Ozzie Guillen's most glaring weakness as a manager has been letting players know that they had no future with the club.
The White Sox skipper has often tiptoed out of his office during cut-down days, leaving it to general manager Ken Williams or assistant GM Rick Hahn to play the turk.
Over the last four days, there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Guillen had to make the final decision on veteran slugger Jim Thome, and on Monday he finally did.
The Thome chapter is over on the South Side.
"It came down to getting enough at-bats,'' Guillen explained. "I don't want a season where Jim sits three or four days in-a-row and the media comes up to him and asks, 'You're not playing ... '' This thing will become a soap opera. It's about at-bats.
"I talked to Jim [Sunday] and I made everything clear, how he would have to work with the ballclub. I wouldn't get that many at-bats for the ballclub. Play once a week, twice a week. I don't think it was fair for him. I have too much respect for the man. It was not an easy decision. Every decision is harder than another, but that one was not easy. I wanted to let him know in case he had something else with someone else.''
That he does.
The Sun-Times learned that Thome's representatives had already spoken with Minnesota, while Detroit and Tampa Bay are also possibilities for the soon-to-be 40-year-old free agent.
"[Thome] was cool with it,'' Guillen said. "He told me straight up how he felt. The reason we are doing this whole thing is because of the person we're talking about. The way we feel about him and the special guy he is. Anyone else we would have just let him go like we always do. We care for each other and we wish the best for him.''
Although Guillen did say that if Thome were to be out there still come spring training and the current plan of DH-by-committee wasn't working, well, bringing him back would be revisited.
"We might see in spring training that we're missing a piece and go get him,'' Guillen said. "But hopefully Jim is not waiting that long. Hopefully Jim has found a job.''
Without Thome, it's still a mix of Andruw Jones, Mark Kotsay and Omar Vizquel rotating in and out, and then Carlos Quentin and Paul Konerko getting time there when they need a breather.
"It's weird because since I've been the manager we've always had the big boys in the middle,'' Guillen said. "We have a little different philosophy. I'm very, very optimistic. I don't want to say I've put my job on the line, but I've been telling Kenny for three weeks that I like what I have.''
As far as where this decision ranked for Guillen? Well, no comparison.
"He's a friend, there's a respect thing, and as far as feeling bad, no doubt [it was the toughest],'' he added. "Little by little you learn about this job and find out you have to do something you don't want to do.''
January 2010 Archives
Ozzie Guillen's most glaring weakness as a manager has been letting players know that they had no future with the club.
Well Ozzie, it's your move.
That was the message from White Sox general manager Ken Williams on Saturday, as the team continued to debate amongst themselves whether or not Jim Thome should be brought back into the mix and off the free-agent market.
The Sun-Times reported on Friday that Thome had jumped back into the mix, despite manager Ozzie Guillen comfortable with the idea of designated-hitter-by-committee entering camp next month.
Williams seemed in favor of bringing back Thome, as well, but didn't want to step on his skipper's toes, either.
"I'm resigned to the feeling that Ozzie is sold on wanting to do it this way,'' Williams did say Friday night. "Is it a little different for me not to have that left-handed power guy in the middle of the lineup? Yeah.''
In a town-hall type meeting with Sox fans on Saturday morning, however, Williams wasted little time letting everyone know who had the final say on Thome back on the South Side.
"No, not really,'' Guillen said, when asked if the pressure was now on him. "That's the reason I manage the ballclub. We've talked about it, we're still thinking about it, if Thome is the right fit for the ballclub or what we should do. When it's time to make this decision ... I said a couple days ago, sometimes when you think with your heart you make the wrong decision. In baseball, unfortunately, you have to think with your brains.
"I have to see what's best for the ballclub. The next couple of days, I'm going to look around, and if Jim Thome fits in the ballclub then I will make the decision. It's not any pressure at all. This is my job.''
To be fair to his players, as well as Thome, Guillen said he wanted to make the decision before he left SoxFest on Sunday to head back to Miami.
Adding to the drama is the fact that the Minnesota Twins also have interest in adding Thome.
"That's not going to be fair for Jimmy,'' Guillen said about dragging this on. "We don't care about us. We don't want to do, 'wait, wait, wait, OK all of a sudden we need you, come in.' If we're going to make that decision then we should make that decision before I leave for Miami [on Sunday].''
Thome, who will turn 40 this season, hit .249 with 23 homers and 74 RBI last season for the Sox, before they traded him to Los Angeles.
If Guillen does decide to bring him back it would have to be with the understanding that he would be another piece in the DH puzzle - not the everyday DH - and Guillen would have to be comfortable with the idea of carrying 11 pitchers and not 12.
"The only reason I'm thinking about this and the conversation with Jimmy is I don't know how many at-bats I'm going to get him,'' Guillen added. "It's not fair to Jim Thome and the ballclub to play with that. I'm not going to lie to Jimmy and say, 'We're going to bring you, you can play every day,' then all of a sudden I change my mind.
"I want to walk into the clubhouse with my head up. I don't want to walk into the clubhouse and try to avoid Jimmy because he's not playing. I have to make it clear about the situation on both sides, not just him. I said a couple days ago, I wish I hated this guy. I wish I can say to Kenny, 'I don't want to have him in my brain, I don't want to talk about him.' But this guy is so special to us, that's why we're still talking about bringing him back.''
The White Sox and Twins are already in a battle, and pitchers and catchers are still a month away from reporting to spring training.
A source close to the Jim Thome camp told the Sun-Times on Friday that the Sox are now rethinking the idea of life without the veteran slugger, despite the wishes of manager Ozzie Guillen to try the designated-hitter by committee.
"It's 50-50 now, which couldn't be said [Thursday],'' the source said, referring to the chances of Thome re-signing. "Jim is just waiting to hear.''
