Mismatched Sox is the official companion blog to Sox in the Basement and is the ramblings of co-host Ed Siebert. Things written here are based on facts but are mainly just the opinions of one guy who has been a fan of the team for a long time and doesn’t always get a word in edgewise on his podcast. Take the ideas herein as food for thought. Salty food, usually.
As White Sox fans there is a certain level of frustration that has become expected, as with seemingly most Chicago franchises, where the team doesn’t seem to sustain success and championships are scarce. The Cubs ended a cursed drought in 2016 and are wondering if Dansby Swanson can still join Jameson Taillon to end the 2017-present drought. The Bears are trying to sell Jack Sanborn as the next great middle linebacker while hoping no one notices that Justin Fields’ career could be exciting, but much like Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham, one with no championships. The Blackhawks are a tattered remainder of their glory years, which came after a 50-year blackout. The Bulls are…is there a Jordan curse? A Krause curse? The Bulls are an annual disappointment.
But the White Sox are still, somehow, the neglected middle child of the Chicago franchises. Sox fans tend to be passionate and knowledgeable, not because of outstanding genetics or anything, but just because there are few casual Sox fans. Cubs fans range from the passionate to the people who just have happy, albeit largely fuzzy, memories of partying in Wrigleyville. Bears fans run from the diehards to people who just like day drinking on Sundays. Bulls fans still have leftovers among them who are still there long after the dynasty was killed, same with the Hawks. And each team treats their fans accordingly.
Knowing that Bears fans run a gamut, the team will always focus on a few stars for the current casual fan and remind diehard fans of the toughness and ruggedness of playing in Chicago by showing grainy slowed footage of the ’85 Bears doing things, 70’s-era Walter Payton crumpling DBs and Dick Butkus generally ragdolling QBs. The Bulls do largely the same thing, just with footage of the ’90’s Bulls using Patrick Ewing and the Knicks as their version of the Generals. The Blackhawks are still clinging to the 2010’s, and why not. The Cubs, for reasons, are still clinging to Harry Carey and his party vibe while building up their stadium and the “wait ’til next year!” mantra that served them through much of their fandom’s lives. Without sustained success, these teams can keep the casual fans coming and only need to show that there are still stars on the team, and with those stars…hope.
And there’s a fine line between marketing to a range of fans, and pandering. Pandering is trying to indulge the needs while marketing is merely promoting a thing. The Sox don’t market to their fans, not really. They have catch phrases and promotions like all teams, but they don’t market an identity like the Bears or Cubs, or history of dynastic success like the Hawks and Bulls. They don’t try and attract new casual Sox fans because unlike Wrigley, new fans aren’t going to view the White Sox game as a unique experience. Not a criticism but a fact that the White Sox stadium isn’t all that special or unique and a Sox game is much of a sameness with other MLB games. The team itself isn’t a Yankees-esque dynasty where frontrunners can bolster the fan ranks, and the players, like in all MLB teams and major sports, are fleeting. To quote Jerry Seinfeld: “You’re actually rooting for the clothes when you get right down to it.” And while the current Sox uniforms are classy as hell, and everyone looks good in black, dropping money on a Southside shersey doesn’t mean that a person is tuning in or coming to 35th and Shields.
Instead, what the Sox do, is pander to their passionate fans. Credit to Jerry for knowing that Sox fans care, but Christ on a crutch is it infuriating sometimes. And the recent winter meetings are no exception. The biggest “news” to come from the meetings was that Rick Hahn was possibly shopping Liam Hendriks. Rick himself said in a statement that basically described his job, that he has to be open-minded to roster-shaking trades. Of course he does. Even last year with the predictions of winning the central, Rick needed to be open-minded. There was a void, the fans were getting irritated, and Rick pandered by suggesting that he would consider a major trade if there is one out there to be made. No duh. He didn’t say one will be made. He didn’t commit to making one. He just said he’s going to give it due consideration. It would have been more satisfying to have Rick just say, ‘I talked to agents and the other GMs, I wasn’t able to get anything done, I’ll keep working.’ Instead, Sox Twitter and media outlets jumped on “roster-shaking trade” like there was something brewing.
And maybe there is, maybe there isn’t, it’ll be a while until we know. The closer market needs to fully form before Liam is a viable trade piece. The free agents need to be picked over in general before the trade market becomes focused. And the Sox may not match up with the teams that have needs or have surplus to trade. It isn’t as straightforward as signing free agents.
But the Sox have pandered there too. “The Money Will Be Spent” was basically tattooed on Sox fan’s foreheads as the remake of the team was in it’s lowpoint, where the MLB squad wasn’t as exciting as the minors promised to be. And when the team had Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease on the precipice, the team made their move in free agency. They did spend money, but mostly they pandered.
They pandered by not quite offering Manny Machado the contract he wanted, but crafting their offer in a way that made it sound better than it was with more potential money that they could tell to the fans, but fewer guarantees that they had to know Manny would balk at. Somehow, at the same time, they didn’t even talk to Bryce Harper, the left-handed masher they so desperately needed. But pandering to the fans, the official statement that offseason was that they were all in on Manny and were screwed out of his services.
