GLENDALE, Ariz. – When Chris Sale was home in Florida during the offseason, he sat there rooting for the White Sox to acquire one more big-name piece to help the team’s 2016 cause, right?
The Sox roster has room for upgrades, but players place such a premium on clubhouse cohesiveness that, to them, character and personality matters. Sometimes more than talent.
“I don’t get myself caught up in names, the big-ticket items,’’ Sale, the ace of the White Sox pitching staff, said. “We could have signed four big names, but I’m not worried about what their names are as much as what kind of guys are they. You can have a locker full of all-stars but if they’re all a–holes it’s not going to work. It’s not.’’
For Sale, “Good Guys Wear Black” is not only an old marketing promo but a wish. But the 2015 Sox clubhouse was closely knit with lots of “good guys” who finished 76-86. So a fan might say, “give me the volatile, championship Oakland A’s and New York Yankees teams of the 1970s any old day.”
“People get too caught up in names and numbers,’’ Sale said. “I think it’s more important that we have 25 guys together. We don’t need 17 superstars on our team. We just need a few guys to pull the weight.
“If you have a bad apple, it can ruin things. It’s like family. That one drunk uncle that comes in and ruins every Christmas. Everyone else is great, it’s just the one guy who comes in and messes everything up. That’s why there’s a highlighter on character when teams are looking at stuff like that.’’
But who knows, the character of the Sox clubhouse might have been too nice in 2015.
“Last year,’’ Adam Eaton said, “we kept saying, ‘we like each other so much there’s no reason we can’t come out of this.’ ’’
General manager Rick Hahn believes the influx of Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie, Alex Avila and perhaps Mat Latos will add a desired edge and favorable mix. The new vibe, a culture change if you will, has been a talking point of the first week of camp.
“Frazier is like a couple personalities,’’ said Latos, who played with the Sox’ new third baseman as a Cincinnati Red. “He’s got multiples, and that’s a good thing – we need something like that. I missed his personality [the last two seasons]. It might annoy some people, it might aggravate some people but I think it’s a necessity. The way he carries himself, the upbeat tempo he carries at all times is great. If you’re having a down day, he’s there to pick you up.’’
Players say cohesion lends itself to selfless play, doing the little things like hitters giving themselves up to advance a runner, relief pitchers giving an inning on a day they’re gassed or a catcher saying “I’m good to play” when his knee is barking at him.
“I’ve played on teams where you’re playing for yourself, maybe not getting along with everybody or something’s between the team and you play for yourself,’’ Eaton said. “Successful teams, guys play for each other, all go in the right direction. It’s huge. It makes the team better than what they may otherwise be.’’
Spring training is the time when the new guys begin to find their niches. Lawrie said it shouldn’t be difficult. He’s a new guy for the second time in two seasons (A’s and Sox).
“It’s easy, man,’’ Lawrie said. “Baseball guys are baseball guys. You come around a couple different clubhouses and nothing is really that different. The boys are the boys, everyone is a baseball guy. You just build new relationships and get to know new people.
“The biggest thing is being comfortable and knowing nobody needs to do anything on the field above and beyond who they are. When everybody contributes what they can, the whole squad is better off.’’