Column: The Chicago White Sox are going in new direction after firing manager Rick Renteria for ... what exactly?
Rick Renteria’s departure as Chicago White Sox manager is far more mystifying than his exit as Cubs manager six years ago this month.
Both teams were turning the corner in their rebuilds, but the Cubs saw an opportunity to hire Joe Maddon and quickly pounced, making a cold, calculated decision that devastated Renteria but ultimately worked out for the organization, which ended its championship drought two years later.
When the Sox got rid of Renteria Monday only two weeks after their playoff exit, it was announced as a “mutual” decision.
But no sane person would agree on his own to leave a team with as much upside as the Sox, especially after going through four grueling years of a rebuild to get to this spot. Renteria loved his team, and the likelihood of him agreeing his time was up is remote.
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn gave no explanation for the decision, although said it had nothing to do with the alleged mismanagement in their Game 3 loss to the Oakland A’s in the wild-card series or with the season-ending slump that dropped the Sox from first place in the American League Central and the top seed in the AL to third place and a No. 7 seed.
“This is based upon where we are as an organization and what we need to do to take that next step in putting us in the best position to succeed,” Hahn said.
So Renteria agreed the Sox were better off taking the next step with someone else in charge?
That doesn’t make any sense.
“It’s somewhat based on the relationship we have,” Hahn replied. "That we’re able to have honest conversations about where we’re at, what we need to do to get better, as well as the time horizon for doing that, and the length of time that we foresee us being together ... I don’t want to get too deep into personal conversations about fit and longevity and the length of this potential window.
“Just to let you know, Ricky and I have talked for years about how this potentially ends. It was always with the hope and the goal of us winning a championship together. Obviously that didn’t happen. This isn’t the ideal ending from that standpoint, but it is an ending we talked about previously, not just over the last couple of days or couple of weeks.”
Asked if he considered changing managers before the 2020 season, Hahn said “you’re always ready for the potential that there is a change,” adding there was probably a list of GM replacements for him.
“It wasn’t one game, it wasn’t one week,” he repeated. “This is a conversation that’s been going on for a while.”
A source with knowledge of the decision said Renteria “chose” the “mutual agreement" terminology. Perhaps he wanted to put his best face forward on another unexpected career change, one that no doubt pleased a majority of Sox fans.
It also wasn’t an ideal ending for Don Cooper, whom I always referred to as “pitching coach for life” due to his innate ability to survive managerial changes without receiving the slightest hint of blame for his role.
I was wrong. He gone.
Again, it was a “mutual” decision according to Hahn, so Cooper apparently believed it was time for him to go. After 20 years, we finally agreed on something.
But the big news Monday was that one of the plum managerial openings in baseball was now available to anyone, well, except for Ozzie Guillen.
Hahn said Guillen was informed by Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf before Renteria’s firing was announced that he wouldn’t be a candidate, apparently hoping to avoid a Twitter stampede demanding the Sox bring their former manager back.
Hahn lauded Guillen, but wouldn’t reveal why he wouldn’t be a candidate, even though he fits the mold of a championship-winning manager.
Guillen and former Sox slugger Frank Thomas, both analysts for NBC Sports Chicago, didn’t hold back while questioning Renteria’s decision-making on the Sox’s pre- and postgame shows. Obviously someone was listening to them, whether it was Hahn, executive vice president Ken Williams or Reinsdorf himself.
Hahn said he’d keep an open mind about Renteria’s replacement, but would prefer an experienced manager from a recent championship team — which suggests recently fired A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora, two of the culprits of the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, will be candidates 1 and 1A. Both are regarded as premier in-game managers, though both also carry the taint of the cheating scandal.
Asked about Cora and Hinch, Hahn wouldn’t discuss his list, other than to say Guillen wasn’t on it.
The news of Renteria’s departure was stunning. Not because he deserved to stick around, which was debatable, but because Hahn had done nothing but praise his manager in the face of fan and media criticism over the last four years. After the Sox clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2008, Hahn said there was no one he was happier for than Renteria.
So what happened?
Hahn said that statement is still true, though he wouldn’t divulge a reason for the change in philosophy.
Renteria served one year as bench coach under Robin Ventura before signing a three-year deal to guide the Sox rebuild before the 2017 season. After one season, Hahn decided to extend the deal until at least after the 2020 season, but didn’t announce it right away.
The extension was made public that following November when I asked Hahn at the general managers meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., if he’d discuss extending Renteria past his lame duck season.
“There’s no need to talk at this time,” Hahn replied. “He signed an extension a while back.”
Why didn’t Hahn tell us months earlier? He said no one asked.
Two years later, Renteria is gone and the Sox are preparing for a 2021 season that will carry great expectations whether fans are allowed inside ballparks or not. The next manager will not only be expected to take the Sox back to the playoffs, but go farther than they did in 2020.
Strangely, Renteria could wind up a finalist for AL Manager of the Year after leading the Sox to the postseason. He was widely castigated on Twitter and the Internet for his decision-making throughout the pandemic-shortened season, especially after inserting rehabbed starter Carlos Rodon in a tough relief role during a loss to the Cleveland Indians during the team’s meltdown the final week. He also was criticized for his pitching moves in the Game 3 playoff loss to the A’s that ended the season.
When Cubs president Theo Epstein fired Renteria in 2014, he said there was “no doubt (he’ll) make an excellent major league manager when given his next chance.” On Monday, Hahn said “if Ricky decides in the future that he wants to manage again or manage elsewhere which again will be a personal decision of Ricky’s, there is no doubt in my mind he can find the right spot and fit and lead a team to a championship.”
There is never a doubt with Renteria … until there is.
©2020 the Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.