McCann walk and get a starting job (which he deserves) and the payday that comes with it (which he deserves) and let the trio of Zack Collins, Yermin Mercedes and Seby Zavala compete for the backup job.

Jarrod Dyson (Made $2M in 2020) – Absolutely no reason to hold onto Dyson.

COACHING STAFF

Here’s a first: Pick your manager and pitching coach, with any elaboration.

Manager: A.J. Hinch. No-brainer. How often do you get a chance to hire a successful manager who’s not even 50 years old and has won a World Series in the past few years? Cheating scandal aside, there’s no question he’s the best option available.

Pitching coach: Matt Zaleski. May not be Hinch’s first choice, but Zaleski has gotten rave reviews from all of the pitchers he’s worked with as the pitching coach with AAA Charlotte. He’s also young enough to mesh well with the MLB staff.

FREE AGENTS

List three free-agent targets you’d pursue during the offseason, with a reasonable contract.

Marcus Stroman – Immediately steps in as the number three starter and improves the rotation. I’m sure he and Tim Anderson can mend fences when it comes to winning a World Series together. Four years, $68 million.

Jose Quintana – Immediately steps in as the number four starter improves the rotation. He’s clearly on the downside of his career (even though he’s only 31) but I still would say he’s a lot more dependable than Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning or Michael Kopech at this point in time. These two moves should allow Cease to take over as the fifth starter and let Kopech and Dunning head to Charlotte to increase their workload and build arm strength. One year, $5 million.

T.J. McFarland – Here is your replacement for Jace Fry. Put up less-impressive numbers overall than Fry in 2020 but limits the walks (in his last full season, he walked 20 in 56 innings in 2019) and that’s more important than anything else. One year, $2 million.

TRADES

Propose trades that you think sound reasonable for both sides, and the rationale behind them.

I really don’t see any trades that would make sense unless the White Sox decide to move on from Nomar Mazara and don’t think Adam Engel is the answer and no one on the free agent market is worth a flier. This team is solid top to bottom and only need a few tweaks here and there (mostly depth moves).

SUMMARY

My lineup will consist of Grandal at catcher, Abreu at first, Madrigal at second, Anderson at shortstop and Moncada at third, with Jimenez in left, Robert in center and Engel/Mazara in right. Vaughn will be the everyday DH. The bench will consist of Zack Collins, Danny Mendick, Leury Garcia and a couple of current minor leaguers as depth pieces.

My rotation would consist of Giolito, Keuchel, Stroman, Quintana and Cease. Colome will close, with Foster and Bummer serving as set-up men. Lopez will serve as a swingman. The rest of the bullpen would consist of Heuer, Marshall, Crochet, Jimmy Cordero and McFarland.

I wanted to make this post much more in-depth, as I had last year but at the moment that was impossible due to a personal situation. I’m showing multiple symptoms of COVID-19 and not knowing what the future may hold if I do, in fact, have the virus, I wanted to at least have something up for the post-season in case I don’t have a chance to actually experience it. Thank you for reading. Peace.

The Jason J. Connor 2020 Chicago White Sox Season Wrap-up and Off-season Preview

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – JULY 16: Manager Rick Renteria of the Chicago White Sox watches during Summer Workouts at Guaranteed Rate Field on July 16, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

All I can say is “wow.”

I had planned on doing a season-ending critique of the 2020 Chicago White Sox, much as I had last year, but had planned on waiting until after the World Series. Today’s situation, however, made me move my timeline up a bit.

October 12, 2020: The Chicago White Sox announced they were “parting ways” with manager Rick Renteria and pitching coach Don Cooper, and that the rest of the staff was basically waiting to see if the new manager would retain them. This really came out of left field, as it was pretty much set in stone all season that Renteria and his staff would return until he decided it was time to move on.

Of course, maybe he did. The whole “parting ways” thing really doesn’t give us much insight into who made the decision and what exactly went down. The White Sox are becoming notorious for playing things close to the vest, as Renteria received a contract extension that was not mentioned until months after it had been signed, and no information about length or amount was ever discussed openly.

