Tony La Russa Announced as White Sox Manager After Rick Renteria Firing

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistOctober 29, 2020

Former Oakland Athletics player Rickey Henderson, left, walks with former manager Tony La Russa before a baseball game between the Athletics and the San Francisco Giants in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

The Chicago White Sox have agreed to a deal with Tony La Russa to make him their next manager, they announced Thursday.

This move doesn't come as a total surprise because USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported Oct. 12 that La Russa was a possible candidate for the White Sox. That the team followed through and brought him aboard is unexpected nonetheless.

The Hall of Famer is a three-time World Series winner, and his 2,728 victories are the third-most in MLB history. Still, he turned 76 in October and hasn't managed an MLB game since 2011.

Any time a coach has been out of the sport for nearly a decade, questions arise about whether he can adapt to current strategic trends. La Russa's approach to the bullpen was ahead of its time, but he hasn't always been a fan of the advanced metrics that some teams are using to mold their in-game approaches. 

The White Sox returned to the postseason for the first time since 2008. Playoff expansion widened the field, but Chicago's 35 wins would've been enough to at least qualify for the wild card under the traditional format.

That still wasn't enough to save Rick Renteria's job, though. For the second time, he was the recipient of what was arguably an undeserved firing from a Chicago franchise.

When the Chicago Cubs moved on from Renteria, they did so explicitly because Joe Maddon had become available. The White Sox, on the other hand, didn't appear to have a clear candidate in mind as their replacement.

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Despite the lack of recent success, this was an attractive opening.

The road through the AL Central might be even easier to navigate in 2021. The Minnesota Twins aren't likely taking a step back, but the Cleveland Indians might be if they trade Francisco Lindor. The Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers, meanwhile, are probably still a year or more away from contention as well.

In addition, the White Sox are starting to see the tangible returns of the rebuilding plan they began in the 2016 offseason.

Eloy Jimenez had a .296/.332/.559 slash line along with 14 home runs and 41 RBI in 55 games. Luis Robert's .738 OPS wasn't great, but he still hit 11 homers while showing the speed (nine stolen bases) and defense that round out his game. 

On the pitching side, Garrett Crochet and Dane Dunning made their MLB debuts. The latter posted a 3.99 FIP in 34 innings, per Baseball Reference, and the former was hitting triple digits on the radar gun in his brief cameo.

Ownership has shown a willingness to invest in ready-made talent, too.

The White Sox were unable to land Manny Machado, but their pursuit of the starting third baseman was a sign of intent. Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion and Dallas Keuchel arrived during the 2020 offseason to show how the front office was starting to aim higher.

Historically, the Chicago Cubs have overshadowed their neighbors to the south, if at times just in general attention. The gulf widened during a Cubs run that included a World Series title and two National League Championship Series appearances in the mid-2010s.

Now, the franchises appear to be heading in opposite directions, assuming Cubs ownership reins in its spending. As Ozzie Guillen briefly did during the mid-to-late 2000s, perhaps La Russa can help upend what has been Chicago's traditional baseball dynamic.