SAN DIEGO – The 2016 White Sox are a year older, and they are wiser.
Will they be better?
More veteran presence can’t hurt, and the Sox’ Opening Day roster has in influx with new guys Jimmy Rollins, 37, Todd Frazier, 30 and Austin Jackson, 29 playing key roles.
The new catching tandem of Alex Avila, 29, and Dioner Navarro, 32, has 18 years of combined of major league experience.
The entire pitching staff, save for 29-year-old Mat Latos taking Jeff Samardzija’s place in the starting rotation, is returning from 2015, each one supposedly a bit more savvy having another year of experience. The average age for Sox pitchers is 29.
Rollins, the former National League MVP shortstop who has been to the postseason six times in his career, may not be the player he was in his prime but the Sox say they have more savvy, guile and baseball acumen at a position which demands it. Even Tyler Saladino, one of the young guys at 26, has been given high marks for his intuitiveness, positioning and decision-making since he was a rookie last year.
Rollins says there is much to be said for players who “know how to win.” Avila appeared in 34 postseason games over four seasons with the Detroit Tigers and Navarro has been to the playoffs with three different teams. Jackson played in 40 games over four Tigers and Cubs postseasons and Frazier played in the 2013 NLDS and the 2014 Wild Card game with the Cincinnati Reds.
That type of experience is significant, Rollins said.
“I don’t know what it was like [in the Sox clubhouse] last year but I hear we’re in a better place already,’’ he said, “and we have guys that have played on winning teams and you need that. It’s important to have guys that know what it’s like to win.’’
The Sox know what it’s like to lose, coming off three years in a row of bad records — 76-86 in 2015, 73-89 in 2014 and 63-99 in 2013. Since they won the World Series in 2005, they’ve made the playoffs once. And lost in the opening round.
A losing culture crept in, and measures were needed to snuff it out.
“When you know what it’s like to win,’’ Rollins said, “when someone or things are going the other way — when you’re not doing things that are conducive to winning — it stands out and you make a correction because you know better. But if you’ve never been in that situation, you’re just kind of like, ‘Well, maybe this is what it is.’ And I’ve been on both sides. We have players that want to win and that have won so if things start to go a little left, we can break the step.’’
Manager Robin Ventura welcomes the culture change in the clubhouse, with Frazier replacing Conor Gillaspie at third base, the catchers replacing Tyler Flowers and Jackson moving Adam Eaton from center field to the corners. Rollins adds an upgraded leadership element over Alexei Ramirez as well.
“We have different people,’’ Ventura said. “There are different personalities and a maybe a different vibe with the club because there are older, veteran, seasoned guys.
“Even though the coaching staff is trying to help the younger guys … the younger guys were trying to survive. There was an element of [unproven players] trying to help your team win and everything, but at the same time they were trying to survive and stay in the big leagues. And that doesn’t always work.’’
Veterans like Rollins, Jackson, Avila et al have established themselves and made good livings. They just want to win now.
“These guys don’t have that [survival mode] going on in their brain so it’s just an easier conversation, or with a drill or anything that’s going on, it happens quicker,’’ Ventura said.
Left-hander Carlos Rodon threw 108 pitches in a simulated game at the Sox’ spring training facility, his last extended tuneup for his first assignment in the Sox’ third game of the season Wednesday against the Athletics in Oakland.
*The Sox enjoyed a day off Thursday before playing Friday (9:05 p.m.) and Saturday (3:05) exhibitions against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Both games will be broadcast on 890-AM.
* Monday’s matchup featuring Chris Sale against the A’s Sonny Gray, will be the Sox’ first night season opener since 2006. Program alert: The game will star about 45 minutes after tipoff of the NCAA basketball championship game.
*Sale, who missed last season’s opener in Kansas City because of an off-field foot injury suffered early in spring training, is 2-0 with a 1.80 in two Opening Day starts.
*Projected opening day lineup: Adam Eaton RF, Rollins SS, Jose Abreu 1B, Todd Frazier 3B, Melky Cabrera LF, Avisail Garcia DH, Brett Lawrie 2B, Austin Jackson CF, Alex Avila C.
*The Sox released minor leaguers Scott Hairston, Maikel Cleto and Steve Lombardozzi.