The White Sox introduced three of their new additions Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Field, handing out new jerseys to starter Jeff Samardzija, closer David Robertson and outfielder Melky Cabrera. Other offseason additions include relievers Zach Duke and Dan Jennings, as well as first baseman/designated hitter Adam LaRoche.
If second baseman Micah Johnson and catcher Rob Brantly make the Opening Day squad, those eight players alone, many of them in key roles, represent nearly one-third of the roster. It is a serious shakeup for a club that has designs on making the postseason for just the second time since winning the World Series in 2005.
“As long as that common denominator is winning, I think it happens pretty quick,” Samardzija said about getting the team to come together quickly. “I think as a team and as a veteran group of guys, when everybody is on the same page and playing winning baseball, I think everything comes together pretty quickly.
“I think there is a formula for winning games in the major leagues consistently, and it’s pretty simple: You play hard, you prepare and have each other’s backs and you play for each other. I think as long as everyone is doing that, you’ll see a pretty quick mesh in personalities and camaraderie among the team, for sure.”
Samardzija got his first chance to assimilate to a new team last season when he was traded from the Chicago Cubs to the Oakland Athletics. He learned the do's and don’ts of making a transition and expects to apply what he learned once spring training starts.
He even got a jump on the process, calling Chris Sale to start learning the ropes early.
Robertson, though, has only been with the New York Yankees in a seven-year major league career. While he is making the transition to a new team for the first time, he isn’t anticipating any awkward stages.
“I’ve been a part of a changing team, an evolving team before,” said Robertson, who did play with Cabrera in New York for a few seasons. “Every year there’s change, and it doesn’t take long for guys to get together and figure it out. You’re around each other every single day, you get to know everyone and figure things out.”
While spring training is designed to get players’ bodies in shape, it will also be a quasi-spiritual retreat where the herd of new players will try to fit in with returning White Sox players.
“It takes a spring training,” Cabrera said through an interpreter. “We start getting along together; we start knowing each other, and after spring training comes and it’s like we’ve been playing forever together. It takes a spring training to know each other, and then we become better friends when we have a team that we can play with and bring a championship or make it to the playoffs.”
The transition probably will work best if the new players defer to returning players such as Sale and John Danks for leadership roles. It will help if Alexei Ramirez takes a more vocal leadership role, as well.
As it is with nearly all teams that have made sweeping changes, all eyes will be on the club’s camaraderie starting on Opening Day. If the club starts winning, the clubhouse vibe will be credited, and if they lose, the lack of a tight-knit group will be blamed. With so many changes, the White Sox are going to have a hard time avoiding it.
“The one thing we were cognizant of along the way in this endeavor was, let’s not only target the best players, but the best fits in the clubhouse, character-wise and intensity, and people who can put it together,” executive vice president Kenny Williams said. “As I explained to David Robertson, it took us some lessons in the early 2000s that it’s not just the talent you throw against the wall, it has to fit together.”
As a college football player and a major league baseball player, Samardzija has been in plenty of differing sports environments and he has learned a thing or two about deferring to others.
“I pitch every fifth day, so any opportunity I get to watch other guys perform and do it at the highest level possible, I enjoy doing it,” Samardzija said. “Chris [Sale] is one of those guys, David is one of those guys, Melky is one of those guys, [Jose] Abreu and so on down the list. LaRoche, I have been a big fan of for a long time. I enjoy watching good baseball so we can learn from these guys and bounce ideas off them. It’s a great resource to have, and you’d be an idiot not to take advantage of it, for sure.”
Say what you want about clubhouse unity and whether or not it’s valuable, but the White Sox have made a point to recognize it. Ultimately, it will be their ability to play well that will take them to where they want to go, but seeing eye to eye will be one fewer obstacle to avoid.
“These are veterans who have seen a lot of people come and go into clubhouses,” Williams said of the trio the White Sox welcomed Tuesday. “They’ve had to be the veterans who welcome guys in. They’re comfortable and confident because they’ve been on both sides. They know the drill.”
The 36-year old has 14 years of experience, returning to the major leagues last season for eight games (four stars) with the Miami Marlins after missing the 2013 season. He was 2-1 with a 6.58 ERA with the Marlins.
Penny is 121-101 in his career with a 4.29 ERA over 349 appearances, 319 of them starts. He was an All-Star in 2006 and 2007 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Penny will get a chance to compete for the No. 5 spot in the rotation with Hector Noesi.