So first, I’ll touch on the 2020 season and then I’ll move into my top five picks to replace Ricky Renteria, with an “honorable mention” dark horse candidate that most people probably would never even consider.

When I think of the 2020 season, looking back a year or a decade from now, I’ll always think of this team winning in spite of it’s manager. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before. This team is so talented that the worst tactical manager I’ve seen in 32 years of watching baseball couldn’t derail this team from a playoff birth. With the exception of DH, third base and right field, this team was exceptional.

Third base should fix itself, once Yoan Moncada recovers fully from COVID, assuming that people do fully recover. Since we don’t know what the long-term effects of the virus are, we can’t really say he’ll immediately bounce back to his 2019 form (.315/25/79). While he only missed eight games in 2020, his numbers took a nosedive (.225/6/24, which would project out to .225/19/75 over a 162 game season).

Moncada clearly looked like he was fighting every day to make contact. If he is able to recapture his health, there’s no reason he can’t bounce back.

Designated hitter and right field are a different matter. I was stoked when the White Sox signed Edwin Encarnacion, I figured there was no reason he couldn’t come in and drive in 45 runs and be the best DH the Sox have had since Jim Thome left town. Instead we got a .157 batting average and 19 RBI in 44 games. A total waste.

Right field was even worse. While I was really happy about the Encarnacion signing, I hated the acquisition of Nomar Mazara from the day it was announced. I saw Mazara for what he is, a worse version of Jason Heyward, a guy who looks like he should be a .300/40/120 hitter who, for whatever reason, just isn’t. In a full season, Mazara is a .260/20/70 guy. He has a track record. There is no “untapped potential,” he’s been the guy he’s going to be for the past five years. There’s nothing hidden in his ability.

I will admit I was impressed with his glove, as I was under the impression he was not much of an outfielder but he played reasonably well, displaying a soft glove and a strong arm. But as much as his defense improved, his hitting tanked.

This was the first spot where I started to ask myself “why does Renteria insist on playing this guy so much when there’s a better option on the bench?” Adam Engel hit .295 in limited time, has a far better glove (even taking into account Mazara’s improvement) and showed himself to be at least a borderline option to start in 2021.

I had figured all season the Sox would retain Mazara because he’s eligible for arbitration and would surely not be so foolish as to take his case to a hearing, considering his .228/.295/295 slash line. However, after the Renteria firing, I now am not so sure this team won’t just cut it’s losses and non-tender him. Which just makes the whole acquisition that much more ridiculous because they could have Steele Walker in the system and instead may end up with absolutely nothing. Those are loser moves.

The rest of the team, from Jose Abreu’s incredible MVP-caliber season to Tim Anderson’s chase of a second batting title that ran out of gas to James McCann’s excellent second-showing to Eloy Jimenez continuing to improve to the solid debut seasons of Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, this team is really solid top to bottom.

That said, Madrigal will improve on his base running and defense and Robert will improve on his strike zone judgment; neither is a finished product.

The pitching was amazing considering the shortcomings. The Sox had only two legit starters and a collection of maybe’s to fill in the other three slots. But they were able to overcome that with a lights-out bullpen that may be the best I’ve ever seen. My hope is that if they can’t sign closer Alex Colome they’ll at least make him a Qualifying Offer, which would give the team an experienced closer again in 2021 and give Colome a nice raise ($18.9 million) for the outstanding season he had. But works needs to be done.

Rick Hahn has been vocal about the faith he has in his young pitchers, mentioning Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, Dane Dunning and Garrett Crochet in particular. I have faith in Cease and Dunning and Crochet, but am not really sure what Kopech will bring to the table, assuming he ever makes it to the table to begin with. He needs to learn that there’s more to life than women and get his head screwed on straight.

