The White Sox have been among the most disappointing teams in MLB this season. While Chicago entered the year with a top-heavy roster, they expected to compete with Minnesota and Cleveland in a lackluster AL Central. The division has been as bad as expected, but Chicago started slowly and never looked like a viable playoff team.
As a result, the Sox moved a number of veterans before last week’s deadline. One of the players shipped off — middle reliever Keynan Middleton — criticized Chicago’s clubhouse culture after being traded. The now-Yankees righty told Jesse Rogers of ESPN last night that players “came in with no rules.”
“I don’t know how you police the culture if there are no rules or guidelines to follow because everyone is doing their own thing. Like, how do you say anything about it because there are no rules,” Middleton continued. “You have rookies sleeping in the bullpen during the game. You have guys missing meetings. You have guys missing (pitcher fielding practices), and there are no consequences for any of this stuff.”
Middleton first joined the organization on a minor league deal in January. He’d bounced between the Angels, Mariners and Diamondbacks over parts of six MLB seasons before signing with Chicago. While Middleton participated in big league Spring Training, he wasn’t on the MLB roster until the Sox selected his contract in mid-April.
From a performance perspective, the 29-year-old had one of the better stretches of his career in Chicago. He worked to a 3.96 ERA with a 30% strikeout rate over 36 1/3 frames, allowing the Sox to flip him to New York for minor league righty Juan Carela even though he’s an impending free agent. However, Middleton was clearly displeased with the culture, which he said predated his arrival.
“When I got to spring training, I heard a lot of the same stuff was happening last year,” Middleton told Rogers. “It’s happening again this year, so not sure how I could change it. They don’t tell you not to miss PFPs. They don’t tell you not to miss meetings, and if it happens, it’s just, ’OK.”
He directed his criticism primarily at the team’s position players, saying that while the pitching staff “went about our work the right way … the rest of the team struggled to do the right thing.” Of course, the mention of skipped pitcher-fielding practices would only be a problem for the pitching staff.
One of Middleton’s former teammates backed up his assertions. Veteran starter Lance Lynn — who spent two and a half seasons with the Sox before being traded to the Dodgers last month — briefly addressed Middleton’s comments this afternoon (relayed by Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times). “I was (with the White Sox) a lot longer than Key was. He’s not wrong,” Lynn stated.
Chicago has a first-year manager in Pedro Grifol. Hired last offseason after Tony La Russa resigned because of health concerns, Grifol had no previous MLB managerial experience. Middleton’s and Lynn’s comments imply that what they perceived to be a lack of accountability began during the La Russa era and has continued under Grifol’s leadership.
General manager Rick Hahn defended Grifol this afternoon. “It does take a manager a certain amount of time to implement the culture that they want,” Hahn said (link via Bruce Levine of 670 The Score). “I know early on Pedro wanted to observe and follow what the culture was in the clubhouse before he started putting thumbprints all over it.”
However, Hahn pushed back at the extent of Middleton’s criticism, taking a swipe at the reliever in the process. “Quite frankly, it’s a little bit ironic that Keynan’s the one saying this because my last conversation with him face to face was a week ago in this clubhouse where he sought me out to apologize for his unprofessional behavior – unprofessional behavior that Pedro had called him out on and had an individual meeting with him about, and Keenan wanted to apologize for,” Hahn said (link from Tori Rubinstein of NBC Sports Chicago). “I told him at the time I figured that was a one off and not something that anyone need to get into greater detail of. And he shared that he understood there was a trade deadline coming up and that if we moved him, he would be very interested in returning to us as a free agent.”
Hahn conceded the club has unspecified “cultural issues” and admitted “we need to improve the leadership in that room.” However, he denied the assertion that any player fell asleep in the bullpen mid-game or that players were free to skip meetings. “One thing we’re not going to do is stand idly by while false reports are put out there about the character of the men that remain in that room,” Hahn said.
The White Sox host Middleton’s new club for a three-game set this week. They entered tonight’s game with a 45-68 record, the third-worst mark in the American League.