By Daryl Van Schouwen
GLENDALE, Ariz. – You’re infielder Tyler Saladino and the White Sox don’t pick up shortstop Alexei Ramirez’s option for 2016.
A door has opened.
You’re Tyler Saladino, the Sox’ stated best option in camp to open the season at short, and veteran Jimmy Rollins is signed on the third day of spring training.
Ouch. A door has slammed shut. On your hand.
But for Saladino, it could worse. He may never be an everyday shortstop, but he profiles well as a utility infielder, versatile enough to play every position and even the outfield in a pinch. And it’s not a given that Rollins, at 37, is a hands-down slam dunk to be the starter out of spring training. His .224/.285/.358 slash line with 13 homers with the Los Angeles Dodgers isn’t Rollins in his prime. And his range and glove probably isn’t the Gold Glove, MVP caliber he flashed all those years with the Philadelphia Phillies, either.
With Cactus League games beginning Thursday, the Sox will Sox try to figure out what Rollins can give them and go from there. If he can’t provide more than mentoring tips for Saladino and shortstop-of-the-future Anderson, they’ll have Saladino, 26, to fall back on or to platoon while Anderson’s place is kept warm.
Saladino wanted the starting gig, but he’s smart enough to know why Rollins was brought on board for an inexpensive $2 million if he makes the team.
“Bringing in Jimmy is tons of things,’’ Saladino said. “It’s competition, it’s a chance to learn from someone of his caliber and his experience, there is a wealth of knowledge there. To be naïve in a situation like that and not learn would be going backwards. So I just try to embrace it. And being alongside him is extra special.’’
There was nothing special about Saladino’s .225 batting average and .267 on-base percentage over 254 plate appearances in 2015 either, his first year in the majors. He was a .261/.351/.395 hitter in the minors.
“I didn’t know that’s what I hit [last season]. I don’t pay attention to that,’’ he said.
But averages are posted everywhere, in big letters on scoreboards.
“I honestly won’t be able to tell you at all what my batting average is,’’ Saladino said. “I could care less because I know what I did that night and what I need to do. If it doesn’t get done it doesn’t get done and you get ready for the next day.’’
Or else someone will beat you of a job.
“Absolutely,’’ Saladino said. “That’s why I’m going to hit [in the cages] right now. Obviously nobody is going to be happy with .225 if that’s what it was.’’
Saladino can field and play a heady enough game to bridge the post-Ramirez era.
“Typically my whole life I’ve been a guy you can count on for the hit-and-runs, the bunts, steal some bags, the situational stuff,’’ he said. “Drive a guy in if there’s a chance to drive a guy in. I’m not going to bop 30 out every year.’’
And always keep your ears open.
“Jerry Hairston was my first hitting coach in [rookie level] Bristol,’’ Saladino said. “He said ‘always keep your eyes and ears open. You might hear something that’s not directed at you but it might be what you needed to hear.’ That’s the way I am up here. Sure, .225. But I’m going to find ways to get better.’’
Rollins is trying to win a job but he said it’s easy being himself around Saladino and Anderson, who are both asking questions. The Sox also brought him in to help those two.
“My job is to make sure when they are playing, especially defensively, they are giving themselves the best chance to make that play consistently and turn it into an out,’’ Rollins said.
“It’s easy for me to be me. There isn’t a competition in that sense.’’