CHICAGO | Reading tea leaves is a necessary skill tracking White Sox management in crisis.
The team is 15 under .500 with three full months to go. The Cleveland Indians swept the Sox four in a row Sunday on the South Side for the first time since Aug. 1948, the days of Harvey’s Lou Boudreau, Bob Feller, Larry Doby and Satchel Paige. The Sox have lost 23 of their last 31 games.
“Our focus is on turning this around and heading in the right direction,”said Chris Sale, Sunday’s loser, who went 0-5 with a 3.19 ERA in June.
Sox general manager Rick Hahn said the same thing hours earlier. But the hole is too big and the bad performances too ingrained to mount a realistic comeback. So the tea-leaf acumen is required to decipher the story behind Hahn’s statements:
”… 25 guys in that clubhouse, and it would be disrespectful for me to come out here and respond to rumors and speculation and say this player’s going to be traded, that player is not going to be traded.”
Translated: Robin Ventura already has suggested players whose names have been linked to trades might be at least subconsciously affected. Each loss makes clubhouse chemistry more fragile, and Hahn can’t afford to lose any player mentally he’s considering dealing.
”It’s a pretty healthy pace (of incoming trade calls) right now and has been for the past few weeks. That’s part of the reason you’re seeing the rumors out there, some more accurate than others. But I think the more different parties and different clubs are involved in having trade talks, the more likely it is that some information will leak out there.”
Translated: Fellow GMs know with sagging attendance, the Sox will need to cut payroll and move players. Individually, players like Jesse Crain, Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez are attractive to contenders. With all that activity percolating, agents and scouts – the top traffickers of information – are squawking earlier than ever.
”I’m not going to say publicly if we’re ‘X’ games back on this date (for being a seller or buyer). It’s going to be how we’re playing, what the schedule looks like, the likelihood we could climb back into this thing weighed against offers on the table.”
Translated: Hahn can’t say he’s pulling the plug this early. No GM really can. But he has to do his due diligence and set up the framework for eventual trades. Some take weeks to complete.
”I do think unfortunately you get to the point where guys start pressing a little bit, mistakes (errors) start snowballing. We play so many close games. I think the feeling is the margin of error is so small and that increases the pressure on guys. We need a couple of 10-run blowouts to let guys exhale and get going.”
Translated: The errant players perhaps need a happier home on a contender where they’re often playing with a multiple-run lead and also could bat lower in the lineup.
We can surmise within three weeks, Hahn will be back in the dugout with specific news of trades. Let the bargaining begin in earnest.