As major league teams rained money on the heads of free-agent relief pitchers earlier this month, it was only natural to question the wisdom (if not the sanity) of baseball executives throwing so much cash at pitchers who contribute in increments of three outs or fewer.
Skeptics abound. But few of them have experienced the demoralizing sensation of looking on helplessly while a bad bullpen sinks spirits in the clubhouse and undermines a team's season.
Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura is familiar with that routine from the 2014 season, when the team's pen ranked 14th in the American League with a 4.38 ERA and blew 21 saves -- tied for third most in the league. So when general manager Rick Hahn spent $46 million on a four-year contract for closer David Robertson and $15 million on a three-year deal for lefty setup man Zach Duke, Ventura was in no position to lobby for fiscal restraint.
The deal, announced Tuesday, allows him to earn an additional $6 million in performance bonuses.
The 31-year-old broke a bone in his elbow while throwing a curveball with Atlanta last June. He had surgery and couldn't resume throwing until after the season. That injury occurred during his ninth start since returning from Tommy John elbow-ligament replacement surgery.
Floyd is 72-72 with a 4.40 ERA in 196 starts and 12 relief appearances with Philadelphia, the Chicago White Sox and the Braves. His best season was 2008, when he went 17-8 with a 3.84 ERA in 33 starts for the White Sox.
Not only was it a surprise that the apparently budget-restricted White Sox agreed to a deal with Cabrera over the weekend to the tune of three years and $42 million, another eye opener was the fact that the added a player who had been suspended for 50 games and missed the end of the 2012 season because of elevated levels of testosterone.
Not only did Cabrera elect not to appeal his suspension for PED use, he had been leading the National League in batting at the time and asked that he be taken out of consideration for the batting title. By not participating in the postseason that year with the San Francisco Giants, he also missed out on playing in a World Series, which the Giants won.
“Obviously we’re aware of what happened in the past, and no one condones what he did,” Hahn said. “But we are talking about an instance where there was a mistake he made and took ownership for, and showed honest remorse about from three seasons ago. He’s already gone through the understandable and deserved public scrutiny and has not hid from his past actions.”
Although current executive vice president Kenny Williams has roundly criticized PED users in the past, the White Sox have not completely turned their backs on players with a questionable history. Manny Ramirez was acquired at the tail end of the 2010 season and played 24 games with the team.
Cabrera got his second chance the past two seasons with the Blue Jays, batting .293 over 227 games north of the border, with 19 home runs and 103 RBIs. The biggest draw for the White Sox was Cabrera’s .351 on-base percentage in 2014 and his .339 OPB over his 10-year career.
“Frankly, I respect the fact that he accepted and served his penalty and lived with the consequences, and he’s done his best to put it behind him,” Hahn said. “Obviously our (MLB drug) policy not only allows for the suspension and the punishment, but also the redemption. Melky has performed at the highest level on the other side of this issue and we’re optimistic he can perform at that level moving forward.”
General manager Rick Hahn admitted Tuesday that because “sales” have been up all offseason, and especially since Robertson and Jeff Samardzija were acquired during the winter meetings last week, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf agreed to spend more than expected.
That meant the addition of Cabrera over the weekend for three years and $42 million, bringing aboard a new left fielder and No. 2 hitter in the lineup.
“Things have gone well so far from a sales standpoint, which played a role in Jerry allowing us to go beyond our originally targeted payroll,” Hahn said soon after the Cabrera signing was made official Tuesday. “As we sit here today, we’re beyond where we expected to go in terms of the 2015 payroll. That is, again, a direct result of Jerry saying he saw the fit (in Cabrera), he understood what we wanted to do and, in the end, gave us the flexibility to convert on the deal.”
That came in contrast to last week’s statement following the Robertson signing (four years/$46 million), when Hahn admitted that finances were now tight. Hahn said that wasn't a bluff.
And while Hahn said Tuesday that the club is under no edict to trim the fat from any other areas of the roster, more changes are still expected. One obvious move ahead is finding a new home for Dayan Viciedo, who was tendered a contract earlier this month and figures to make at least $4 million in the upcoming season.
“I don’t think it behooves us to get very deep into any conversation about any specific player in terms of potential future moves,” Hahn said. “I will say that there’s certainly an opportunity for Viciedo to play a role on this club however, the amount of (at-bats) for him have certainly diminished. I don’t think it would be a great shock to hear from other clubs that perhaps have a larger role for him and have interest in him joining their club to fulfill that role.”
