White Sox manager Tony La Russa, who has won three World Series, maintains that winning a division title is a more difficult achievement.
But calling 2021 a success isn’t happening, not from La Russa and not from the front office of a team that had talked World Series since spring training.
“I tend to be binary when it comes to these things,” Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Friday, speaking for the first time since the team’s elimination from the postseason by the Astros in the American League Division Series four weeks ago. “It’s pass/fail. We didn’t win the final game of the postseason. So we didn’t meet our ultimate goal. So how can we possibly be satisfied?”
That said, knowing the core of the Sox will be in place for several seasons, it’s somewhat reassuring for Hahn to know that the team should be in the World Series hunt in 2022. He said noted flaws will be assessed and the club will be improved this offseason.
“We like where we are as an organization,” Hahn said. “The direction we’re going, this is what we worked for, to be in a position on an annual basis to have realistic World Series aspirations.”
But there is work to be done, “not just because of free agency and some of the flaws we saw on the roster over the course of the summer and early fall but because there are ways to get better” via free agency or trades, he said.
Second base, right field, backup catcher and the pitching staff — possibly in the rotation and probably in the bullpen with Michael Kopech moving out of the pen, Ryan Tepera becoming a free agent and starter Carlos Rodon headed to free agency — are all areas of potential need.
The Sox’ rotation, the AL’s best for much of the 93-win, AL Central-winning season, flopped against the Astros, who “were better than us for four days, or three of the four,” Hahn said.
“But, look, we got beat in multiple aspects of the game, whether from a run-scoring or run-prevention standpoint [and] defensively, which wasn’t up to par,” Hahn said. “We were not playing championship-caliber baseball over the first week of October, and we paid the price for it. There are lessons to be learned.”
Rodon (2.37 ERA) had the best year of his career in 2021, albeit one dragged down by shoulder issues in the second half, but he lasted 2‰ innings in Game 4 against Houston. His overall body of work, though, was probably good enough to land the All-Star a significant multiyear contract on the free-agent market.
The Sox don’t have to say whether they’ll offer Rodon a qualifying offer until Sunday. They are expected to pick up reliever Craig Kimbrel’s option for 2022 and likely will decline the option on second baseman Cesar Hernandez, two trade-deadline acquisitions that Hahn and most observers believed strengthened the Sox’ grip on a World Series pursuit but did not pan out. Those decisions will be made official Saturday.
“Carlos, as a free agent, there’s only so much I’m allowed to say, but I can certainly praise how fantastic he was for us over the bulk of the season and that it would be great to figure out a way to bring him back in some capacity,” Hahn said.
Rodon, who is represented by agent Scott Boras, “is coming in from a much better position” than a year ago when the Sox gave him a one-year, $3 million deal, Hahn acknowledged.
“We’ll see how the market unfolds,” Hahn said.
And we’ll see what the Sox do in said market, not just with Rodon but beyond.
“We made some improvements [with Hernandez], but there’s still a chance to potentially get better in that regard, too,” Hahn said.