The White Sox are close to naming a bench coach, with one major league source saying former Cubs manager Rick Renteria could be announced as manager Robin Ventura’s right-hand man in the next day or two as the general managers meetings get under way in Boca Raton, Fla.
Renteria, who managed the Cubs in 2014 only to be let go when Joe Maddon became available a year ago, was as recently as last week thought to be going with Bud Black to the Washington Nationals. But when Black did not accept the Nationals offer to manage the club, Renteria – who had worked under Black as a bench coach with the San Diego Padres from 2011-13 — was back in the picture for the Sox.
After a big offseason splash last year resulted in a disappointing 76-86 season, indications are the Sox won’t spend big again this winter, making the trade route the likely method of choice for general manager Rick Hahn to improve the club. It’s possible the hiring of a former Cubs manager turns out to be the most flamboyant move the Sox make.
“We’re optimistic about havng an announcemnt this week, fillng out Robin’s staff,” Hahn said Monday as he arrived at the General Managers meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.
Hahn has plenty of work to do with room to improve in many areas, though, including power and on-base percentage in general and third base, shortstop, designated hitter, outfield and catcher more specifically. The Sox were also a poor defensive team in 2015.
With chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s and vice president Ken Williams’ blessings, Hahn last year jumped on an opportunity to quickly beef up a roster around Chris Sale and Jose Abreu and appeared to deviate from his stated goal of building up a young core for sustained success by committing $128 million in multiyear deals to veteran free agents David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke.
That kind of free spending isn’t likely to happen again this year.
“Free agency obviously serves a purpose for putting complementary or finishing pieces onto a club,’’ Hahn said on 670-AM Saturday. “Last year we were obviously quite aggressive in the free-agent market and things didn’t pan out the way we anticipated.
“While I expect we’re still going to be in contact with free agents, it’s going to have to be the right fit that will be a difference maker for us to dabble in those waters yet again. Ideally you’re adding younger talent that you can control for a longer period of time that you can grow and be part of a sustainable core.’’
The Cubs were in rebuilding mode when they finished 73-89 under Renteria, 53, in 2014. Renteria, who speaks fluent Spanish and was said to work well with the Cubs’ young players, is expected to work well with the Sox’ assortment of developing position players such as Carlos Sanchez, Micah Johnson, Tyler Saladino, Avisail Garcia and Trayce Thompson as well as slugger Jose Abreu, whose English is limited. Having major league managerial experience was not a stated necessity but viewed as “a positive” by Hahn when Mark Parent was let go as bench coach at the end of the season.
“There’s a few areas where we need to get stronger, and I feel that was missing in certain areas from our coaching staff,’’ Hahn said on Oct. 2. “Someone who can help from certain in-game tactical decisions in a different way with strengths in some different areas.’’
Hahn, meanwhile, has already laid groundwork with other GMs for possible trades and will follow up with face-to-face meetings beginning Monday. The GM gathering is where the Jeff Samardzija trade talks picked up steam a year ago, and that deal was finalized at the winter meetings in December.
“We have a general game plan of what we want to accomplish; now it’s a matter of seeing how realistic acquiring some of the higher priority players are and adjusting on the fly as you need to do every offseason should some of those avenues be closed off,’’ Hahn said.