Considering what Viciedo is set to make in 2015, the obvious need the White Sox have to trade him and the fact that his offense and defense have been disappointing, he isn’t in possession of a whole lot of trade value these days.
If that is the downside, though, to adding Robertson, Cabrera, Jeff Samardzija, Zack Duke and Adam LaRoche, the White Sox will gladly deal with it. Filling as many needs as they did with the caliber of players they brought aboard, not even the optimistic Hahn could see it all go down in the fashion that it did.
“We’re pleased with how we’ve been able to come through, but frankly I do think we probably have had a roll here that if you had told me six weeks ago we’d been able to convert on, I probably would have been a little surprised by,” Hahn said. “It’s what we set out to do. It’s what Jerry and Kenny (Williams) wanted to see from all of us, and the fact we’ve been able to convert on it makes us real pleased. The attitude we have down the hall, in our department, is we should feel good about what we’ve done, but it’s on to the next one now.”
Does the division still belong to Detroit? Or is this the year the Tigers finally get caught? Here's the path to the playoffs for the AL Central teams:
2014: 90-72, plus-52 run differential, lost in ALDS
2015 projection from FanGraphs: 86-76, plus-48
The Tigers have won four straight division titles, so it's not that difficult to envision a fifth straight division title, even if the club ends up losing Max Scherzer in free agency. Just stay the course.
Even without Scherzer and the traded Rick Porcello, the rotation features David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene, a sneaky good pickup from the Yankees. Price essentially replaces Scherzer, but the key will be getting a bounce-back season from Verlander, who went 15-12 albeit with a 4.54 ERA. Remember, Verlander had core-muscle repair surgery during the 2013-14 offseason, so it's possible he was never 100 percent during the season. An offseason of rest and normal conditioning exercises could help him return to the Verlander of the past.
The Tigers traded Porcello for Yoenis Cespedes, giving the club maybe the strongest middle of the lineup in the league with Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez and Cespedes, a foursome that could each hit 25-plus home runs. Even if Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez regress some, you can expect Cabrera to have a better season after he played through a painful ankle and foot injury. He had surgery after the season to remove bone spurs and had two screws inserted in his right foot to help repair a stress fracture. Even with those injuries, he hit .313 with 25 home runs and a league-leading 52 doubles. A healthier Cabrera could return to hitting .330 with 40 home runs.
The Tigers acquired Anthony Gose from Toronto, and while his bat is questionable, he'll give the team a defensive upgrade in center field over the Austin Jackson/Rajai Davis combo. Replacing Torii Hunter in the outfield with Cespedes will also help; Cespedes rated plus-12 defensive runs saved in left field last season while Hunter rated minus-17 in right field. It's not a direct position change, as J.D. Martinez will shift over to right field, but the defensive improvement in a Cespedes/Gose/Martinez outfield could easily be worth four wins or so. Making Davis the backup outfielder also helps strengthen the bench. Then you have the return of slick-fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias. We're not using to thinking of "defense" and "Tigers" going together, but the Tigers will have their best defensive team in years.
Yes, the bullpen. The offseason isn't over yet. I expect GM Dave Dombrowski to make a move or two here. Plus, the Tigers won 90 games with last year's bullpen. Even a small upgrade there should add a few wins.
Kansas City Royals
2014: 89-73, plus-27 run differential, lost World Series
2015 projection: 81-81, minus-3
Ninety feet short. Ninety feet. It was a dream season for the Royals, who finished the regular season just a game back of the Tigers, won a classic wild-card game and then steamrolled the Angels and Orioles in the postseason before running into Madison Bumgarner in the World Series.
Can they do it again? Sure. Yes, James Shields is a likely departure, but let's be honest here: They're not losing Bob Gibson. Shields was a workhorse and certainly a positive mentor to some of the young guys in the rotation, but he was worth 3.3 WAR last year; that can be replaced. You still have Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy to anchor the rotation. Ventura posted a 3.20 ERA as a rookie, and Duffy quietly posted a 2.53 ERA in his 25 starts. That could be a dynamite 1-2 combo as both see their workloads increase. I'd like to see the Royals add another starter behind Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie to fill out the top five.