Even Guillen all but confirmed that, after insisting on Thursday, "I think we're going in a different direction, but the right direction'' when talking about Thome. During a town-hall meeting session with fans on the first day of SoxFest, Guillen then had to backtrack a bit, saying he thought it was settled on, but then general manager Ken Williams wanted to "have another two-hour talk'' about it.
It seems that Williams and board chairman Jerry Reinsdorf might want to bring Thome back on the cheap, not to be a full-time DH, but more of a safety net that is in that DH by-committee mix.
It's obvious what the players want, as well.
"I'm a little bit biased, but I still think you put a bat in his hand he's still a dangerous human being,'' team captain Paul Konerko said of Thome. "He's going to help somebody. He and Jermaine [Dye], you look at their numbers, both of them were productive compared to what other guys did in this league. It's not like you're begging anybody to let those guys still play.
"Most players here, we're biased. If you told us that Jim is coming on this team and won't get a hit all year we would still say, 'sign him,' because we love him so much. He's like a [Juan] Uribe ... well, not really but, same type of thing, he's a guy you just want around.''
Williams met with the members of the media privately later on Friday evening, and even produced a list he was keeping in his back pocket of left-handed hitters with some pop who are still available. Thome was obviously on that list.
In talking about it, it was almost like Williams was still self-debating the idea.
The problem is that the Sox might not want to drag their feet too long, as the Twins are also interested in Thome's services.
The source said that the Sox top Thome's list of teams he wants to play for, but he does have interest in Minnesota.
"I'm resigned to the feeling that Ozzie is sold on wanting to do it this way,'' Williams did say. "Is it a little different for me not to have that left-handed power guy in the middle of the lineup? Yeah. But when I hear [Guillen's] plan and how he plans to match up, whether it's power right-handers or soft-tossing right-handers, soft-throwing left-handers, whatever, or giving [Juan] Pierre some time off and fitting [Andruw] Jones out there. Or giving Pierre a day off to DH and [Omar] Vizquel getting in the lineup. ... get Paulie off his feet...there are a lot of different things he's talk to me about and it's interesting to me. Not far off from what the Angels have done the last few years.''
Third week of January and Ozzie Guillen was already in midseason form.
Some things never change.
On the eve of the annual SoxFest weekend, the say-anything White Sox manager addressed the perception of a cold war between he and closer Bobby Jenks, life without a true designated hitter, expected fan reaction over the next three days and outfielder Alex Rios electing to skip out of the weekend festivities.
And yes, he even dropped an F-bomb here and there.
The one topic that put Guillen on the defensive was the notion that this team is still missing something - specifically a DH - even with veteran Jim Thome still out there in free agency.
"Some of the fans are excited about this team and the moves we made,'' Guillen said. "It is different for everyone. But everyone should be happy because I know I am. This is the first time I can remember where we are set at almost every position before camp even starts. In the past we had to choose between, 'do we want this guy or that guy?' I think [general manager] Kenny [Williams] and [assistant GM] Rick Hahn did a tremendous job. I don't see why a fan can be upset, but that's why they are fans.
"I will say this about our DH - whoever is the DH will be in the [bleeping] lineup.''
As it stands right now, Mark Kotsay and Andruw Jones are the most logical candidates, but Guillen will also use Omar Vizquel, Carlos Quentin and Paul Konerko in that spot, allowing him to play with the lineup in certain matchups as well as get guys rested without taking their bat out of the lineup.
As for Thome, Guillen said there is no bigger fan of the veteran than him, but life in the American League is changing.
"No one except his wife is a bigger fan of Jim Thome than me,'' Guillen said. "I will be grateful and pleased one day to say that I had an opportunity to manage this man, but this game is changing a little bit. It's easy for manager when you don't have a true DH. I can move things around, give guys more playing time. That's the way it's going to be.
"Fans out there will be looking at this team a little different. They might be saying, 'Hey, we're missing something.' I think we're going in a different direction, but the right direction. Our team is going to create different things. That's why things will look weird. People shouldn't be worried about that. Thome to me is one of the best guys ever to wear the uniform, but DH is changing. Few teams will have a legit DH. Those days are going away.''
The story that won't go away is the idea that there are lingering hard feelings between Guillen and Jenks.
Jenks didn't like some of the comments made about his conditioning at the end of last season and told the Sun-Times in November, "I felt I was the easy scapegoat because I had struggled in the end with some nagging injuries. This organization, just like most in this game, tell you, 'Come in, our door is open and tell us what's on your mind,' and when you do they turn it around on you and make you feel bad. They're playing on your own words. They want you to come in, be honest and then they turn it around.''
The two have not spoken the entire offseason, and Guillen said it's not his job to seek Jenks out this weekend for a sit-down.
"To be honest I'm still surprised Bobby made those comments,'' Guillen said. "Bobby knows how I feel about him. I saw what Kenny said [on it being a non-issue], but I'm surprised that [Jenks] said he doesn't talk to anyone. The thing about this organization is we tell people the truth. Sometimes they don't want to hear that.
"I don't have to talk to Bobby. All I have to do is shake his hand when he saves the game. I will always have a friendship. He knows how I feel about him and his family. If he wants to talk to me my door is never closed. We can talk as a friend, we can talk as a manager and player.''
Finally, Guillen did admit that he wasn't thrilled that Rios is skipping out of this year's SoxFest, but understood why.
"I was very pleased that Alex flew to Miami [last week] and worked [with Greg Walker] those three days ... actually I was shocked he showed up there,'' Guillen said. "Everybody has their own way. This guy is a very shy kid. He wants to come to the field and play the game. Every player has right to do what they want to do, but yes, I wish he was coming. That was a little disappointing.''