So if I were serving as general manager of the White Sox heading into the 2021 season, there are a few obvious areas of need. One, maybe two starting pitchers. A decision to make at closer. A bullpen arm or two to compete with the likes of Jimmy Cordero and Jose Ruiz. A decision about James McCann. And Nomar Mazara. And what to do with the DH spot and whether or not to exercise the option on Edwin Encarnacion.

I’ll begin with the pitching situation. The obvious #1 option on everyone’s board is Trevor Bauer, and no question he would be an incredible addition to the White Sox rotation. However, if his goal is to be a vagabond for the rest of his career, and sign only one-year contracts, I’m going to pass. The White Sox are more than one player away from a World Series-contending team, so signing a guy who is a “final piece” doesn’t make sense if you only get one round into the playoffs and then he leaves.

I’m OK with the names I hear most often after Bauer: Jose Quintana and Marcus Stroman. Yeah, they’re not the biggest names in the world but since we already have Ace 1 and Ace 1-A, we don’t really need to go out looking for a top of the rotation starter. The Sox need back of the rotation production and these guys are both viable options. Neither will be particularly expensive and could be easily jettisoned if one of the younger options (Cease or Kopech or Dunning or even Jonathan Stiever) locks down a spot.

As much as I like James McCann, it’s also time to let him walk. He’s earned an opportunity to be a #1 starting catcher somewhere. Had I been running the team last season there is NO WAY I would have given that massive contract to Yasmani Grandal, I would have given McCann an extension and used what was left over to bolster the pitching staff. Grandal was a luxury this team really didn’t need under the circumstances.

But now that he’s here, we’re stuck with him and hopefully there won’t be a massive decline in his skills as he’ll turn 32 in November.

Since I would also not even consider exercising Encarnacion’s option, my roster would consist of Grandal and Zack Collins at catcher and a platoon of Jose Abreu and Andrew Vaughn at first base and designated hitter. I don’t see the need to add anyone to this mix, though if Collins fails as the backup catcher, bring up Yermin Mercedes or Seby Zavala and give them a fair shake. There’s lots of depth at the position.

As for right field, my plan there would be the same as it was a year ago. Sign Yasiel Puig. He could probably be had for next to nothing and chances are he’ll give you .265/25/80 and steal 15 bases, far better production than the team has gotten at the position in several years. Worst case scenario, just hand the job to Adam Engel.

This team has proven it is talented enough to win in spite of these holes, but there’s no need to have them when upgrades are available and cheap.

Now, to move on to the managerial vacancy and what I see ahead.

First, I’ll give my top five options as I see them and my darkhorse candidate and I’ll explain who I think will actually get the job and why I see it that way.

DARKHORSE CANDIDATE:

CLINT HURDLE

Yes, this will probably be eye-rolled over but hear me out.

You want someone whose been a winner recently? This guy lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to the playoffs three years in a row, a team that hadn’t been there in 21 years. He also has a World Series appearance on his resume with the Colorado Rockies.

I would imagine his age (63) would be the biggest obstacle to his hiring but he’s known as a player’s manager and his resume is excellent. Definitely worth a look.

CANDIDATE #5

JOE McEWING

I think Super Joe is more than qualified to be a Major League manager, and it has shown itself when he’s stepped in for Renteria. The team plays hard for him and he seems to have a plan. He also likes to use the running game, which for some reason Renteria never did, even though this team is loaded with speed and could dominate teams with it, as the old St. Louis Cardinals teams of the 1980s did during their run of success.

But I think Joe may have the same stench of losing on him that Renteria does, not because he’s a loser but because he’s so closely identified with this team during the rebuild, first as third base coach and then as bench coach under Renteria.

CANDIDATE #4

JOEY CORA

A former White Sox player, Joey Cora has done it all in his career except manage at the MLB level. He’s been a minor league manager, MLB coach (including serving as Ozzie Guillen’s bench coach in 2005) and has even served as a broadcaster for MLB Network during the 2013 World Baseball Classic. For whatever reason, he’s never gotten a shot at managing an MLB club and currently serves as third base coach of the Pirates.

