Breaking Down the White Sox Coaching Staff and the Organization’s Power Dynamic
The White Sox have made some exciting coaching hires over the last week. But what exactly does it tell us about the power dynamic among the front office?
The updates on how the White Sox would fill out the coaching staff were a slow drip, and it has been something of an afterthought given the recently discovered transgressions of the managerial hire.
Now that we have a clear picture of the makeup of the staff, we can analyze what each hire says about the direction the organization wants to take, the impact expected from each hire, and ultimately the power dynamic at the top of the organization.
This was the first hire we got wind of and it was undoubtedly the most exciting. Katz is most commonly known by White Sox fans as Lucas Giolito’s high school pitching coach at Harvard-Westlake High School, where he also groomed current major league aces, Max Fried and Jack Flaherty. Katz is also the coach Giolito credits for overhauling his delivery during the 2018-19 offseason and reversing the course of his career.
But to only view Katz through this prism would ignore the already very impressive accomplishments and meteoric rise he has enjoyed at the major league level. He moved from high school to pro baseball in 2013 when he landed a job in the Angels organization. Katz then moved on to the Seattle Mariners organization in 2016 to serve in a similar capacity, earning a minor league coach of the year award in the process.
In 2019, Katz was promoted to minor league assistant pitching coordinator with the San Francisco Giants before Gabe Kapler brought him onto his staff full-time as a major league assistant pitching coach in 2020.
Katz is known for incorporating analytics into his philosophies while also being an outstanding communicator. The pitchers he has worked with praise his knowledge as well as his ability to adapt to each individual player, giving different exercises to each pitcher in order to maximize their individual abilities.
Kevin Gausman can certainly attest to Katz’s coaching prowess. Gausman was a talented former fourth overall pick by the Orioles who had seen his career flounder in Baltimore before making brief stops in Atlanta and Cincinnati. Linking up with Katz and the Giants in 2020 turned his career around to the tune of a 3.62 ERA and encouraging peripheral statistics.
This resulted in the Giants offering Gausman the $18.9 million qualifying offer that Gausman accepted, with talks of a longer-term deal still in process. This was truly an unthinkable outcome just a season ago when the Giants acquired Gausman for one season at just $9 million.
Gausman regularly praised the work he did with Katz, so it is fair to get excited thinking about the impact Katz can have on young White Sox hurlers like Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, and potentially even Reynaldo Lopez, among the many other talented arms the White Sox boast throughout the organization. If he can make any of these names as wealthy as he has made Gausman, this hire will be a huge success.
Perhaps the best part of this hire is that it shows Rick Hahn still has some say in the direction of the ship. Katz is just 37, literally less than half the age of Tony La Russa, and has no public ties to the manager. After admitting that the managerial hiring process did not go according to his plan, this is a move that fits much more clearly into Rick Hahn’s plans for the team. That should be a huge sigh of relief for White Sox fans.
The gaps between the clubhouse and La Russa are obvious and have been well documented. A vital piece of the White Sox coaching staff will be someone who can serve as a bridge to those gaps. This could mean helping the players understand why La Russa wants something done a certain way, or it could mean helping La Russa understand the players’ mindset. Miguel Cairo is this bridge personified.
Cairo spent 17 years as a utility man in the big leagues with nine different teams, including two separate stints with both the Cubs and the La Russa-led Cardinals. Upon retirement, Cairo spent five seasons as a special assistant to general manager Walt Jocketty in Cincinnati (Jocketty also happened to be La Russa’s GM in St. Louis). Cairo moved to the Yankees organization as a player development and minor league infield coordinator for the past three seasons.
While it might appear Cairo is relatively fresh to coaching, Jocketty explains that Cairo was regularly with the Reds big-league team in his unique position there and played a significant role in coaching their infielders. In an interview with James Fegan of The Athletic, Jocketty also says he always believed Cairo had a future in coaching due to his high level of preparation to play any one of six positions on a given day.
Jocketty further notes that Cairo’s level of question-asking and understanding was always apparent. Beyond that, his energy level and ability to connect with younger, especially Latino players is extremely important for a White Sox roster filled with players of that profile.
If Ethan Katz is viewed as a Rick Hahn hire, it is difficult to peg exactly whose call hiring Miguel Cairo was, and that is a good thing. Cairo certainly fits the description that we would expect Rick Hahn to be looking for; outside of the organization, coming from a successful organization, younger, and able to relate to the players.
But he also fits what Tony La Russa is likely looking for in a bench coach. Cairo understands how La Russa works in terms of his preparation and thought processes. La Russa has also publicly stated his admiration for Cairo as a player over the course of his career. So the fact that Cairo seems to connect a lot of the divides among the White Sox circle of power is a positive moving forward.
Cairo can also be viewed as a manager-in-waiting given his background. And for a talented team with a 76-year-old manager, that is hugely important.
It was reported that Frank Menechino, Daryl Boston, and Curt Hasler are returning in their roles as hitting coach, first base coach, and bullpen/assistant pitching coach, respectively. These decisions are not surprises.
Menechino is the choice of most consequence and he seemed more than up to the challenge in his first season as the major-league hitting instructor last season. Many of the players rave about his instruction, and Tim Anderson can regularly be seen pointing to Menechino after a base hit followed by the camera panning to a tip of the cap from Menechino on the bench.
Keeping some level of continuity among the staff is also significant for a club that had clearly built a successful culture and went to the playoffs last season. Boston also played for La Russa with the White Sox, so while he is not quite viewed as the La Russa whisperer that Cairo could be, he can serve as another bridge between the manager and players.
The third base coach position is the last major question mark among the coaching staff, as Nick Capra was let go.
As far as takeaways, White Sox fans can take solace in the fact that Rick Hahn still appears to be the driving force behind these moves. None of these hires can be seen as something that only La Russa wanted and had to put his foot down to make happen. So, while Hahn was undercut on the managerial hire, Jerry Reinsdorf is letting Rick Hahn do his job here, and that is for the best. Let’s just hope it stays that way.