What Should I Be Listening To My 2018 White Sox For?

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Chicago White Sox manager Rick Renteria sits in the dugout prior to a spring training baseball game against the Texas Rangers Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. The White Sox defeated the Rangers 10-0. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Twins followed up a 59-win season in 2016 by winning a shocking 85 games and taking a Wild Card spot last year. The Sox won 67 last year, so of course we can count on the same 26-win improvement, which, carry the 1… means 93 wins! Worst case we should be preparing to host a Wild Card – get those black-out jerseys ready!

Yeah… no. I don’t know what Nordic God blessed Minnesota with that still unfathomable turnaround, but it’s not happening with our ChiSox this season. So don’t fret if we get off to a terrible start. And don’t get too excited if we hang around .500 for a month or so. Because the 2018 Southsiders should take it all the way back to Little League for their slogan this year – “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

And that’s actually got me pretty excited to dial into Ed & DJ this season. There’s just so much to listen for all season long. Even non-Sox fans will want to see how former universal #1 prospect Yoan Moncada follows up his up-and-down rookie year, or when current mega-prospects like Eloy and Kopech will finally step on to Roger Bossard’s gloriously manicured field. Southsiders will be looking deeper – can Avi can repeat his All-Star breakout performance? Can Giolito and Lopez be reliable #2-#4 types?

I believe there’s one question that is actually even more important than any of those. One answer I hope to get out of the hours I’ll devote to the Sox on-air, online, in talks with friends and family, on long L rides, and of course, while enjoying a fine evening over at the Rate. That’s whether the extremely encouraging impression I got from Rick Renteria’s broad list of accomplishments last year is going to be solidified into a real confidence that we’ve got something special in this guy.

Don’t get me wrong – I know you need talent to win… that’s what this whole rebuild is about. But no single talent – not even the fast-growing Legend of Eloy – will mean as much as having the right guy at the helm. And no development that will occur over the course of the 2018 season is going to tell me as much as seeing whether Renteria can repeat what he did last year. Because prospects can get hurt or run into a development plateau and still end up perennial all-stars. Or even if some really do fizzle out this year, the Sox can still develop or acquire enough of what they need to win.

Or at least they can hope to if they have the right guy in charge. A good manager can absolutely change the entire outlook of your organization. They can ensure your talent – aging trade pieces, emerging role players, developing cornerstones – trends in the right direction, increasing your entire asset portfolio on a near daily basis. Because humans are mental, emotional animals. Everyone has good days at work and bad. Everyone is nice sometimes, less so others. Everyone can land a string of great jokes with their friends one night and then fall flat another.

Baseball is no different – there’s just a whole lot of mental and emotional stuff that goes into how all of these guys deliver. And the manager is the guy who can really affect those crucial intangibles in a way that allows an organization to maximize the talent it has.

That’s the tremendous and often underrated value of a manager. Setting the right emotional tone. Putting guys in the right mental state. Keeping your players going through the 162-game grind (more when you consider weeks of of Spring Training). Giving guys the right motivation, which is different for different players, and different at different times. Helping hitters out of slumps, putting pitchers in a spot that gives them the best chance to succeed.

Managers don’t control it all, but there’s a ton of variation between expected and actual player and team performances, and you’ll never convince me that a good manager doesn’t make a real positive impact on that, while a bad manager will absolutely make it all worse.

And last year, Renteria was absolutely a positive impact across a whole range of franchise development. Then again, after one season Robin Ventura looked like a wunderkind… and he turned out to be absolutely horrible. So I gotta see another season of Renteria working the underappreciated magic he did last season.

Like last year, no one expects or cares if he wins. But Rick has got to deliver in all those other areas that matter to our future, like he did in 2017:

– Develop our top prospects. Moncada, Giolito, and Lopez didn’t set the world on fire, but none seemed out of place at the big league level. In fact, I’m going to give Renteria extra credit for helping them all deal with some early struggles and yet continue to improve as the season wound down.

This year those three need to take concrete steps forward. We need to conclude 2018 knowing that Moncada is a plus 2B, and that Giolito and Lopez are at least ready to be #3/#4 types, with some upside for more. Sure, injuries are uncontrollable and odds are at least one will disappoint, but Renteria did great work with these cornerstones last year, so I am anxious to see if he can build on it. Even moreso if guys like Kopech and Eloy really do force their way up this season and provide Rick even more elite pieces to develop.