Cora should have gotten an MLB managerial job a decade ago, especially coming off serving as bench coach for a World Series team. Not sure what the problem is.

CANDIDATE #3

ALEX CORA

The pluses and minuses here are obvious, as the younger brother of Joey Cora has excelled as a coach and manager, winning two World Series in two years, as a coach with the Houston Astros in 2017 and as manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2018.

Then there’s the sign stealing scandal that caused him to lose his job with the Red Sox heading into 2020. That’s likely to follow him wherever he goes and be a detriment to the team that hires him. Honestly, considering the firing of Ron Roenicke, I think the Red Sox will bring Cora back into the big chair again and move forward with him.

CANDIDATE #2

SANDY ALOMAR, JR.

Much like Joey Cora, I think Sandy Alomar, Jr. should have had a MLB managerial job a decade ago. A former catcher (which is always considered a plus for a manager since they’re basically an on-field manager and handler of a pitching staff), I can’t for the life of me understand why he hasn’t been hired as a manager. It was rumored that the White Sox wanted to hire Alomar to serve as bench coach under Robin Ventura (a job which subsequently fell to Rick Renteria) but Alomar didn’t want Ventura to be feeling the heat if the team played poorly and his replacement was right there.

There’s another angle to the Alomar story, and that’s the health of Indians manager Terry Francona, who missed a large portion of the 2020 mini-season with health problems. If Francona is unable to return, Alomar would certainly be his replacement, I can’t think there would be any second thoughts about making that move.

CANDIDATE #1

A.J. HINCH

The obvious choice. World Series winning manager who is only 46 years old and famously has a degree in psychology from Stanford University. The only downside to Hinch is the cheating scandal with the 2017 Houston Astros and the bad blood that will follow him wherever he goes, much like Alex Cora. But I think it will be worse for Cora than it will be for Hinch, as Cora has been guilty of the charge twice.

Like Alomar, Hinch is a former catcher and one of the best bullpen managers I’ve seen, he’s basically the polar opposite of Ricky Renteria. He’s originally from Iowa and has seven years of managerial experience in spite of his age.

There’s literally no downside here. The guy has a .558 career winning percentage. He’s managed three 100-win teams in his career.

There is also the elephant in the room with Ozzie Guillen, who I think is a better choice than Hinch, because of his connection to the team and the city, the fact that he’s bilingual and the fact that he’s won here before. But Rick Hahn was quick to mention that he would not be considered for the job. At first I thought this was ridiculous, but the more I think about it, the more I understand why they made this decision.

Let’s take a recent example of how managers deal with things today. Late in the 2020 season, Renteria put pitcher Carlos Rodon into an unwinnable situation, pitching him out of the bullpen in an important game when he hadn’t worked out of the ‘pen in five years and was just coming back from injury. The move backfired badly and Ricky was quick to go to the press and say “put that one on me,” meaning the criticism.

Let’s be honest, first, Ozzie would never have made a move that ridiculous. Ozzie was an excellent bullpen manager. Second, if a guy went out and completely blew it, Ozzie wouldn’t think twice about going to the press and saying “Rodon really blew it today.” That was about accountability. That’s not really popular in today’s world.

So maybe if this team was a little older, Ozzie would be perfect. But these are still “kids” in the grand scheme of things and I don’t think they wanted Ozzie throwing them under the bus while they’re still “growing.” And I kind of understand that.

Naturally, there will be other candidates besides these and the manager may end up being someone we haven’t even considered. I’m thankful that Rick Hahn mentioned he wanted someone who had experience because that eliminates guys like A.J. Pierzynski, Jim Thome, Frank Thomas and Paul Konerko, who have no business managing a team that’s on the cusp of being a legit World Series contender for multiple seasons.