But the rotation wasn't the strength of the team anyway. The bullpen returns the dominant Greg Holland-Wade Davis-Kelvin Herrera trio and will get Luke Hochevar back. Hochevar missed all of 2014 but posted a 1.92 ERA in 2013. Yes, maybe the Royals will have four sub-2.00 ERA relievers in 2015. Or five, if rookie Brandon Finnegan remains in the bullpen. With a bullpen like that, the Royals don't need a great rotation.
Plus, the defense will remain intact, and we saw in October how well the Royals play defense.
That leaves the offense, and there are reasons to be optimistic about improvement here. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez all had bad seasons at the plate, but all played the season at 25 or younger. Even in a conservative estimate, you can see all three creating at least 15 more runs; 45 more runs is about four or five extra wins. The team has signed Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios as free agents. Neither had a good 2014, but Rios struggled with thumb and ankle injuries. Both are just a year removed from solid seasons, however, and could turn out to be offensive upgrades over Billy Butler and Norichika Aoki.
And don't underestimate the confidence of a young team. The Royals have smelled October and tasted the World Series. They'll want to get there again.
2014: 85-77, plus-16 run differential
2015 projection: 85-77, plus-36
Here's a number that will impress: The Indians had the best second-half rotation ERA in the American League. Cy Young winner Corey Kluber got all the recognition, but he wasn't the only starter who came into his own. Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer is potentially as exciting as any other rotation in the league. That foursome started 94 games in 2014; imagine what it can do with 125 starts. Even No. 5 starter T.J. House posted a solid 3.35 ERA/3.69 FIP in his 18 starts.
Maybe the rotation lacks the Tigers' big names, but it could be the best in the division.
Three other reasons to see a path to the playoffs:
1. Brandon Moss. Acquired from the A's, the All-Star hit 25 home runs, although he was slowed the final two months by a hip injury that required offseason surgery. If healthy, he could produce even better numbers than he did with the A's. (Leaving Oakland and the other parks in the AL West for Progressive Field should help his power numbers.)
2. Jason Kipnis will have a better season. The second baseman created 101 runs in 2013, just 53 in 2014 (in 100 fewer plate appearances), as he played through an oblique injury.
3. Better defense at shortstop. Whether it's Jose Ramirez or top prospect Francisco Lindor, the Indians will have better range than Asdrubal Cabrera provided. One reason the pitching improved the final two months was the departure of Cabrera. (In fact, the Indians rated last in the majors with minus-75 defensive runs saved, so even slight improvement across the field will help.)
Oh, yeah, you also have the guy who finished third in the AL MVP voting in Michael Brantley, the best manager in the division in Terry Francona and an underrated bullpen that had the fourth-best ERA in the AL.
Chicago White Sox
2014: 73-89, minus-98 run differential
2015 projection: 78-84, minus-28
No team has made more big moves this offseason than the White Sox: They traded for Jeff Samardzija without losing any significant pieces from the major league roster and signed outfielder Melky Cabrera, first baseman/DH Adam LaRoche and relievers David Robertson and Zach Duke.
The beauty of those acquisitions is that the White Sox aren't just replacing mediocre production with slightly better production, but below-replacement-level production in some cases. Look at the players/positions:
• Left field: White Sox left fielders hit an ugly .225/.297/.344 and fielded an ugly minus-10 defensive runs saved (second-worst in the majors).
• Rotation: Andre Rienzo, Scott Carroll and Felipe Paulino made a combined 34 starts, went 8-17 and were worth minus-2.3 WAR.
• The bullpen had the second-worst ERA in the AL, better than only the Astros. Robertson has been one of the league's best relievers for years, and Duke changed his arm angle last year and had a dominant season with the Brewers (74 K's in 58 1/3 innings). They immediately become the eighth- and ninth-inning guys.
Of course, the White Sox already have an MVP candidate in Jose Abreu and Cy Young candidate in Chris Sale. They do have a hole at second base right now, but Carlos Sanchez (.293/.349/.412 at Triple-A) should at least be an upgrade over what they got there last year if he gets the job. I'd like to see them find another starting pitcher to line up behind Sale, Samardzija and the underrated Jose Quintana, but GM Rick Hahn may still have a little money to play with.
Ninety wins may be difficult, but few teams can match the front-line talent the White Sox have. If the secondary players improve, the White Sox can raise their first division flag since 2008.
2014: 70-92, minus-62 run differential
2015 projection: 76-86, minus-47
OK, maybe we have to be a little creative when it comes to the Twins. But remember, we're in the age of parity. It may take only 85 or 86 wins to win the Central. So finding an extra 15 or 16 wins is doable if everything breaks right and a lot goes wrong with the other four teams.
