The White Sox are overhauling their front office. The club announced Tuesday evening that both team president Ken Williams and general manager Rick Hahn have been relieved of their responsibilities.
“This is an incredibly difficult decision for me to make because they are both talented individuals with long-term relationships at the White Sox,” said chairman Jerry Reinsdorf in a pre-prepared statement. “Ken is like a son to me, and I will always consider him a member of my family. I want to personally thank Ken and Rick for all they have done for the Chicago White Sox, winning the 2005 World Series and reaching the postseason multiple times during their tenures. … While we have enjoyed successes as an organization and were optimistic headed into the competitive window of this rebuild, this year has proven very disappointing for us all on many levels.
This has led me to the conclusion that the best decision for the organization moving forward is to make a change in our baseball operations leadership.”
As Reinsdorf indicated, both Williams and Hahn were longtime members of the franchise. The former played for the Sox for a few seasons during the 1980s and rejoined the club when he began a scouting career in 1992. By the second half of the decade, he’d worked his way into the front office and took over as general manager headed into the 2001 season.
Williams spent over a decade leading baseball operations. The Sox hovered around .500 for his first few years at the helm before breaking through with a 99-win campaign in ’05, the second year of Ozzie Guillén’s managerial tenure. They won the AL Central and went on a torrid postseason run, dropping just one of 12 games en route to a sweep of the Astros in the Fall Classic.
It was the Sox’s first championship since 1917, snapping an 87-year drought that stands as the second-longest in MLB history. The White Sox didn’t find consistent success following that title, however. They’d make the playoffs once more in ’08 — losing to the Rays in the Division Series — before Williams ceded more control of daily baseball operations to Hahn after the 2012 campaign.
The White Sox promoted Williams to executive vice president while bringing Hahn up as general manager. The latter was no stranger to the organization himself, having spent a decade in the front office prior to his GM nod. The Sox slumped to a 63-win campaign in 2013. Despite the signing of José Abreu to a $68MM deal that immediately paid off when he won Rookie of the Year in his debut campaign the next season, Chicago remained below .500 through 2016.
They firmly kicked off a rebuild during the 2016-17 offseason. Williams and Hahn orchestrated trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton that winter and moved José Quintana the ensuing June. Those deals brought in players like Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo López, Yoán Moncada, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease and Eloy Jiménez to join Abreu, Tim Anderson and international amateur signee Luis Robert as the core of what the club hoped to be a long-term contender.
That group indeed got the Sox back to the playoffs. They qualified for the expanded postseason in 2020 and won 93 games en route to a division title two years ago. Neither team won a playoff round, though, and the organization has stagnated in the year and a half since their division win. Chicago missed the playoffs last season with a .500 record.
The Sox made a bit of an offseason push to try to turn their fortunes last winter, headlined by a $75MM free agent contract for Andrew Benintendi that somewhat remarkably stands as the largest investment in franchise history. Yet the Benintendi signing hasn’t panned out in year one — he’s hitting a slightly below-average .274/.338/.356 in 117 games — and the team as a whole has had a dismal season.
Chicago essentially played their way out of a winnable division within a month, running an 8-21 record through the end of April. The only time they got above .500 was after an Opening Day win. That left the Sox positioned as deadline sellers, moving Giolito, López, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Kendall Graveman, Keynan Middleton and Jake Burger for younger talent. Chicago didn’t fully commit to another teardown — they held onto Cease, Robert and Jiménez — but it nevertheless marked a disappointing admission their prior rebuild hasn’t established the long-term consistency they’d envisioned.
Reinsdorf entrusted Williams and Hahn to oversee their deadline activity but decided to go in a different direction as they look to return to competitiveness. The club’s statement indicated they expect to have a new baseball operations leader in place by the end of the season. There’s no indication they’ll tab anyone to serve as GM on an interim basis, although Bruce Levine of 670 The Score tweets that assistant GMs Chris Getz and Jeremy Haber will retain their positions.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today suggests (on Twitter) that Getz could receive some consideration for the full-time GM job. It’s far too soon to identify any kind of frontrunner and it’s not clear if the White Sox will prioritize an in-house candidate or look outside the organization.
Whomever is tabbed as GM seems likely to work with manager Pedro Grifol; Nightengale tweets that Chicago currently envisions retaining Grifol for a second season. The White Sox hired the former Royals’ catching coach last winter after Tony La Russa stepped down because of health reasons. The start of Grifol’s tenure hasn’t gone particularly smoothly. The club has the third-worst record in the American League at 49-76. Middleton and Lynn took aim at the Sox’s clubhouse culture after being traded elsewhere. Hahn defended Grifol’s leadership at the time, noting that overhauling an organizational culture can take some time.
Grifol and his coaching staff will focus on playing out the final few weeks of the season while Reinsdorf evaluates the franchise’s long-term plan. It’s the biggest front office shakeup for the organization in over two decades, one they hope will set the stage for more sustained success in the coming years.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.