The White Sox say they are better equipped to be a postseason team than a year ago, when they entered spring training with more fan optimism than now after committing $132 million in multiyear salaries to a variety of all-star caliber free agents and trading for Jeff Samardzija.
They felt that way before adding Mat Latos to the starting rotation Tuesday, and they continue to be in play for an upgrade in the outfield or possibly at shortstop. Free agents Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond, to everyone’s surprise considering camps open later this week, were still available in a buyer’s market.
“We feel stronger in at least three positions than we were at the end of last season,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said.
And Hahn and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf still expect to get what they paid for from David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke, who, depending on the individual, met expectations (Robertson), fell far short (LaRoche) or finished somewhere in between (Cabrera, Duke).
Add two-time All-Star Todd Frazier, a good-field, good-hit third baseman; athletic Brett Lawrie, 26-year-old second baseman with zest in his strut and pop in his bat; and a catching tandem that should upgrade the position on the offensive side (from both sides of the plate) without sacrificing much defense, and the Sox feel comfortable building a case for much better results than the unsightly 76-86 dud that unfolded in 2015.
Looking better once again heightens scrutiny and tightens the screws on fifth-year manager Robin Ventura, perhaps more than ever. Know that Ventura, as level and unswerving as we knew him during his playing days as a fan favorite, is feeling pressure to win as he goes into the final year of his contract as a not-so-popular manager.
Three straight losing seasons will bring that.
Also know that Ventura felt pressure his first year in 2012, when the Sox were in first place for 117 days before faltering at the end, and in his second, when they lost 99 games.
“You do that no matter what,’’ he said.
If you want to question the way Ventura writes out a lineup or why he likes the sacrifice bunt, go ahead. If you want to quibble with his handling of the bullpen, argue away. But those around him know he takes losses hard, and more importantly, has his players’ respect.
“When we put our big boy pants on and come ready to play and get the job done, you guys are all going to see what a great manager Robin is,’’ center fielder Adam Eaton said. “He’s a great manager and I stand behind that.’’
“Great” is a stretch, more accurately reserved for that small upper echelon of managers – the Bruce Bochy and Joe Maddon types. But it’s Eaton’s way of speaking truth – Ventura is good enough. What matters more is whether his players are good enough.
“I have one year on my contract, that’s not a secret,’’ said Ventura, who brought up his deal before media could ask about it at the winter meetings and at SoxFest.
“Regardless of that I would want to win just as many games early on; whether it was 10 years [under contract], it doesn’t matter. We all want to get off to a good start. That much is for sure.’’
What’s also for certain is that Hahn, Ventura and their players are putting pressure on themselves to win, especially after the disappointment of last season. They believe they’re built to win now, and there seemed to be a greater sense of urgency among them at SoxFest last month.
“Robin has a huge influence on how we play but at the end of the day it’s up to us,’’ Eaton said. “The last two years that I’ve been here, it’s our fault.
“He’s a good manager and he’s going to put guys in the best position possible to win. It’s our job to make him look good.’’