As this coming year will mark 30 years that I’ve been a fan of this franchise, I have kind of become cynical when anything happens, expecting the team to make the worst decisions but they seem to be growing out of that, so I’m not going into the offseason automatically expecting the worst. I did expect them to keep Nomar Mazara and platoon him with Adam Engel in 2021 just because they had a year of control left, now I’m not so sure. They finally seem to be at the point where they know they can contend and they’ll do the best they can to win. Today’s decision proves that point beyond dispute.

I now want to address Renteria and Cooper. I was never a fan of Renteria’s hiring, and made that clear publicly on a number of occasions immediately after his hiring as well as in the three years since. I always thought of his hiring the same way I looked at the White Sox hiring of Eddie Stanky 50 years earlier or the White Sox trade for Ron Santo in the early 1970s, it was just a way to “put one over” on the Chicago Cubs.

“We’ll take the guy you couldn’t win with and we’ll win with him.”

Naturally I don’t have any personal dislike for Renteria. He’s a good coach and seems to foster a good vibe in the clubhouse. He seems to be a good teacher. But he’s as poor of an in-game strategist as I’ve ever seen. While most managers are playing chess, he seems to be playing 52-card pick-up. Some coaches are just not cut out to be managers and yet they still get opportunities. Lloyd McClendon is a good example, as he proved to be a poor manager with the Pittsburgh Pirates but somehow has gotten opportunities since, with the Mariners and as a interim manager with the Detroit Tigers.

Ricky will be known from here on out as a guy you hire when you do a rebuild and get rid of when it’s time to compete, since it’s now happened twice. The Cubs were smart enough to get rid of him before they were ready to make the jump. The White Sox held onto him a year too long but at least they wasted little time in fixing that.

Coop is a different situation entirely. For whatever reason, the front office was always enamored of Coop even though I think his abilities were grossly overrated. When you look at the parade of guys who were either stars before he got a hold of them (Mark Buehrle was a 16-game winner the year before Coop was promoted to the MLB staff) or were legit starters that saw their careers point down with Coop (Javier Vasquez and Jeff Samardzija). The only two starters that Coop really developed who amounted to anything were Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, which isn’t much to brag about in 19 years.

We were told how great Coop was almost daily from Steve Stone and Rick Hahn and now he has a chance to go get another job and prove it. I think enough people realized that the 2005 staff was loaded with good veteran pitchers who were successful before they came to the White Sox and his recent failures (Samardzija, Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease dealing with regression, Lucas Giolito going to his high school coach for help) have rightfully tarnished whatever reputation Coop had cultivated in the past.

This is a “what have you done for me lately” world we live in and Coop hasn’t done anything of note in a long time. And I’ll stick to what I’ve said throughout the mini season of 2020: This team won IN SPITE of the coaching staff, not with it.

So, in closing, this should be a really fun off-season. In a perfect world, the White Sox will hire A.J. Hinch and sign a couple of back-of-the-rotation starters, resign Alex Colome and bring in a legit right fielder who is more production than “untapped potential.” This team can be dominant for a good five or six years, so it’s time to put the pedal to the metal and go out and win. The Renteria Era is over. The Winning Era has begun.

Peace. And Go Sox. #ChangeTheGame #WhiteSox



EDIT

After writing this blog I heard that the White Sox are entertaining the idea of talking to former White Sox manager Tony LaRussa about the job.

I can’t even begin to express how ridiculous that idea is. LaRussa is 76 years old and hasn’t managed in nine years. Who in their right mind would want to take a young club and saddle them with a manager who was born during World War II?

There is no way LaRussa could interact with the baseball player of the 2020s, there’s a cultural divide there that’s unbridgeable. And there is an example of the White Sox trying that once before, with disastrous results: In 1976 the White Sox rehired former manager Paul Richards, who had managed the team from 1951 to 1954. He was 67 years old (a decade younger than LaRussa) and hadn’t managed since 1961, a layoff of 15 years. He was totally unprepared for the job and the Sox finished 64-97.

LaRussa was a great manager a generation ago. But his time has passed and the very idea of even discussing the job with him makes me cringe. Don’t do something so ridiculous when you have a great, young team that’s ready to contend.