White Sox Free Agent Pursuits and the Art of Expectations Setting

(Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images) /

White Sox fans felt the sting of disappointment when free agent Manny Machado signed with the San Diego Padres. Did it have to go down that way?

Ouch! We as White Sox fans just took a high hard one to the chin. Looked like we read the pitch and were dialed in, but the pitch had movement and flew up and out of the zone and into our collective faces. Now we’re bloodied and rolling around in the dirt, and just happy to have all our teeth.

The upside of creating expectations is getting people excited. The downside is you might not get what you want, which will leave the world wondering what the hell went wrong and why you weren’t good enough. Think this sounds familiar, White Sox fans?

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Career note – this scenario precisely comes into play pursuing jobs. It’s okay to let your mentors and deep trust partners and friends know you’re pursuing something, but as much as your pride would like it’s never a good idea to let the world know. Nothing sucks more than swallowing your pride and having to answer to detractors about why you weren’t good enough to land something you strongly pursued. Think this sounds familiar, Jerry Reinsdorf, Kenny Williams or Rick Hahn?

I felt the White Sox were way out in front of their skis on this and didn’t need to spend stupid money on a guy when the rest of the framework wasn’t even close to being solidified. There are far too many questions to be answered before plugging anyone at that salary.

The Sox might be three years away from contending. Seriously, we assume Eloy Jimenez will arrive to stake a long-term claim to left field this season, but he’s not even here yet so how can anyone assume he’s a certainty? Will Luis Robert make it? His tools say yes but we don’t know yet. Blake Rutherford has bulked up and looks great, but looks don’t ensure Major League arrival let alone sustained success.

Guys and gals, do you see what I mean? Rebuilds take a long time. We want to shortcut the process because we’re success-starved White Sox fans with the most sincere and hopeful optimism of any fan base out there. That certainty of at least a foundational framework is necessary before we start plugging in the final pieces at high price points. Sorry, but that’s the truth.

If you don’t believe me, why do think in the same week after the team lost out on Manny Machado they went on to sign Ervin Santana and Preston Tucker to minor league deals, not long after they signed Brandon Guyer to a similar agreement before that. That’s like being turned away at Jimmy Choo’s because you don’t have enough money to spend, so instead, you swing by the local Goodwill to see what the donation bin might yield. The reason is the Sox haven’t investigated any Plan B free agents that make sense is because the framework isn’t ready yet and it wouldn’t make sense.

Other than feeling the scorn of an entire big city and much of his team’s fan base, Reinsdorf must feel pretty good about now. Seriously, do you think he wanted to commit to a $300 million spend? Of course not! Sure, Reinsdorf is in his 80’s. So is my dad, and he’s sharp as a tack with a ticker doing just fine and isn’t going anywhere soon. Jerry will never be known as a spendthrift, and nothing may cement that perception in fans minds as the failed Machado pursuit.

At times like this, I recall actor Brad Pitt’s lines in the fantastic baseball film, Moneyball:  “There are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there’s fifty feet of crap. And then there’s us.” Back in the ’90s, I sent then head of Sox Marketing Rob Gallas a scathing letter assaulting the team for not spending to be competitive.

He actually wrote me back with a just as scathing defense of the team. It should be noted that the team signed Albert Belle to his then record contract occurred later and after our exchange, so it wasn’t like he had any rationale for why the Sox were a major spending player in the market. He was just defensive, as in defending the team and its moves.

I can feel the same defensiveness now like we should consider the team a major player in spite of the fact that for whatever reason they weren’t willing or able to go to the wire to get their guy.

What can the Sox do? I think there’s only one thing, let’s go back to being Ricky’s Boys and not quit. This is going to take a while. In the meantime we can celebrate milestones such as the 100-year anniversary of the Black Sox scandal and throwing of the 1919 World Series, the 60-year milestone of falling short against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1959 World Series, and the 40-year anniversary of the Disco Demolition night in which fans stormed the field and rioted, the outfield turf was damaged and a game forfeited. Good times.

Rebuilds are like watching paint dry, and that’s okay. What’s not is not taking the time to paint the picture. Look at it this way. If the club wanted to acquire a great player with several years of controllability and fill a hole on the roster, why not assemble a package of prospects and make a trade? They certainly have enough talent on the farm to do just this.

The reason is they don’t know how good these kids are yet, and aren’t willing to risk trading someone who might end up being great like Fernando Tatis, Jr. looks like he could be in San Diego. That’s the last thing Hahn would risk doing. Again.

It’s too early in the rebuild to know who’s a keeper and who the Sox can market as trade bait. And that, dear friends, is why it similarly doesn’t make sense to fork over huge bucks for anyone at this point. It’s too early to know what’s needed. And the first people to acknowledge that are team executives.

Next. Here's How White Sox Recover from Manny Machado Debacle. dark

When they do, they’ll stop getting people excited about things that might not happen. It’s the art of expectations setting, and those who understand that know the difference between delivering surprise and delight versus disappointment.