White Sox Notes: La Russa, Mendick, Anderson, Hendriks

The White Sox shocked most onlookers when they hired Tony La Russa as manager over the 2020-21 offseason, bringing aboard the three-time World Series champion a decade after the end of his previous managerial stint in St. Louis. Chicago didn’t announce specific terms of La Russa’s contract at the time, calling it only a “multi-year deal.” Jon Heyman of the New York Post added some specifics this week, reporting that the 77-year-old is under contract for 2023 and makes $3.75MM in annual salary.

La Russa is one of the most accomplished managers in MLB history, but he’s also been the subject of some controversy since taking the position. A four-time Manager of the Year award winner and a Hall of Famer, he oversaw a 93-win club that claimed the American League Central title during his first season at the helm. However, this year’s team has stumbled to a disappointing 30-31 start that has them third in the division. Like any manager, La Russa certainly isn’t entirely to blame for the team’s successes or failures, but he’s come under renewed scrutiny from outside observers after a controversial in-game decision last week.

Trailing by two runs in the sixth inning of last Thursday’s contest against the Dodgers, La Russa intentionally walked Trea Turner on a 1-2 count. The decision was meant to enable left-handed reliever Bennett Sousa to face the lefty-hitting Max Muncy, but it was a bizarre call considering Sousa has already worked himself into an advantage count over the right-handed Turner. The perplexing decision was made to look all the worse after Muncy launched a three-run homer to essentially put the game away.

One strategic lapse isn’t going to torpedo La Russa’s job security, particularly in light of the manager’s close relationship with owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The resoundingly-panned move was, however, the latest chapter in what has thus far been an underwhelming 2022 showing on the South Side. There’s still time to turn things around, of course. Chicago just completed a sweep over the Tigers to get within two and a half games of the final Wild Card spot and four and a half behind the division-leading Twins.

As part of that effort, they’ll need dramatically better performance from a few spots on the diamond. The Sox have received bottom five offensive production at both second and third base this year, by measure of wRC+. Leury García and Josh Harrison have both struggled mightily as a platoon at the former position, while Yoan Moncada went a month without a home run before snapping that streak as part of a five-hit day this afternoon. It’s hard to envision the Sox replacing Moncada given his pre-2022 track record, but there’s perhaps room for a shakeup at the keystone.

Utilityman Danny Mendick has hit .288/.337/.475 through his first 26 games of the season, far superior numbers to those of Harrison or García. Mendick has played shortstop recently with Tim Anderson on the injured list, but the latter kicked off a rehab assignment with Triple-A Charlotte yesterday and is likely to return to the MLB lineup fairly soon. James Fegan of the Athletic wrote this morning the Sox could kick Mendick over to second base upon Anderson’s return if they want to keep him in the lineup.

Anderson is one of three regulars on the shelf, as the club is also without left fielder Eloy Jiménez and catcher Yasmani Grandal. Chicago  has also placed high-leverage relievers Aaron Bummer and Liam Hendriks on the injured list in recent days, with the latter hitting the IL yesterday with an ominous-sounding flexor strain in his forearm. General manager Rick Hahn suggested the preliminary timetable for Hendriks’ recovery was three weeks, and the two-time All-Star downplayed any additional worries.

Speaking with reporters (including Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times) this morning, Hendriks said he’s “not concerned with (the strain) long term at all.” He admitted he’s pitched through a tear in the UCL in his elbow for over a decade but stated the forearm strain hasn’t done any further damage to the ligament. Signed to a $54MM guarantee over the 2020-21 offseason, the righty has an excellent 2.61 ERA across 96 2/3 innings with 54 saves in a ChiSox uniform.

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