"It was truly awesome," said Jeff Manto, who also completed his first year as the White Sox hitting coach. "Looking back, Robin did an unbelievable job with that team.
"He ran a great clubhouse. He controlled a lot of things real quietly as he does and he just took a lot of stress off a lot of people. It was enjoyable to the very last day."
In the end, though, Ventura's guidance wasn't quite enough to turn a 117-day run atop the American League Central into a playoff spot. So the White Sox task when they arrive in Nashville on Monday for Major League Baseball's 2012 Winter Meetings is to not only do what they can to catch the Tigers, but also fortify the roster for a run toward another World Series title.
Rick Hahn, having been promoted from assistant general manager to general manager, will be running the White Sox show, with the groundwork already having been laid for the annual get-together.
"There's frankly no magic to that week where you have to do something: it could happen before or after," Hahn recently told MLB.com. "We are in the process of having fairly substantive conversations with other clubs or other agents, and I wouldn't be surprised if there's a greater amount of activity in Nashville because the foundation has been laid."
Agreeing upon a two-year extension with rotation stalwart Jake Peavy and bringing back fellow quality starter Gavin Floyd already has made this offseason productive. Here's a look at where the White Sox stand as they prepare for Monday:
Third baseman: The White Sox have ongoing interest in free agent Kevin Youkilis, who anchored the position after coming over from Boston in a June 24 trade. Brent Morel told MLB.com that his back feels healthy for the first time in almost a year, and the team is even considering fast-rising prospect Carlos Sanchez as an option. But the position ultimately could be filled via trade.
Catcher: Assuming free agent A.J. Pierzynski does not return to the White Sox for a ninth season and beyond, it looks as if Tyler Flowers will get the first opportunity at the everyday job. The White Sox have a strong backup option in Josh Phegley, but most likely will pursue another veteran to work with Flowers.
Pitching: Six quality starting pitchers and a deep bullpen would make it seem as if the staff is pretty well set. But as Hahn recently stated, a team can never have enough pitching, and the White Sox certainly wouldn't turn away from an opportunity to get even stronger in that area.
Left-handed hitting: Alejandro De Aza and Adam Dunn become the only two left-handed hitters in the White Sox lineup if Pierzynski departs. Manto doesn't believe the right-handed heavy attack will be an issue, but the White Sox still could fill a position void with a left-handed hitter.
Who they can or need to trade
Floyd: There's no real need to trade a starting pitcher who has won in double-digits for each of the last five seasons and has thrown less than 187 innings in just one of those campaigns. But with Floyd's option picked up at $9.5 million and the White Sox having great confidence in their young starters, the right-hander becomes the White Sox greatest trade chip.
De Aza: Manto recently backed the fleet-footed center fielder as the right man to sit atop the White Sox lineup, adding that if his bunting improves, De Aza could become an elite leadoff man. That support doesn't sound like a trade candidate, but with Dewayne Wise back in the picture and the White Sox loaded with top Minor League outfield talent, anything is possible.
Alex Rios: There's absolutely no need to trade Rios, the team's Most Valuable Player in 2012 and one of the more talented players in the AL. Factoring in that high value and the $26 million owed to Rios over the next two years, the White Sox could get a major return out of bold move and get some payroll relief.
Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain: Both of these talented veteran relievers sit in the final season of their multiyear deals, although the White Sox hold a $6 million option for Thornton in 2014. They will help the White Sox immensely, but they also could be of interest to other contenders.
INF Sanchez, OF Courtney Hawkins, OF Trayce Thompson, OF Keenyn Walker, OF Jared Mitchell, C Phegley, RHP Andre Rienzo, RHP Simon Castro, RHP Nestor Molina, LHP Charlie Leesman, LHP Scott Snodgress, 1B Keon Barnum.
Most of the Major League-ready top young players already have made it to the White Sox, as shown by the 10 rookie pitchers and 12 rookies overall who suited up for and contributed to the team in 2012. Sanchez is projected more as a middle infielder and could use another year of experience in the Minors. Rienzo and Phegley could challenge for a roster spot, but the outfield core should make the biggest impact in a few years. They also might factor into a potential trade.
Rule 5 Draft
With the 40-man roster currently sitting at 40, the White Sox would have to make a move to add anyone on the Major League side during the Rule 5 Draft. They are unlikely to do so.
Big contracts they might unload
Rios and Dunn (two years, $30 million) fall under the big contract category. But the White Sox have no intention of trading either one, with the duo being counted on to produce big numbers in the middle of the lineup.
2B Gordon Beckham, OF De Aza, RHP Philip Humber, 1B Dan Johnson.
Hahn has stated on a couple of occasions that the White Sox payroll will check in somewhere around last year's number near $97 million. Past history shows, though, that the White Sox will go over that budget if they find a player deemed necessary to contend or push them toward a title. See Tadahito Iguchi's addition prior to the 2005 season as an example.