They pandered with Zach Wheeler, a legit ace-level starter that would have been a huge addition to a rotation that had a rising Lucas Giolito and promise on promise in Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease and a healthy Carlos Rodon. As fans recall, the soon-to-be Mrs. Wheeler wanted to stay East Coast-ish and the Wheelers took less to go to Philly. A million less per year, maybe. Could the Sox, going 5 years $120+ million gone 5 years $140 million? Really blown the Phillies away? Made a Godfather offer? Yes. Did they? No. But they made a point of saying that there was at least $2 million left on the table.
They pandered with the signings that they did make. Edwin Encarnacion wasn’t needed at $11 million per year, but the name was established even though it was an old name. Dallas Keuchel was a rapidly fading star that no team would give up a draft pick to sign for the 2019 season, but he was once a Cy Young winner even though he was a shell of that in 2019. Gio Gonzalez cost $4.5 million for a player that was almost a punchline in 2019 after having been the prospect that went back and forth between the Sox and Phillies in 2005-2007. Steve Cishek cost $6 million off a dead cat bounce on his career. Money was spent, ended up being poorly spent, but at least it was spent on name brands.
In fairness, could Rick have predicted that $39 million in free agents would fail that badly? Yes, at least he should have. That’s among his jobs, to scout players before he acquires them and see if Encarnacion’s bat is slipping, see if Kuechel really has lost velocity and movement, see if Gio has anything left, and see if Cishek was lucky or somehow back to being good. And if, from a baseball standpoint, lesser free agents made sense in the 2019 offseason the GM can say we think these guys will compliment our young players, and we will try again next year to add a premium free agent. Instead, the team panders by spending because the fans wanted spending.
Even the next year, when Liam Hendriks signs, it becomes clear that Liam forced it to a degree because he wanted to be here. But Adam Eaton? Name recognition. After that, bringing back Leury as a playoff hero? Pandering. Spending all the money on Kendall Graveman, who helped oust the 2021 Sox, and Joe Kelly, who was viral for doing the crybaby motion to an opponent? Needed for the ‘pen, or signing names the fans would know?
Even the recent trades have been pandering to a degree. Lance Lynn made sense as a trade target, Cesar Hernandez was a necessity. Craig Kimbrel felt like a response to clamoring for a bigger deadline deal than Ryan Tepera, and then trading Kimbrel for A.J. Pollack felt like Rick trying to make good with angry fans.
Pandering rather than winning is a hallmark of the Jerry Reinsdorf regime. Tom Seaver in 1986? A name to show the fans who were still watching the “Winnin’ Ugly” team get slowly withered into 4th-5th place mediocrity. A post-injury Bo Jackson? A high-profile dart that worked out. Fading veterans like Jerry Reuss, Cory Snyder, Scott Sanderson, Rob Dibble, Doug Drabek, Danny Darwin, Dave Steib, Ken Hill, Ken Griffey Jr., Robbie Alomar, and others that are now forgotten were attempts at using a name to hide the shame of seasons where the team wasn’t ready to compete with youth or spend to get players at or near their prime.
When the Sox are comparitively successful, they are put together the way truly successful franchises operate. In the early 90’s, the team combined young stars with solid veterans, and even splurged on Albert Belle when it made sense. The Sox operated in the 90’s like a mid-market team by using good drafts to offset the cost of key veterans, and until the stoppage in 1994 the team was in great shape. In the 2000’s, Kenny was able to get good but not necessarily star players assembled as veteran rosters that were pretty competitive from 2000-2004, 2006 and 2008. They were really competitive in 2005 when the proverbial lightning was caught in the bottle. Those teams had no superstar per se, but rode solid guys like Paul Konerko and Mark Buehrle who were maybe underrated but definitely consistent. In the early 2000’s the team didn’t make a splash if they didn’t need to, culminating in the World Series win. But after that, the pandering to improve on the championship lead to a disappointing 2006 team that desperately needed more pitching depth and a CF, the latter of which was a hole created by sending Aaron Rowand off for the big name in Jim Thome. In 2008, the team grabbed Nick Swisher for personality and it went poorly at the end, and that was the last playoff run until 2020.
Fans have been told over and over again how the team thinks big, and how they just came up short. Occasionally the Sox bring in something exciting, but they never quite build on it. Carlton Fisk was a huge get for the team on the heels of Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn buying the club. But the 1980’s White Sox were terrible outside of 1983. The late 90’s saw Albert Belle get the biggest contract ever (at the time) and join a team that had incredibly weak pitching, which wouldn’t be fixed until 2004-2005. Even Jim Thome, a fan favorite and deservedly so, toiled from 2006-2009 on teams that were never quite good…not bad…but just not good enough.
And as Rick burned it down to model the Cubs rebuild, fans were promised sustained success and championship talent. Here, after the winter meetings of our discontent, the question is whether that was just talk. Indulge the needs by giving just enough to satisfy. So maybe, maybe there is a trade waiting that will bring it all together. Maybe one starter coming off a down year and rumors are all fans will get. Right now, all Sox fans have is the knowledge that they are being pandered to.
At least if it was done quickly it would be Pander Express.