A few ways how:
• Joe Mauer has a better season.
• Danny Santana is for real.
• Kennys Vargas develops into a .275, 25-homer DH.
• Brian Dozier gets even better and turns into an MVP candidate.
• The defense improves. The Twins ranked 29th in the majors in defensive runs saved, including minus-50 runs in the outfield. Although the Torii Hunter signing doesn't help here.
• Ervin Santana has a good season. Ricky Nolasco is better. Phil Hughes is great again. Put it this way: The Twins had a 5.07 rotation ERA, worst in the majors. That was more than a run worse than the AL average. They used 12 different starters, and Hughes was the only starter who posted an ERA under 4.47. So, um, yeah, expect a better rotation in 2015.
• Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton arrive a little earlier than anticipated.
Look, the offense should be good again. The Twins were fifth in the AL in runs scored and second in OBP last year. And they've cleared out a lot of the offensive deadweight. They scored 42 fewer runs than the Tigers and didn't have anybody who had career years like Victor and J.D. Martinez. It wouldn't be that much of a stretch to think the Twins could lead the league in runs. If they're in the race in July, they could add a couple of veteran starters for the stretch run.
The 30-year-old left fielder and No. 2 hitter will receive $13 million next season, $14 million in 2016 and $15 million in 2017.
Cabrera was a .301 hitter this past season for the Toronto Blue Jays in 568 at-bats, the second most at-bats in any one season behind the 658 he had in 2011, when he batted .305 for the Kansas City Royals. He posted a .351 on-base percentage in 2014 and has a .339 OBP over 1,211 career games.
“Melky provides us with a professional hitter, who reaches base on a consistent basis,” general manager Rick Hahn said in a release. "We think he slides into Robin's batting order perfectly and adds depth to a very versatile lineup. We are very excited about his addition to our roster.”
Robin, of course, is manager Robin Ventura, and in his fourth season at the helm of the club, he is expected to bat Cabrera right behind leadoff man Adam Eaton and right in front of rookie of the year Jose Abreu.
Cabrera reportedly turned down a four-year offer to sign the White Sox’s three-year pact and the opportunity to bat in front of a hitter like Abreu could have played into that decision.
During a three-game home series against the Kansas City Royals, the last American League team to play in the World Series, the White Sox will play host to a reunion weekend of former 2005 players.
No details were given other than the club’s plan to “commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the organization’s 2005 World Series Championship victory, honoring the members of the 2005 team and their accomplishments at U.S. Cellular Field,” according to a team release.
The team’s celebration of the 2005 season is scheduled to kick off during SoxFest, Jan. 23-25 at the Hilton Chicago. White Sox players from the 2005 club currently scheduled to appear: Jose Contreras, Jon Garland, Orlando Hernandez, Bobby Jenks, Geoff Blum, Joe Crede, Tadahito Iguchi, Scott Podsednik and Aaron Rowand. More players could be announced later.
The White Sox also announced that they will give out free T-shirts to the first 10,000 fans at each Monday home game. Themed nights in the 2015 season include: Mullet Night, June 19; Country Music Night, July 31; Elvis Night, Aug. 28; Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day, Sept. 12 and Hispanic Heritage Night, Oct. 2.
Giveaways include: 2015 magnetic schedule, April 10; White Sox welcome mat, April 11; White Sox calendar, April 20-22; White Sox tote bag, April 24 and Jose Abreu rookie of the year blanket, April 25.
Additional theme nights and giveaway games will be announced at a later date.
The White Sox will put 14-game and seven-game ticket plans on sale at 10 a.m. CST Tuesday. More information on the ticket package sale is available at whitesox.com/holidaypacks.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 15/2
Boston Red Sox: 9/1
Washington Nationals: 15/2
Chicago Cubs: 12/1
Detroit Tigers: 12/1
Los Angeles Angels: 12/1
San Francisco Giants: 14/1
Seattle Mariners: 14/1
St. Louis Cardinals: 14/1
Baltimore Orioles: 18/1
Toronto Blue Jays: 18/1
Kansas City Royals: 20/1
New York Mets: 25/1
New York Yankees: 25/1
Atlanta Braves: 28/1
Chicago White Sox: 28/1
Cleveland Indians: 33/1
Miami Marlins: 33/1
Pittsburgh Pirates: 33/1
Cincinnati Reds: 40/1
Milwaukee Brewers: 40/1
Oakland Athletics: 40/1
San Diego Padres: 40/1
Texas Rangers: 40/1
Tampa Bay Rays: 66/1
Arizona Diamondbacks: 75/1
Colorado Rockies: 100/1
Houston Astros: 150/1
Minnesota Twins: 150/1
Philadelphia Phillies: 150/1
On Oct. 30, the Cubs were 50-1. After signing Sandy Koufax and trading for Yogi Berra, they're down to 12/1. I mean, Jon Lester is a nice pitcher, but come on.
