CLEVELAND — Two months into the season, with his team in first place and looking like the favorite to win the AL Central despite the huge losses of star outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn likes what he has seen, and how the clubhouse has tunneled through its share of distractions.
Some of them, brought on by manager Tony La Russa, have been overblown, Hahn said.
There is no understating the excellence of starting pitchers Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon, and the step-up of Dylan Cease in the Sox rotation, Hahn said. He noted the consistency of Jose Abreu, who was named AL Player of the Week Tuesday, and the unforeseen explosion of rookie Yermin Mercedes. The bullpen, believed to be perhaps the team’s greatest strength going into the season, has been solid despite erratic performances, Hahn said.
“I have to say though, that the one thing that stands out most to me about this entire unit is the strength of this entire clubhouse,” Hahn said Tuesday, talking to beat reporters before the Sox played the second-place Indians at Progressive Field. “They’ve had to overcome a lot, whether it be physical setbacks to some guys early in the year to a rough schedule to other distractions throughout the way, they to a man have stepped up and had each other’s back and been able to fight through it. That’s been impressive to watch.”
Perhaps the biggest distraction came from within, brought on by La Russa. The missed take sign by Mercedes and a home run on a 3-0 count against the Twins on May 17, and the fallout caused by the 76-year-old La Russa’s objection to the breaking of an old-school unwritten rule — as well as his calling out Mercedes — rallied players around their teammate without causing rifts of significance with the manager.
“Am I concerned about fault lines? No,” Hahn said. “Again, it’s a very strong clubhouse that’s focused on persevering and winning that night’s game. That’s been the main priority and they’ve been able to block out distractions with just about anything that has come their way.”
When La Russa, who hadn’t managed since 2011, admitted to not knowing an extra-inning rule that came into play in a 1-0 loss in Cincinnati, it became a national discussion, and there were whispers from within the organization doubting La Russa. But Hahn viewed it as a minor misstep, and the Sox shook it off, winning their next six games.
“Most everything that’s become a big deal has been a much smaller deal,” Hahn said. “Again, the clubhouse, fundamentally, I go back to what puts us in the best position to win ballgames and are we being able to execute on that, and that’s what the clubhouse has been completely unified and focused on.”
And by clubhouse, Hahn said he included La Russa and the coaching staff.
Without Jimenez and Robert, Mercedes has provided a needed bat and La Russa moving Abreu to fourth and Yoan Moncada to third in the lineup has clicked. The outfield has been effectively pieced together and managed by La Russa with Andrew Vaughn, Billy Hamilton and Jake Lamb giving unexpected and significant contributions alongside Adam Eaton and Leury Garcia.
With two months before the trade deadline and possible late-season returns of Robert and Jimenez still unknown, and with the team coming off a 19-10 month of May, Hahn is feeling no pressure to deal now for an outfielder such as Sterling Marte.
“I hope, certainly by the deadline, I’ll be able to tell you pretty specifically what we’re expecting from [Robert and Jimenez], which will obviously influence our behavior at the deadline too,” Hahn said. “We’ve got time on that one.”
What Hahn doesn’t need time for, is a handle on how the team is being run.
“I know there’s been other noise and distractions, understandably so, especially with the injuries,” Hahn said, “but they’ve been great in terms of remaining focused on the matter at hand and winning the ball game. If something happens, they are able to turn the page pretty quickly.”