For blended White Sox, there’s work to be done to achieve lofty goal
In the Sox’ clubhouse, young talent will mesh with proven veterans, U.S.-born players with internationals and playoff-tested players with the inexperienced.
Eloy Jimenez and Edwin Encarnacion go back a ways, to when Jimenez, a rising star, was 14, and Encarnacion, a proven one, was 29.
“One of his nephews played [baseball] with me, and he would come visit us in the offseason,” Jimenez explained during SoxFest this weekend. “I would see him a lot. We still have a good relationship.’’
In an offseason that raised expectations and distanced them further from the doldrums of rebuilding, the White Sox added a handful of proven players to mesh with a talented young core that includes Jimenez. Encarnacion, a fellow Dominican who will bat next to Jimenez in the middle of what should be a powerful lineup, is one of the those experienced players.
“I was so excited when he signed,” Jimenez said. “I told him, ‘Welcome home.’ ’’
It’s just another bond that will bring a Sox clubhouse — where the young are connected with the old, U.S.-born players mingle with international players and veterans with playoff experience sit at lockers next to those without — closer together in 2020.
Pitching coach Don Cooper likes to scoff at the attention the media give to such intangibles as clubhouse chemistry and players who “are good clubhouse” guys.
“That’s all good,” Cooper says. “But give me guys who are good on the field.”
Some of the “good in the clubhouse” talk is driven by a Sox front office that says it values character when piecing together the roster. But Cooper is right. What happens between the foul lines will define the Sox in 2020.
Two weeks from spring training in Glendale, Arizona, the Sox are at the point in their rebuild where they’re beginning to envision clubhouse scenarios unfolding in which Bud Light bottles are emptied on each other in October. But they won 72 games last year, so they are a far climb from achieving even a wild-card berth.
The hike begins on the back fields with six weeks of ground balls and working on rundowns, relays and batting practice. It’s serious business for manager Rick Renteria and his coaching staff. They arrive at the Sox’ spring-training complex before sunrise seven days a week. That kind of commitment must go for the players, too, veteran first baseman Jose Abreu said.
“Us players, we have to take care of our job, take care of our day-by-day commitments and do what we all know we can do,” Abreu said at SoxFest. “We can add more pressure on ourselves thinking about the things we want to get, but the only way we can get to that point is trusting ourselves and trusting our routine and our work.”
Renteria has gradually implemented a culture since his first day as Sox manager four years ago that shifted from staff policing players to the players policing themselves. Now, he says, players are calling out each other to play the game right.
Abreu has never played on a winning team, let alone a postseason outfit. The new additions — Encarnacion, Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez, Steve Cishek and Nomar Mazara — have 89 games combined of playoff experience.
“Those are guys who experienced the playoffs,” shortstop Tim Anderson said. “We need that voice to lead us. The front office did a great job getting those guys in.”
It’s just another element of many pieces coming together for one goal — winning — which hasn’t occurred on the South Side since 2012. The seven-year drought of winning and 11-year postseason absence make all this talk about the playoffs seem a bit blustery.
“I prefer to go step by step,” Abreu said. “I don’t want to say that we’re going to be in the playoffs or we’re going to win the World Series because we don’t know yet. We might have the talent, but we don’t know. Spring training is first; let’s have a very good spring training, get prepared and ready for the season. Let’s have a good season, then we’ll see when the season ends what position we’re in.”