That was unexpected.
Last week, I opined that the Sox have reached the point where rebuilding is the best option for the team. Hiring a manager to lead along that process would be key -- in other words, no Terry Francona, no Tony La Russa.
The hiring of Robin Ventura, on the surface, certainly appears to be an indication the Sox are going to go young. They won't call it a rebuilding project -- but "going young" is code for that, just as "temporary refund adjustment" is code for "painful emergency tax."
So here's a few thoughts on Ventura, because my mind is still a little too jumbled for transitions:
1. He's not Dave Martinez.
Martinez had been my choice even before Ozzie Guillen left. The hiring of a Joe Maddon disciple, someone who doesn't eschew numbers but embraces them, was an enticing thought.
But Martinez may not have fit well in Chicago, where Kenny Williams isn't exactly a numbers guy. In Boston, though, he'd be a perfect fit -- assuming Theo Epstein stays put -- with an organization that uses advanced statistics more than other franchises.
2. Ventura knows the farm.
Confusion turned to anger pretty quickly with quite a few White Sox fans I know/follow, which is understandable given the names rumored to be out there. Why? They all had previous coaching experience. Ventura does not.
But Ventura was hired as a special assistant to Buddy Bell in June. Thus, he knows the minor league system well, which is a major plus if the Sox look to go young. Maybe his knowledge of the minor league levels will lead to him telling Kenny Williams there isn't much talent there, leading to some aggressive trades to re-stock the system.
3. This may be an unfair situation.
As long as the Sox don't try to kid themselves into expecting division titles, pennants and championships in the next few years, the expectation for Ventura should be that he'll lead some younger players through and hopefully still be around if/when they start producing.
Resisting the urge to can Ventura after a few losing seasons will be something the Sox will have to do. For this hire to work out, they have to stay the course, however rough it may be at times.
If not, it may be Ventura's only foray into managing a major league club, which would be unfortunate for him.
4. The last two managers worked out.
Jerry Manuel and Ozzie Guillen were both successes, even if their tenures came to disappointing ends (for the record, it's rare for a manager to end his time with a team on a positive note). Manuel wasn't necessarily a reach, but Guillen certainly was. While the Sox have made some questionable moves lately, I'm willing to trust Jerry Reinsdorf and Kenny Williams on this move.
5. Calling it a terrible hire is the easy way out.
We have no idea how this will work out, since there's little precedent for someone to land a managerial job at the MLB level without any previous coaching experience. But the Sox have experience on the bench with Harold Baines and Don Cooper, both of whom should serve as valuable lifelines in case Ventura gets in over his head at some point.
What worries me is that next July, a slew of columns will come out deriding the move as the Sox flounder in, say, fourth place. Those will be unfair, especially if they don't examine individual player growth with an eye on the future.
6. Brent Morel, come on down.
The Sox didn't hire Ventura because of his pedigree as a great/undervalued third baseman, but it can't hurt to have him around to help Morel develop both as a fielder and hitter. Morel doesn't have the ceiling Ventura had, but hey, maybe Ventura can work to squeeze every last drop of value out of the incumbent Sox third baseman.
7. Frank Thomas, come on down?
The Big Hurt already told Chuck Garfien he'd be interested in the Sox hitting coach position after Ozzie left, a desire he re-iterated to David Kaplan today on Chicago Tribune Live. I can't speak to the relationship Ventura had with Thomas in their years with the Sox, but there appears to be a clear path for Thomas to succeed Greg Walker as the team's hitting coach.
8. Opening day should be fun.
There's a reason why Nolan Ryan quickly became a trending topic on twitter in Chicago this afternoon, with reference to the picture above in this post. On April 6, Ventura will manage his first MLB game ever against the Texas Rangers...which are owned by Nolan Ryan. The fight jokes will be suffocating, but necessary.