– Get trade value out of our vets. Quintana returned one of the best prospects in baseball and a high-end arm, while Frazier and Robertson were part of a deal for a Top 100 prospect. Even Melky, MGonzalez, Jennings, and Clippard were turned into something. Sure, Hahn was doing the dealing, but Renteria kept these vets playing hard and well enough to interest another team, even though the Sox were DOA and the threat of a trade was hanging over everything from Day 1.

2018 won’t see as much of a fire sale, but Abreu, Soria, NJones, Shields, MGonzalez, and Castillo are all on the wrong side of 30 to be counted on for a spot on a future Sox contender. But all could perform well enough to at least bring a token piece back or be part of a larger deal for an impact piece. Every additional young asset helps, so I’m curious to see if Renteria can keep them playing good baseball for a team going nowhere.

– Find some unexpected value. Kahnle and Swarzak both came out of nowhere to become legit trade assets. Infante might just be a capable RP. Shields may have found something in his new delivery angle to chew up 20-30 starts or even bring something minor in a trade. YSanchez and LGarcia went from no-hit IF filler to potentially plus utility pieces (who already have trade value). Davidson hit .220, earning him enough ABs to belt 26 bombs. Delmonico hit, walked, and slugged his way to a starting spot this year. KSmith and Narvaez were a perfectly acceptable big league catcher duo, offensively and behind the dish. And somehow, after around 1500 largely bad plate appearances, Avi became a freakin All-star! And kept that level of play up all season long!

On some level just repeating the solid play these guys showed last year would be enough to make me feel good about Renteria this season. Proving 2017 was a fluke for these players would be a big plus for the Southsiders. But there will be even more role players and non-pedigreed prospects showing up on the big league roster, and whatever development Rick can get out of them will also improve the state of the organization. HSantiago, Saladino, Castillo, Engel, and Tilson come to mind, as do a host of those trash heap RPs they grabbed in the off-season, but I’m sure there will be others (who was talking about Kahnle and Swarzak at this point last year?).

– Keep the team playing hard and doing the little things right. Whether it was a team that was still pretty veteran-filled in the first half, or a bunch of young kids and cast-offs playing out the string in the second, the ChiSox played hard, played well for what they had, and never once hit an extended stretch where they didn’t seem to care about winning baseball. Sure the losses piled up, but they always seemed to be giving as much of themselves as they could.

With at least three future pieces up in the bigs now, more to come soon, and some role players who could stick around for a while, it’s imperative that as the losses continue to mount in this rebuild, Renteria keeps the right vibe in the clubhouse, the right style of play on the field. It’s hard to learn to win when you’re not doing a lot of it, but a good manager can overcome that challenge. So far I’ve loved what I’ve seen from Rick in this area, but he’s got to keep it going this year.

And that includes if they start selling off vets again and are looking at a second half with nothing to play for and few leaders around to keep them doing things right. It’d be easy for guys to get caught up in their own play, their own numbers, and lose sight of all the little things that go into being a winning ballclub. It’ll be on Rick to help develop new leaders while setting the right tone, and keep a strong focus on the fundamentals, on playing hard, on doing things right.

I’ll admit – while I absolutely agreed the Sox needed to tear down last year and liked what they seemed to have returned for all of their assets (especially once the initial sell-off was completed mid-season), I was initially skeptical. The Sox organization just hasn’t developed consistently elite hitters since Mags and Carlos Lee came up in the last millennium. And they haven’t played the right style of baseball or had the right clubhouse mix since Ozzie lost his touch late last decade.

But what Renteria showed me in 2017 throughout all of these crucial managerial areas has me legitimately hopeful. We’ve got a long way to go (and let me qualify that just because Renteria is proving he’s the right manager in this development stage, doesn’t mean he’ll be the right guy for the World Series stage), but that’s what makes 2018 so exciting! Are we gonna take the necessary next steps this season?

That’s what I’m hoping to hear out of Farmer & DJ’s broadcasts – continued proof that Renteria gets it, that he’s good at it, and that it’s bearing real fruit in all aspects of the team. If it’s September 30th and I’m still sky high on Renteria, then that can only mean the rebuild is coming along well.

Brian Pollina is a second generation White Sox fan proudly raising a third generation on the North Side.  When not busy trying to get a Sox Mt. Rushmore of Big Frank, Harold, Uribe, and Don Cooper commissioned, he works in the radio industry.

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