It was exactly a year ago that the Adam LaRoche saga with the White Sox was reaching full boil.
One too many sightings of 14-year-old son Drake LaRoche on the Glendale, Ariz., practice fields by vice president Ken Williams led to an ugly showdown with the veteran slugger, who once had been told it was fine to have his kid around.
A team that loved to hover under the radar was suddenly in the center of the national scope. It was the kind of soap opera only the White Sox could produce. After a couple of days of stewing, LaRoche held a team meeting on March 15 and told a shocked clubhouse he was retiring.
End of story.
Until ace Chris Sale ripped into Williams and effectively tore the biggest shred in his relationship with the organization. Outfielder Adam Eaton weighed in, calling Drake a clubhouse leader (really?). The saga split the team into factions. The front office wasn’t to be trusted, the players were angry and manager Robin Ventura was clearly undercut by his bosses. Veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins called it instant “chaos.”
“It was a clubhouse in disarray after that point,” Rollins recently told the San Jose Mercury News
. “Just because of the way it was handled, a lot of the guys who were outspoken are no longer there. They’re in better places, if you ask me.”
LaRoche is gone. Sale is gone. Eaton is gone. Ventura is gone. And the last shred of hope for the White Sox somehow disappeared.
“For me, you just deal with it,” Ventura told the Daily Herald
this spring training. “I don’t sit around and think it was the reason that brought me into this year. You deal with the people. They (Sale, Eaton) are both good people. Sometimes … for Chris, he’d have moments where he’d lose it. I think that’s part of growing in the game, maturity, stature and all that stuff that kind of goes in with it.
“(LaRoche), he was a good guy. It’s just … that was the day for him.”
That might have been the day for the White Sox. Sure, they staged that remarkable start, going 23-10 through May 9 and giving the impression that the LaRoche saga was maybe a rallying point.
The question now is where are they headed? The Sox went 78-84 in 2016, Ventura was cut loose, then general manager Rick Hahn announced his team was rebuilding.
Sale was traded for prospects. Eaton was traded for prospects. Slugging third baseman Todd Frazier was shopped. Pitcher Jose Quintana was shopped. First baseman Jose Abreu was shopped. Closer David Robertson was shopped.
A lot of shopping, but the fire sale suddenly stopped.
Construction seems to have come to a screeching halt on this rebuilding project.
The Sox signed veteran Brett Lawrie for $3.5 million, then released him last week, not even midway through camp. If it was a surprise when they re-signed Lawrie in the offseason — and it was a surprise – then it was a bigger shock that they cut ties with him so early in camp. (Lawrie’s agent is saying his client isn’t ready to pursue a contract elsewhere yet, making one wonder how extensively the Sox checked out Lawrie before signing him.)
The signing never seemed to fit with their agenda, unless Frazier had been traded. Now it’s clear they aren’t trading Frazier.
So maybe they’re standing pat.
Then there are reports from New York this week that the Sox have been parking scouts in Yankees camp. It’s no secret the Yankees covet Quintana and a trade likely will be worked out this summer.
So maybe they’re not standing pat.
Maybe the rebuild is back on.
Confused? So here’s the question 24 days from Opening Day: How can you call a team with a veteran at first base, a veteran at third base, a veteran closer, two veteran starters (including James Shields), a veteran outfielder in Melky Cabrera — all with All-Star credentials on their resumes — a rebuilding team? Keep in mind, this payroll is only slightly lower than what the Sox had a year ago. Nothing significant enough to suggest a teardown/rebuild is underway.
It’s easy to buy into a rebuild if a rebuild is clearly happening.
Is this a rebuild or a team still in disarray a year after the LaRoche saga?
SOX MAKE CUTS
The Sox made a quick round of cuts this morning, including 2016 top pick Zack Collins.
Collins, a catcher from Miami University, was the 10th overall pick in last year’s draft. He will likely open the season at Class A Winston-Salem. Don’t be surprised to see him continue to appear in Cactus League games during this camp.
SPEAKING OF SOX CATCHERS
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 27: Infielder Adam LaRoche #25 of the Chicago White Sox poses for a portrait during spring training photo day at Camelback Ranch on February 27, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
Add Tyler Saladino to manager Rick Renteria’s arsenal of emergency catchers for the White Sox. Saladino has already shown he can play the infield and outfield. But he was a catcher as a kid and was spotted Thursday behind the plate in the bullpen.
“I want to get used to receiving and being able to get strikes,” Saladino told our Daryl Van Schouwen this morning. “Not take a sinker and turn it over and it would have been a strike and it’s like ‘Oh, I caught it.’ I actually want to try to get strikes.”
ON THE NORTH SIDE
Our Steve Greenberg is filling in for Gordon Wittenmyer this weekend at Cubs camp and filed this dispatch today on some of the young Cubs revealing their goals for 2017.
What do you do to top a World Series victory? These Cubs have some interesting ideas.
Addison Russell’s focus is on running. A lot. Check out Steve’s post.
A $1.05 MILLION SMILE
A million bucks for the reigning National League MVP? Seems like a steal in today’s MLB salary structure, but that’s what Kris Bryant will earn in 2017 thanks to a record contract for a player who isn’t yet arbitration-eligible.
The previous pre-arbitration record salary was $1 million the Angels gave to Mike Trout in 2014.
WHAT HAPPENED IN GAME 8?
Funny how Joe Maddon can win a World Series with the Cubs and still take heat for some of his decisions. There’s no question Maddon took us on a roller-coaster ride last fall, but you can’t argue with the results.
Except fans, including some at Cactus League games this month, still haven’t recovered from Joe’s interesting moves. In typical Maddon form, Joe is playing it cool. He knows some day they will make a movie about the 2016 Cubs.
‘‘Ten years from now, 20, when that documentary is put together or that film, how fabulous will that be?” Maddon said. “I’ll be 82 years old, sitting in some futuristic IMAX. That’ll be awesome to see that, me walking out to the mound, played by some younger actor.’’
Our friends at Whistle Sports put together another great video recently, this one featuring high-school highlights of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Check it out.
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