In the 2022 season, the Chicago White Sox had reason to be optimistic. In the shortened 2020 season, they won by .583 to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008. After the utterly cryptic decision to cut ties with manager Rick Renteria and replace him with long-retired Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, the White Sox won the Central American League in 2021 and have the most wins in a season since the 2005 championship campaign. the core is still intact—that would give the Sox another chance to make a deep breakthrough in October.
This, of course, did not happen. With the season over, the Sox are under .500 with a negative run difference. And this despite the fact that, like all AL Central teams, they played on one of the weakest schedules in all of Major League Baseball. With the South Siders likely out of playoff contention soon, it’s time to figure out what went wrong and what they need to do to bounce back in 2023.
Something went wrong
In a way, everything else stems from the fact that the White Sox have suffered more injuries than their share in 2022. A partial list of key Sox players entering the season will include the names of: deep breath — Eloy Jimenez, Lance Lynn, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Luis Robert, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Liam Hendrix and Joe Kelly. Not only did all of these players go on the injured list at various times this season, they also spent nearly 500 days in IL in total. Given that Kopech, Anderson and Robert are currently in IL, the total number of days is likely to exceed 500 days. In addition to Kelly and Hendrix mentioned above, the bullpen has also dealt with significant injuries to Garrett Crochet (not playing all season due to Tommy John surgery in early April), Aaron Bummer and Kyle Creek.
It says a lot that 36-year-old Johnny Cueto, who didn’t start for the first time until mid-May after not signing in the off-season, is currently ranked third on the team in WAR. All that star power lost due to injury had a lot to do with the fact that they finished 22nd in major home run tournaments (despite playing in an authority-friendly home stadium) and 18th. Ranked in bullpen ERA.
Elsewhere, the Sox had a rather weak team defense. In terms of defensive efficiency, which is the percentage of balls in a game that the defense turns into strikeouts (sort of the whole point of a defensive venture), the Sox are 21st this season. They had inadequate performance from second base and center field, their lack of depth throughout the roster was exposed, and the addition of AJ Pollock was a half-measure at best. The surprisingly quiet deadline set by GM Rick Khan didn’t help matters either. Finally, a 7-12 against the Cleveland Guardians effectively killed them in the divisional race.
What is going to happen
First and most obvious, it’s time to move on from La Russa. His health issues will prevent him from returning this season, but he has a contract through 2023. He must not return. La Russa is a worthy member of the Hall of Famer, but he is no longer a competent manager of this level. It was painfully obvious at many stages this season and the players knew it all too well. From a managerial standpoint, baseball is not really a tactical sport, which means that the most basic responsibility of a manager is “first, do no harm.” La Russa did not live up to that standard.
In addition, the Sox should hope for better health, at least among their frontline players. They also need to find an upgrade at second base, and if Pollock uses his 2023 player option, he should be no more than an easy half of the platoon in the outfield (pairing him with prospect Oscar Colas is a viable approach if the Sox don’t willing to spend money on the situation). While José Abreu’s decline in strength is a concern, especially given that he is 35 years old, he is still quite productive overall. Add to that his popularity and great leadership qualities, and it’s worth developing an extension to bring him back in 2023 (and possibly beyond).
To a large extent, this amounts to “rolling back,” but it’s a reasonable approach in light of how many injuries were linked to the 2022 Sox faceplant. While the Guardians ended up being the best team in the division rather easily, AL Central will still be positioned as the winning loop in 2023. Generally speaking, the Sox should give this core another shot in 2023 if that doesn’t work. then it’s time to seriously consider changes to the front office and player development apparatus.