Johnny Cueto made headlines Thursday after he questioned the Chicago White Sox's "fire." Most teams would rally around such comments, but the Sox continued their lethargic play by dropping an extremely winnable game against the Royals.
After losing three of four to a rebuilding Kansas City squad, the White Sox find themselves 3.5 games back of first place in the AL Central. If the South Siders intend to make a push for the playoffs, they'll need to play and operate with a sense of urgency -- the very quality Cueto brought into question. But it's much easier said than done, of course.
Who Is The Leader?
When the Chicago White Sox decided to engage "win-now" mode, many expected the new core to take over the team and the league. An AL Central title last season should have been a building block for sustained success, but instead, the club has stumbled through the 2022 campaign.
In the immediate aftermath of Cueto's comments, the White Sox were only able to offer further introspection instead of action regarding the matter.
"I don’t want to speak for everybody, but sometimes [the fire is] there, sometimes it’s not...We’re all trying, but it’s not about trying. It’s about doing, and you have to have that energy, that passion," Lucas Giolito told Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
One of the only other players to offer a public response was Andrew Vaughn, who is in his second year. The former No. 3-overall draft pick agreed with Cueto's call for urgency.
"I’m not a big rah-rah guy, pretty quiet and soft-spoken. Whatever guys need to get themselves going on the field is great," Vaughn said.
While Vaughn is a big piece of the future, a handful of names paid to play bigger roles must come up with answers. Mind you, Cueto, a guy who was signed of the scrap heap, shouldn't be the one needing to call out such issues in the first place.
The core of Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, and Yasmani Grandal are seemingly nowhere to be found. Grandal did notch a home run in Thursday's contest, but it was too little, too late after the other aforementioned names failed to drive in runs at crucial junctures early in the game.
Just a few weeks back, All-Stars Tim Anderson and Liam Hendriks refuted reports of White Sox clubhouse leadership issues. But the on-field results since then have entailed much of the same stagnation that sparked the topic in the first place.
In response, the White Sox have only "talked the talk" while barely lifting a toe to "walk the walk." The team's core must take accountability on and off the field.
What The Players Can Do?
It all starts with the players. @JayCuda recently shared an insane stat on Twitter highlighting the gravity of the Chicago White Sox's offensive struggles this season. In the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, Jose Abreu had more home runs (19) and RBIs (60) in 60 games than any Sox hitter has through 112 games in 2022.
While Abreu and Luis Robert have performed decently this season, the White Sox desperately need their other core players to start slugging.
Hitting coach Frank Menechino's "Fuck The Home Run" offense doesn't work. Guaranteed Rate Field is one of the smallest parks in the league and should be a haven for a roster that was built for power. But the Sox are somehow worse at home (25-29) than on the road (31-27).
Even if they aren't smacking home runs left and right, the Pale Hose need to start collecting extra-base hits to help bring runners around. To this point, the South Siders have left 3.29 runners in scoring position per game.
What Can The Manager Do?
Tony La Russa is a Hall of Fame manager, but he has not acted like it since returning for a second stint with the Chicago White Sox. If you watch Cardinals games of years past, La Russa was clearly dialed in like a chess wizard. When something went wrong, he showed visible frustration and set his players straight.
His approach has now become overly passive. When the players can't hold themselves accountable, that responsibility falls on the manager. In such instances, La Russa has either done nothing or kept it in the clubhouse, which isn't working. It is time for him to light a fire under his underachieving club.
Additionally, La Russa could put in a word to his good friend Jerry Reinsdorf that Frank Menechino needs to go. Multiple offenses under Menechino's guidance have set records for the wrong reasons.
Menechino previously served as the Miami Marlins' hitting coach from 2014-2018. This year's results only amplify the fact that a poor plate approach of impatience and pounding the ball into the ground comes at the expense run production.
La Russa must come to terms with the fact that one of his coaches is a driving force behind the team's most glaring problem. If he doesn't insist the Sox cut ties with Menechino, he could become the scapegoat himself.
What Can The Front Office Do?
At the end of the day, the White Sox's issues fall back on the man who manifested this situation: Rick Hahn. The Sox general manager has been here from the start, and all of the aforementioned players and coaches are "his guys." Yes, Jerry Reinsdorf probably unfairly impeded Hahn's manager search to bring back an old friend, but results don't care about what's "fair" or not.
As a GM, Hahn should have specific growth expectations for his employees, just like any other business. If they can't hit their projections consistently, they need to be replaced. Since Hahn failed to adequately supplement the roster at the trade deadline, his corrective actions will likely have to be offseason moves.
He could send a shockwave through the clubhouse by trading a star player that is underperforming, such as Yoan Moncada or Eloy Jimenez. Both players are on fair deals and could fetch a decent return of young talent or established players to fill in roster holes. Doing so would signal to the team, "If you underperform, you are gone." And such a drastic move would hopefully cause the rest of the roster to get their shit together. Regardless of the nature of his moves, Hahn must attack the market this offseason.
If the White Sox miss the playoffs this year, Hahn should be on the hot seat in 2023. Then again, the Chicago White Sox organization seems to embody the "mired in mediocrity" status Hahn said he was hoping to avoid upon kicking off the rebuild.