For the second straight year, the White Sox have had their otherwise meaningless closing series punctuated by a poignant tribute to a franchise great facing an uncertain future, due to the failures of the season and the potential future need to cut costs. What an absolutely horrible trend.
That fact took nothing away from one of the best nights of the season. In his last start under contract, Mark Buehrle spun one more gem for the U.S. Cellular faithful; allowing 6 hits and striking out just as many through 7 shutout, walkless innings. The Sox got all the touches right, with interim manager Don Cooper setting it up for Buehrle to walk off to a rousing applause, and Hawk Harrelson showering him with well-earned praise during a post-game interview.
When you think of fitting sendoffs for franchise heroes, a complete-game shutout to win the World Series comes to mind (and if that sounds trite, try to imagine Buehrle throwing a complete game shutout to win a World Series, and pretend like that wouldn't be the greatest thing ever). Still, the sight of Buehrle toiling on a cold, rainy night in front of scattered crowd, provided a humble setting so fitting to his yeoman nature. Like Mark, it lacked flash and visceral thrills, it took a second look to really appreciate.
Now that Guillen is really gone, and the lamentation over such a great run ending so poorly is over, it's easier to view it in brass tacks. And in brass tacks, the White Sox very clearly cleaned up.
They had an unhappy and underperforming veteran manager under contract for another year, after a season where he managed so rigidly and illogically it's still not for certain that he wasn't tanking the franchise out of spite.
They not only removed him, but got out from other his contract and got two half-decent prospects from Florida in return. The Florida Marlins gave the White Sox two minor leaguers and $3 million, just out the goodness of their insane hearts.
It's no knock on Guillen to call this a steal. While plenty of debate rages over what statistics are the best for assessing the value of players, there's nothing even close to that for objectively evaluating managerial performance, or even determining whether managerial skills are a rare commodity. And by rare, I mean rare enough throughout baseball to be relevant in a league with only 30 teams.
The Marlins just traded decent prospects for something that could be effectively limitless in supply. I don't actually believe that it is, and think that Guillen has worth as a manager, but it simply can't compare to that of a player for those reasons.
Not only that, but pitching coach Don Cooper--a coach whose effect can at least be measured in the individual success and performance of players who directly cite his influence--was retained with a multi-year deal. Greg Walker has success stories of his own, but clearly not enough, as it appears that everyone besides Harold Baines is being jettisoned. Especially Joey Cora.
Change is afoot, and every coach who couldn't point to a track record of sustained and glittering success was clearly at risk.
That means no more Camp Cora before Spring Training, but given Gordon Beckham's participation the last two years, there's a circumstantial case to made that Joey's been hosting it on a haunted Indian burial ground.
For those scared witless of losing revered Assistant GM Rick Hahn to outside teams (and why are you in love with any member of the front office right now?), a somewhat far-fetched scenario of Kenny Williams being promoted to another position in the organization while Hahn assumed command seemed ideal, and certainly more realistic than Williams getting fired.
It's not happening, but not because the famously headstrong GM wasn't willing to take a backseat.
"Williams was extremely candid during the sit down, telling us that he had offered to step down as Sox GM on multiple occasions and that he would 'work within the organization if that was what chairman Jerry Reinsdorf felt was best for the franchise.'
However, Reinsdorf has committed to Williams to be the man to fix a team that woefully underachived this season."
Partly because of Guillen and partly because of Williams' own recent absence from the public eye, that's a lot more self-awareness about the failures of 2011 than has been heard from 35th and Shields in a while. For Kenny to offer up his chair shows how frustrating and humiliating this season has been, and paints the picture of a man who notices he's not lapping the market and fleecing colleagues the way he was a few years ago. That said, he just got the Marlins to trade 2 players in exchange for bottled air.
Optimistically, Reinsdorf sees no point in moving Williams because he sees no immediate risk of losing Hahn. More likely given the strength of their relationship, Jerry genuinely trusts Kenny more than anyone else to turn the franchise around from this horrific intersection of mediocrity, stagnancy and payroll exhaustion. Pessimistically, Williams has one more year to clean this slop or else.
Williams' return is not a happy statement for anyone who doesn't like to have to associate the term '3-year cold streak' with the title 'Our General Manager', but if it's any consolation, it's not like another guy would be able to dig out from under most of these deals in 2012 anyway.