New White Sox assistant general manager Josh Barfield arrives on the heels of overseeing the development of a young core that has the Diamondbacks on the verge of a playoff berth. Just add the term “breakthrough” after the name of senior adviser to pitching Brian Bannister in a Google search, and testimonials of his work with the Giants and Red Sox will bubble up.
Rounding out the triumvirate of Sox executive hires is Gene Watson, the newly named director of player personnel. Watson comes over from the Royals, and the connections he brings probably have grown familiar to fans over the last year.
“I traded for [Sox general manager] Chris Getz in November 2009 to the Royals when I worked for Dayton Moore,” Watson said Friday. “In ’06, I traded for Brian Bannister.”
With 34 years in baseball, Watson has been part of two other World Series teams — the 1998 Padres and the 2003 Marlins — besides the Royals’ runs in 2014 and 2015 that overlap with Getz and manager Pedro Grifol. But it didn’t take Watson giving this month’s umpteenth glowing scouting report of Getz as a player to understand that his connection to the current Sox leadership structure is part of the selling point here.
“Way too long,” Grifol said jokingly when asked how long he has known Watson. “He knows my vision; he knows Chris’ vision. He knows how well we are aligned and the type of club we want to put on the field. And you don’t get that overnight; you get that over time.”
For a club hampered by insularity for so long, alignment with existing ideas carries only so much appeal. It’s the structure of Watson’s role that might be more intriguing.
According to the Sox media guide released in the spring, senior director of baseball operations Dan Fabian “oversees the daily operation of the team’s professional scouting efforts,” alongside other responsibilities that include the maintenance of the team’s scouting information portal. But the team did not employ a “director of player personnel” before Watson.
While the proliferation of fancy baseball executive titles makes it hard to pin down what anyone is ever doing, Watson made it clear that he will helm the Sox’ pro scouting department, a role he filled for the Royals for several years. For what has traditionally been a smaller Sox front office that hasn’t had clarity on where responsibilities begin and end, Watson arrives with a clear assignment.
“Our professional scouting staff is outstanding,” Watson said, mentioning that he already has met with his entire staff. “When it comes to six-year free agents, Rule 5, major-league free agents, comeback guys, going to facilities in the winter to watch bullpens, our relationships with agents, our relationships with past players, we’re going to turn over every stone we can to improve this team.”
For professional acquisitions, how quickly the Sox believe they can return to contention will be relevant to Watson’s work. But an early show of Watson’s connection to the new Sox leadership was his ability to adhere closely to Getz’s expression of confidence that his team has contention-caliber pieces in place, while also specifying that “we are not going to put a timetable on it.”
“We’ve got stars on the field,” Watson said. “We’ve got to put players around them that love to play the game with them and know how to play, and that’s what we’re going to work for.”
Whether that project is ordered to be an immediate turnaround or is set upon a more reasonable timeline that noncommittal answers about contending next year seem to be hinting at, it’s a massive undertaking for a franchise that just endured a six-year false start.
“[Fans] are hungry, and we are, too,” Watson said. “We are going to get it done.”