CHICAGO – As their win total plummeted last season, one thing remained steady for the White Sox – their faith in Robin Ventura.
The Sox rewarded their manager with a multi-year contract extension Friday, announcing the move hours before their annual fan convention opened.
The terms were not disclosed.
The extension comes after the White Sox dropped from second in the AL Central in Ventura's first season to last with 99 losses in his second year.
"You lose 99 games, there are going to be questions like that, about where this organization's headed and why they think the people in charge are the right people to get them through their end goal," general manager Rick Hahn said. "I would say we saw in 2012 and 2013 two extremes in terms of being a first-place club and being a club that was a disappointed in terms of performance. Throughout each of those extremes, Robin's leadership was unwavering."
Ventura's contract was set to expire after this year. He turned down an extension before the 2013 season, leading to speculation that he might not want to stick around much longer, but he insisted that wasn't the case. He wanted to give Hahn — then in his first season as GM — a chance to work with him before making a long-term commitment.
"I just felt it was important for Rick to have a full year of doing the job, us working together," Ventura said. "Then, you have the ability and freedom to decide if I'm the right guy for the job. Nothing really changed in my mind of where I want to be and what I want to do. It's just more of it being his first time going through, I just wanted to make sure he had the ability and the freedom to do that. Now with the way last year went, the offseason, a lot of communication, a lot of talks of where we're headed, how we're going to do it — I'm excited to just keep going."
Hahn, who got bumped up from assistant GM in October 2012 to replace the promoted Ken Williams, called it a selfless act by Ventura.
"(It) allowed me the latitude to get comfortable," Hahn said. "It speaks to what kind of good man he is and actually makes a decision like this all the easier because of it."
A former All-Star third baseman, Ventura had never managed at any level when he replaced Ozzie Guillen. And the results his first season were promising.
The White Sox led the Central for much of 2012 before finishing second to Detroit with 85 wins, but there was a huge drop-off last year. Chicago wound up last in the division at 63-99, giving Ventura a 148-176 mark in two seasons.
The White Sox hit just .249 as a team and their home run total dropped from third in the majors at 211 to 19th at 148. With little speed, there was no way to make up for the drop in power, and compounding the problem was the poor play on defense.
They went from leading the majors in fielding percentage to ranking 29th, with Alexei Ramirez committing 22 errors and tying the Cubs' Starlin Castro for the major league lead among shortstops.
"It's imperative that we show improvement," Hahn said. "It's imperative that we show growth, especially on the position player side. We feel we have the ability to contend. But the most important thing for us is going to be allowing these young guys room to grow."
Ventura's steady hand, his ability to relate, came up over and over on Friday. It's why the White Sox believe he is the right manager, particularly on a team with some key young players.
They signed Cuban slugger Jose Abreu to a six-year, $68 million contract, hoping he can add pop. They'll have a full year with outfielder Avisail García after acquiring him from Detroit in the midseason deal that sent Jake Peavy to Boston, too.
They've added some youth, athleticism, to their lineup. They believe they have enough pitching to compete with Chris Sale leading the rotation, even if they didn't land Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka.
And they insist Ventura's the man to lead them.
"He just doesn't miss on how to handle guys," longtime star Paul Konerko said. "He's stern with them, he gets his point across. But for a team of this makeup, Robin is such a good fit. I'm glad he would want to stay."