Column: Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf only talks about the past despite so many questions about the future

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Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf was discussing Jim Leyland’s National Baseball Hall of Fame selection at the MLB winter meetings Monday when he was asked about his pursuit of Leyland to replace Terry Bevington as manager after the 1996 season.

“It was after 2003,” Reinsdorf replied. “In 1996 or ’97 didn’t I try to bring (Tony) La Russa back?”

Bruce Levine and I confirmed it was Leyland in ’96.

“No after Bevington that was La Russa, when we tried to bring him back,” Reinsdorf said.

“And I don’t want to get into that, but we did try to bring Jim back (in ’03).”

Never get in the way of a good story is my motto.

The Sox wound up hiring Ozzie Guillen in ’03, the only club manager to win a World Series in the last 106 years. Leyland finished his career in Detroit and wound up in Cooperstown where he belongs.

After Reinsdorf finished talking up his old friend he asked: “Is that it?”

I told him there were many questions we had for him. Unfortunately, Reinsdorf had only agreed to talk about one subject, Leyland, so we didn’t get a chance to ask about the state of the non-rebuild; the dumping of Tim Anderson; the departure of broadcaster Jason Benetti or the search for his replacement; the decision to cancel SoxFest again; an update on the investigation of the shooting incident at Guaranteed Rate Field; the possibility of moving from the South Side or any other topic.

It wasn’t surprising Reinsdorf wouldn’t discuss anything Sox fans are remotely interested in, but it was par for the course.

That’s the advice he was given, and avoiding tough questions is a stance he feels is working.

It’s not, of course, but none of Reinsdorf’s inner circle dares tell him the truth.

The Sox are at a crossroads after the disastrous 2023 season, and only an infusion of talent can help them out of this hole.

The White Sox have money to spend this winter after dumping almost half of the ’23 roster since August, but lack any real incentive to spend it.

Reinsdorf, who spent $181 million last year on a 101-loss team, seems willing to browse in the discount rack, knowing it’s going to be difficult to fill his ballpark in 2024.

The obvious reason to spend — to try and win a championship — is not in first-year general manager Chris Getz’s playbook after a significant drop in attendance and a roster lacking any name players aside from Luis Robert Jr..

I asked Getz on Monday if the Sox would be willing to spend on starting pitching, which opens at about $10 million per year for a fifth starter and goes up from there.

“Improving your team sometimes comes at a cost,” he said. “And you weigh different avenues to improving your club, whether that be on the trade market or in free agency. There’s different ways to attack this and certainly I have the support to improve this ballclub.”

Seeing is believing. Reinsdorf has always been reluctant to spend what’s needed on starters, and that philosophy won’t change under Getz.

Rebuild is not in Getz’s vocabulary; he prefers to call it a “retooling.” But inviting offers for Dylan Cease and Eloy Jiménez suggest the target date for winning is not 2024 or maybe even ’25.

Getz’s “spending spree” so far is at $1.75 million, the amount he paid on a one-year deal for shortstop Paul DeJong, who apparently signed with the Sox to avoid taking a minor-league deal elsewhere.

The Sox obviously have financial flexibility. Three of the other four Sox position players with guaranteed contracts — Robert, Jiménez and Yoán Moncada — were all part of former GM Rick Hahn’s plan to tie up his core with long-term, team-friendly deals to avoid paying big money in arbitration.

Only one has worked out.

Moncada was awarded a five-year, $70 million deal in 2020 that quickly became an albatross. Jiménez agreed to a six-year, $43 million deal in 2019 with two club options before he became an injury magnet. Robert’s six-year, $50 million deal with two club options in 2026 and ’27 is the only one that looks like a bargain, with the Gold Glove-winning center fielder earning $12.5 million in ’24 and $15 million in ‘25.

So Getz doesn’t have much to work with. But as Reinsdorf’s hand-picked GM, whom the chairman thought so highly of he didn’t interview anyone else, Getz doesn’t feel the burden to win now.

Getz said he interacts with Sox fans “if someone recognizes me,” which he acknowledged was a “rarity.”

What do they tell him?

“People are excited,” he said. “I’ve gotten really positive feedback, and they might be saying it to my face, but I’ve enjoyed those conversations.

“It’s an opportunity for me to explain the direction of our club. I’ll take the time to do it because it’s worth it.”

Getz seems much more self-deprecating than Hahn and understands criticism is an occupational hazard for a GM.

A sense of humor is also a prerequisite for a Sox executive when you’re dealing with hard-bitten Sox fans, many of whom are skeptical he is the right guy for the job.

Reinsdorf should follow Getz’s example and take the time to explain the direction of his team.

Why? Because it’s worth it, no matter what Reinsdorf’s advisers tell him.


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