Sox’ overhaul will complement core players Chris Sale, Jose Abreu
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Nobody wants to hear “All In” around here, not on the day pitchers and catchers report to the most eagerly anticipated White Sox spring training since 2011.
That was the year the Sox brought back A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko, signed slugger Adam Dunn to a four-year, $56 million contract and seemingly had all the right pieces spread over a $128 million payroll, still the largest in club history.
“All in” was the motto and “all out” was the reality after an 11-22 start set the tone for a 79-83 season, 2005 World Series champion manager Ozzie Guillen’s last.
So it goes in baseball, where the general manager’s best laid plans are often clicked into his laptop trash bin and marketing department slogans blow up in faces.
The Sox plan for 2015 looks – repeat, looks — like a good one. With Jose Abreu playing like an MVP and Chris Sale pitching like a Cy Young winner in 2014, it was time to speed up an overhaul that began at the 2013 trade deadline. Enter free agents Adam LaRoche ($25 million, two years) and Melky Cabrera ($42 million, three years) to the lineup, Jeff Samardzija ($9.8 million for one year) to the starting rotation and David Robertson ($46 million, four years) to the bullpen, and enter the Sox on everyone’s list of contenders in the AL Central despite finishing 73-89 season.
Nothing invigorates a team more than a front office committed to winning, and the 64 players making their way to major league camp shouldn’t doubt chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s desire to win a second title. Long-term, pricey deals for closers are loaded with risk – more than a smart GM like Rick Hahn and the dollar-wise chairman have cared to take in the past – and the commitment to Robertson (as well as $15 million over three years for lefty reliever Zach Duke) tells players the ball is in their court. In other words, as vice president Ken Williams said last week, it’s time to grind.
“One of the things you try to impart on the team when you get down to spring training is throw out whatever anybody is saying about you,’’ Williams said. “Because it’s a grind. It’s a 162-game grind, and that’s the way we’ve got to look at it. It’s going to be a competitive division.”
Williams said he learned the hard way that acquiring talented players who don’t want it badly enough doesn’t work. So here is his message on the first day of camp: Show that you want it.
“The level of intensity on a day-to-day basis, that grind,’’ Williams said. “Whenever we’ve had teams that understand that, we’ve been in the mix. …If you don’t have those type of players, nothing else matters.’’
Williams acquired Kevin Youkilis, Francisco Liriano, Brett Myers and Orlando Hudson during the 2012 season after the Sox surprised early in manager Robin Ventura’s first year and occupied first place for 126 days. These 2015 Sox should know that, with a payroll around $115 million, management will have room and be willing to add near mid-season.
The improvements already made have got their juices flowing now. On the day before camp opened, the complex at Camelback Ranch was fairly busy. About 20 of the 64 players expected have been in camp early, including Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia, Adam Eaton and Tyler Flowers.
“There’s more guys out here, it seems like more guys are eager to get going and into the swing of things, get the team together,’’ Flowers said Thursday.
“A couple of weeks ago there were 10 or 12 guys but in the last week it has really picked up. Yesterday we had two fields of BP going with three groups. A lot of guys are anxious to get going.’’