CHICAGO -- The debate as to whether the 2021 season was a success for the White Sox has lived in public forums since Houston eliminated the American League Central champs from the playoffs in four games.
On Friday afternoon, in his first comments since that 10-1 loss to the Astros on Oct. 12 at Guaranteed Rate Field closed out the Division Series, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn presented his take on the topic through pass/fail scope.
“We didn’t win the final game of the postseason,” said Hahn during his 45-minute Zoom session with media members. “If you’re looking for my personal assessment, we didn’t reach the ultimate final goal, so how can we possibly be satisfied?
“With that said, there is a lot of reason for hope and optimism. We like where we are as an organization, the direction this team is going. This is what we worked for, to be in a position on an annual basis to have realistic World Series aspirations. As we sit here on Nov. 5, we can realistically say that.”
That hope and optimism manifested during a 93-69 season that brought the team’s first division crown since ’08. The White Sox reached this lofty point while dealing with a plethora of significant injuries, including left fielder Eloy Jiménez (left pectoral tendon rupture) before the start of the season and center fielder Luis Robert (right hip flexor tear) on May 2.
The season had its share of great moments, ranging from Carlos Rodón’s no-hitter against Cleveland to Tim Anderson’s "stalk-off" home run against the Yankees during the Field of Dreams game in Dyersville, Iowa. It also meant another year of experience -- more important, playoff experience -- for this talented young core.
For the first time in franchise history, the White Sox made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. As Hahn pointed out, you need a number of shots on goal to score once. So making the playoffs regularly marks the first championship step, but it’s certainly not enough for the White Sox.
“Frankly it’s a little shocking it hasn’t happened previously in the franchise’s history,” Hahn said. “Again, this is about winning championships.
“You have to keep getting to the postseason, and, as you see, anything can happen when you get there. It’s not necessarily the team that is strongest on paper or had the most regular-season wins but the one that’s playing the best over the postseason. It was good to get in two years in a row, but we haven’t reached our final goal.”
Hahn said the organization has a general sense budget-wise for the upcoming season but didn’t “necessarily have everything that goes into that from a revenue standpoint yet in terms of those projections.”
“To say there is a hard and fast number at this point would not be entirely accurate,” Hahn continued. “We have a general sense what we would like to do.”
Michael Kopech will be moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation, while All-Star starter Rodón and reliever Ryan Tepera are now free agents, meaning the White Sox could use a pitching boost, as even the top contenders usually require. But it’s important for the White Sox not to overreact to three subpar games in the postseason and try to completely reshape what has worked for them.
Their starting pitching would be an example, with the team’s strong suit in-season surprisingly turning into none of the four completing five innings during the playoffs.
“Our postseason performance was disappointing, frustrating,” Hahn said. “It highlighted certain areas where we need to get better, which were present over the course of the six months. Our division is going to continue to improve, but we like where we sit in terms of, on Nov. 4th or 5th, being in a position to defend this Central crown and get another shot.
“Again, there are areas where we’re going to need to get better. We’re going to address them, hopefully, over the course of the next several months and have the coaches address them over the course of spring and into the summer. It doesn’t change the fact that we have work to do, and those chasing us are getting stronger and we’ve got to try to maintain pace.
“We, obviously, have work to do, not just because of free agency and some of the flaws we saw on the roster over the course of the summer and early fall but because there are ways to get better. I feel very good about where we sit, but that isn’t inconsistent with my position of feeling unsatisfied with how things went last year.”