When White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn met with the media on Thursday, the words he would speak felt long overdue to most, but somehow still so unexpected.
“Mired in mediocrity.”
The words were perfect, and made me feel both heartbroken and as though someone understood what I’d been seeing for years. Coming from White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn, who has been one of the only sensible minds left among the White Sox organization, it felt as if the white flag was finally being unfurled at 35th and Shields.
Fans have known that the race to contend was probably over long ago, but the White Sox made it feel as though they were still trying, even if it was in their familiar and seemingly futile way. But abruptly, the organization has decided deliver their relinquishment of 2016. Saying things such as the team isn’t interested in rentals simply unfurls the white flag further. This situation is difficult for so many reason, the most immediate being that this call to put down weapons comes with two more months of baseball left to play. It’s only July, but on the South side, it’s already starting to feel like November.
Looking back on the enthusiasm that fans were met with at SoxFest feels like a distant and fond memory. A time when if things were to go wrong, no one would expect them to go wrong in the grand fashion that they have this season. This season has been a small collection of distinct tragedies, from a 23-10 run, to the best bullpen in baseball imploding, to James Shields and everything that has followed on and off the field.
Optimism is an feeling that White Sox fans have not been able to hold on to for nearly a decade. Have they felt optimism before? Of course. Just last season, after a series of stunning signings the Winter Meetings, Sox fans felt more realistic optimism than they had in years. All of baseball felt it. Fans all across the game were popping proverbial bottles of champagne to salute the White Sox having “won” the offseason.
After a flurry of small but strong moves to fix the middle infield and during a race that was eventually lost to acquire outfielder Dexter Fowler, Rick Hahn acknowledged that he felt the 2016 White Sox were a better, stronger team in 2016. He was right. With strong, experienced middle infield pieces added to the roster, the White Sox were on the path to baseball legitimacy.
But the problem was just the plan of being better than the 2015 team was just that, it was a better and stronger team than a 2015 White Sox, a team that was flawed in a number of ways. The 2015 team was the first to open the door for serious talks of a total rebuild as the only sure fire way to make this thing work. But instead fixing the problem at its core, the White Sox attempted once again to stitch up an idea that was supposed to work and send it off to battle.
The White Sox quickly became the most tragic franchise in baseball this season, and not simply because the plan didn’t work, but because it was supposed to work, and for a short five weeks to start the season, it did. It looked like for once, White Sox could enjoy something that other teams may take for granted — a chance to be a strong contender.
Feeling this forlorn as a fan is easy. Fans have the luxury of being able to say they just don’t care. They have the privilege to be able to box up their shirts and jerseys and store them away for next year. They have the power to decide to turn off the TV. To treat this like it’s the end, because that sure feels like it’s the way the front office is treating it.
But the White Sox don’t. Jose Abreu still needs to go out there and try. Austin Jackson still needs to work as hard as he can to get back on the playing field. Jose Quintana still needs to strive to uphold his status as one of the best pitchers in the American League. They don’t have the choice to feel the way fans feel even though it’s probably more evident to them every day they walk into the clubhouse. The current state of the White Sox is leading to meltdowns of disastrous proportions that drew as much negative media attention as L’Affaire LaRoche did, and it’s making a bad situation look even worse. It feels as though there’s nothing to play for as a team right now. As individuals, sure. But not as a team.
Rick Hahn stressed at SoxFest in January that if this season didn’t work out, a total rebuild would be on the table. The White Sox are at that point now, and the deeper questions involved in this situation that are being exposed. Most fans would accept the fact that a rebuild is imminent at this point, and see hope down the line. But for White Sox fans, they truly do feel as though they’re mired in mediocrity, they have for nearly a decade. How will that be any different going forward is the real question for which they need an answer.
The layers of this situation have become deeply exposed for those who truly understand how this organization works. They’ve band-aided situations such as this for years now, and with the proposal of executing a total rebuild now on the table, the flaws of this front office are on display. Will we just see more of the same going forward, or will things change down to their roots?
Lead photo courtesy of David Banks-USA TODAY Sports