My good buys right now: Pirates and Indians at 33-1. The Pirates have made the playoffs the past two years, have a superstar in Andrew McCutchen and some young guys who could improve. The Indians won 85 games in 2014 and their starting rotation really came together in the second half. Obviously, the odds are somewhat reflective of market size, which is why Pittsburgh and Cleveland have longer odds right now. And teams that have made a big splash so far in the offseason seemed to have gotten a big boost in their odds.
Bad buys: Tigers at 12-1 and Braves at 28-1. The Tigers have been busy so far but have mostly just been spinning their wheels, while likely losing Max Scherzer. With the Indians and White Sox potentially stronger, the Tigers' grip on the division is more tenuous than it's been in years. The Braves have lost their best player in Jason Heyward and still have big issues on offense while coming off a sub-.500 season in a division where the Marlins and Mets should both be better.
The offseason is young. Lots of free agent signings and trades to come. We'll see how the odds change before Opening Day.
A roster rebuild that began at the 2013 trade deadline has added significant pieces since the start of November as Zach Duke and David Robertson have been added to the bullpen, Jeff Samardzija has been added to the rotation, and Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera have been added to the lineup. The news of the Cabrera deal started to break late Saturday night.
The White Sox have spent $128 million alone on Duke, Robertson, LaRoche and Cabrera, with $42 million of that going to Cabrera for three years, according to a source who confirmed the numbers with ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick.
Where some believed the White Sox would extend the rebuild into next offseason, the front office had a quicker timetable for trying to turn around the fortunes of a franchise that has experienced back-to-back losing seasons and has been to the postseason just once since its 2005 title.
The White Sox's arrival to their current winter spending spree was two-fold.
First, the White Sox started erasing big contracts from the books starting with the Jake Peavy trade at the 2013 trade deadline. That deal is also known as the one that added current right fielder Avisail Garcia into the mix.
Subsequent big-money deals that came off the books were those of Alex Rios (he was traded to the Texas Rangers in 2013), Paul Konerko (his big-money deal expired after the 2013 season) and Adam Dunn (he was traded to the Oakland Athletics in August).
But there has been more to the White Sox's decision to start spending now.
Team-friendly contracts to Chris Sale and Jose Quintana have also been key in establishing a solid starting rotation. And after one season of Jose Abreu's six-year, $68 million deal, that contract so far looks like a steal.
It wasn't a coincidence that the White Sox's current slide coincided with the bloated contracts to aging former stars who still were on the payroll. The sense was that the club might not hurry to get into that situation again, and the front office possibly would take a look at it next year when the roster was allowed to stabilize for another year.
The offseason started slowly enough with the three-year, $15 million deal for Duke and the relatively safe two-year deal for LaRoche, which will pay him $25 million through 2016.
Even the move for Samardzija seemed relatively conservative, even for a player who could bolt via free agency after one season. Marcus Semien and Josh Phegley were considered expendable since the club had multiple options at both second base and catcher. Pitcher Chris Bassitt, who was also in the deal, did not project as high as a No. 2 starter, which Samardzija would be.
And the White Sox got a top-of-the-rotation pitcher in the deal with the A's, and one who won't break the bank at that, unless a contract extension is agreed upon before spring training, something that isn't expected.
But perhaps the one-year status of Samardzija is what prompted a speedup in the rebuilding plan.
Things took on a different aura when Robertson was added for four years and $46 million. Big-money free-agent deals have their inherent risk, and none are more risky than high-priced deals to back-of-the-bullpen types.
"We worked hard to get to the point we're at right now where we have some flexibility," Hahn said mere hours before a deal with Robertson was agreed upon last week at the winter meetings. "And we knew that entering the 2015 season was going to be a bit of a pivot point for the major league club, even going back a couple of years when you looked at us on paper when you knew that Dunn, Peavy, Rios and PK were likely going to be elsewhere for 2015. This was always going to be a time where we had some choices to make.”
