Baseball

Ricky Adds To Sox Spiky

Ok, sorry about that.

It’s been a cantankerous few days on the Southside. I suppose this is where a joke about it always being cantankerous around 35th and Shields would go, and that’s just the Sox Experience, but I’m trying to turn a new leaf here. So we’ll just leave it. A couple days ago you had Rick Hahn making the mistake of thinking Twitter represents all Sox fans and lashing out. And today in the Athletic, Rick Renteria has just about had it with people criticizing his lineup construction.

It’s not hard to see where Renteria’s anger, or insecurity, or frustration boils from. This is his second managerial job, and the first one lasted only one season before he was replaced by Joe Maddon and the Cubs went on to this era. His one season on the Northside was seen merely as a caretaker, someone to smile at Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro to aid their development after having their souls broken by Dale Sveum. And it was generally understood that Renteria would be moved along when things mattered again, which happened much faster than anyone anticipated. It felt like Renteria was never judged on what he could do as a manager, and though his one season didn’t mean much, we never got much of an answer.

The thing is though, both Rizzo and Castro had their best seasons in the majors in 2014, Rizzo’s by far. Now maybe you can chalk that up to just natural maturation and growth, but it would be a stretch to say Renteria didn’t have anything to do with it all. Moreover, Jake Arrieta became a star that campaign, Kyle Hendricks, Jorge Soler, and Javy Baez came up late in that season (though the latter certainly had some issues with the whole whiffing-at-the-world thing), and at least some seeds were planted. We can even throw in Hector Rondon having a great season as a Rule-5 pick, and he would be a valuable piece going forward. It feels like all of this couldn’t have happened in spite of or around the manager, smiling politely the whole way.

So to the Sox, and once again Renteria is being viewed as merely a placeholder or glorified mascot, even in his third year of managing. And for the most part, at least to start, he wasn’t given really anything to work with. You don’t want to look at that 2017 team if you’ve eaten in the last hour or are planning to in the next. Basically, it had one pitcher who was then flipped across town halfway through and not much else.

Still, this season, Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, and Lucas Giolito have all taken major steps forward–along with at least half of a breakout campaign from James McCann–and it’s easy to pass that off as them just being naturally talented and gaining experience. But this seems to keep happening with Renteria around, so either he’s one of the luckiest guys in the world when it comes to young talent or he at least can provide an environment for it to progress and even flourish. There are more than a few managers who couldn’t even figure that one out.

As the article is based around. Renteria gets a lot of shit for his lineup choices, and as it also points out he’s behind a handful of eight-balls when it comes to it. Earlier in the year it was Anderson batting seventh, though now he’s batted second even more. Some would have liked to have seen Eloy moved up, but he hasn’t really done anything yet to merit that. Overall, I’m of the opinion batting order is a touch overblown, but it’s easy to see where hitting third or fourth would add extra pressure to a rookie still trying to navigate the heavy waters of The Show.

Renteria doesn’t have an OBP-heavy leadoff hitter anywhere, which isn’t his fault. It also would seem that Jose Abreu is entrenched in the third spot as organizational policy, so someone has to go cleanup which we’ve come to find out isn’t really where you want your best hitters. In an ideal world where everyone was healthy and producing, your top three would be some combo of Moncada, Jimenez, and Anderson, but it just hasn’t worked out like that for various reasons. Renteria has black holes essentially in center, right, DH, and second base. That’s a lot to navigate around.

Of course, he can’t escape the criticisms of his in-game managing, and there’s way too much bunting and playing for one-run. And while James Fegan here leans to the “having no choice with the talent on hand” button, which is defensible, to me if the season isn’t really about wins and losses (and it isn’t) then you have to establish what you’re going to do going forward. How you’re going to play. Show the kids who will be here that no, we don’t bunt here or we don’t go for moving the runner over, just bash the shit out of the ball and let’s get two or three at once. But at the same time, does it really matter what he decides to do with Yolmer or Cordell at the plate? How much of a tone does that set going forward for Moncada or Jimenez? I’m guessing not much of one.

As for bullpen management, we know Renteria likes to go hard at times, and get the matchups he wants. There is something to be said of showing everyone that you want to get wins, that their hard work should be rewarded at times with the manager doing just as much to get those rewards. Though beyond Aaron Bummer and Jace Fry (maybe Jimmy Cordero), it’s hard to see out of the pen who is going to matter long term. But getting them in as many big spots as you can isn’t the worst idea in the world.

None of this means I or anyone else would expect Renteria to be around when the Sox are contending again, be that next year or probably more likely 2021. Which might be harsh on Rick for a second time, but that’s reality. But it would seem the main crux of his job–moving the players forward who are going to be the driving force for that contending team–he’s done. And he’s done it for a second time.

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