There was cause for Chicago White Sox optimism coming into the 2022 season. In the abbreviated 2020 season, they won at a .583 clip and made the playoffs for the first time since 2008. After the wholly puzzling decision to cut ties with manager Rick Renteria and replace him with long-retired Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, the White Sox in 2021 won the American League Central and notched their most wins in a season since their championship campaign of 2005. While neither the 2020 or 2021 season occasioned much in the way of postseason success, surely the 2022 team -- what with its core still intact -- would give the Sox another chance at making a deep October run.
That, of course, did not happen. With their season winding down, the Sox are under .500 with a negative run differential. That's despite, like all AL Central teams, having played one of the weakest schedules in all of Major League Baseball. With the South Siders very likely to be eliminated from playoff contention soon, it's time to examine what went wrong and what they need to do to rebound in 2023.
What went wrong
In a sense, all else flows from the fact that the White Sox endured more than their share of injuries in 2022. A partial listing of the Sox's core contributors coming into the season would include the names -- deep breath -- Eloy Jimenez, Lance Lynn, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Luis Robert, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Liam Hendriks, and Joe Kelly. Not only did all of those players land on the injured list at various points this season, but they also racked up a combined total of almost 500 days on the IL. Given that Kopech, Anderson, and Robert are presently on the IL, that total will likely surpass 500 days. In addition to Kelly and Hendriks noted above, the bullpen also dealt with significant injuries to Garret Crochet (hasn't pitched all season because of Tommy John surgery in early April), Aaron Bummer, and Kyle Crick.
It speaks volumes that 36-year-old Johnny Cueto, who didn't make his first start until the middle of May after going unsigned over the offseason, is presently third on the team in WAR. All that star power lost to injury had much to with the fact that they ranked 22nd in the majors in home runs (despite playing in a power-friendly home ballpark) and 18th in bullpen ERA.
Elsewhere the Sox had a fairly weak team defense. In terms of Defensive Efficiency, which is the percentage of balls in play that a defense converts into outs (sort of the entire point of the defensive enterprise), the Sox this season rank 21st. They got inadequate production from second base and center field, their roster-wide lack of depth got exposed, and the addition of A.J. Pollock was a half-measure at best. GM Rick Hahn's curiously quiet deadline also didn't help matters. Finally, going 7-12 against the Cleveland Guardians effectively buried them in the division race.
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What needs to happen
First and most obviously, it's time to move on from La Russa. His health issues won't permit him to return this season, but he's under contract for 2023. He shouldn't be back. La Russa is a deserving Hall of Famer, but he's no longer a competent manager at this level. That was painfully evident at multiple junctures this season, and the players knew it all too well. From a managerial standpoint, baseball is not really a tactically involved sport, which means the most fundamental duty of a manager is "first, do no harm." La Russa failed to satisfy that standard.
Beyond that, the Sox must hope for better health, at least among their frontline performers. They also need to find an upgrade at second base, and if Pollock exercises his player option for 2023 then he needs to be no more than the light half of a platoon in an outfield corner (pairing him with prospect Oscar Colás is a defensible approach if the Sox are unwilling to spend to address the situation). While José Abreu's power decline is concerning -- especially given that he's 35 years of age -- he's still been quite productive overall. Throw in his popularity and excellent leadership chops, and it's worth working out an extension to bring him back in 2023 (and perhaps beyond).
In large measure, this amounts to "running it back," but that's a justifiable approach in light of how much injuries had to do with the Sox's 2022 faceplant. While the Guardians proved to be pretty easily the best team in the division, the AL Central will still profile as a winnable loop in 2023. Generally speaking, the Sox should give this core another shot in 2023, and if that doesn't bear fruit then it's time to start thinking seriously about changes to the front office and player-development apparatus.