In Robertson, the White Sox felt the roll of the dice was worth it. The 29-year old had been a proven set-up man with the New York Yankees and then proved his mettle by saving 39 games this past season as the Yankees' replacement at closer for Mariano Rivera.
With the need to fix the bullpen the greatest, the White Sox took the plunge on a proven performer who has been healthy throughout his career. In doing so, they bucked a few trends -- like the one that says relievers are the most volatile parts of a team, and the one that saw them develop their own closers for the past decade, from Bobby Jenks to Sergio Santos to Addison Reed.
In signing Cabrera, the White Sox have finally moved on from Dayan Viciedo, even though Viciedo is just 25 years old, and right-handed power is a prized commodity in the game today.
The White Sox's front office has gathered for some tough conversations this winter, and the answers have been that this offseason was the time to take some financial risks. Hahn outlined those conversations last week.
"Do we spend more for free agents? Do we try to acquire some high-priced talent via trade? And how is the best and most prudent way to put that club together?" Hahn said. "When we make a large commitment, whether it's a guy like [Jose] Abreu or [Chris] Sale or the next free agent we sign, it's not with the eye that we're going to necessarily have dead money on the back end of it.
"Does it happen? Yeah. It's part of the cost of doing business, and none of us in this industry are smart enough to identify on the way in where it's going to be. We sort of know, in our mind, that that's going to happen, but as a result we don't shy away from deals that have a reasonable chance to make us better for an extended period of time."
Now comes the task of blending it all together on the field. Hahn has done his job, and now it's up to manager Robin Ventura to make it all mesh.
The front office has remained solidly behind Ventura, even through 188 losses over the past two seasons. Ventura has the horses now, though, so is there pressure to have success?
"Hopefully," Ventura said last week, slowly looking around at the faces who will report all season on how he is handling that pressure. "That would be fine. I hope so."
Pressure means Ventura has a good team now, and he will gladly take it.
A team that had Conor Gillaspie bating third on Opening Day in 2014 has its pieces in better alignment now, especially up top, where the first five hitters weren't even in the organization at the All-Star break in 2013.
How the 2015 Opening Day lineup now looks:
Adam Eaton, center field
Melky Cabrera, left field
Jose Abreu, first base
Adam LaRoche, designated hitter
Avisail Garcia, right field
Alexei Ramirez, shortstop
Conor Gillaspie, third base
Tyler Flowers, catcher
Micah Johnson/Carlos Sanchez, second base
Suddenly, manager Robin Ventura's refusal to ponder a potential lineup while being interviewed at the winter meetings earlier this week makes much more sense.
Of the 1,211 games Cabrera has played in his career, the biggest number has come in the No. 2 spot. He is batting .292 there with a .341 on-base percentage, and represents a much better fit in the second spot instead of Ramirez, who had his issues with situational hitting behind Eaton last season.
With Eaton and Cabrera in the first two spots, it also would give more RBI opportunities to rookie of the year Abreu, who still managed to drive in 107 runs in 2014.
White Sox No. 2 hitters had a combined .237 batting average last season, 26th in baseball, and a .279 on-base percentage, 29th in baseball. Cabrera had a .351 OBP last season with the Toronto Blue Jays in 139 games. He also has a career .339 on-base percentage over 10 major league seasons.
The Cabrera addition also provides better lineup balance with the left-handed hitting Eaton up top, followed by the switch-hitting Cabrera, the right-handed hitting Abreu and the left-handed hitting LaRoche and the right-handed hitting Garcia
Gillaspie and Ramirez are presumably interchangeable in the sixth and seventh spots, depending on the pitcher. Gillaspie's presence as a No. 7 hitter gives the lineup a left-handed line-drive hitter toward the bottom of the order for the first time since A.J. Pierzynski departed as a free agent following the 2012 season.
Gillaspie was batting .321 as late as July 31 and was among the league leaders in hitting most of the season. He faded late, though, batting .222 in August and just .208 over the final two months to finish with a .282 batting average and a .336 OBP to go along with a .416 slugging percentage.
The second base job is the only real spring training battle remaining among position players. Sanchez has a slight edge based on his 28 games of experience there in 2014, but Johnson has more upside, and his speed in the No. 9 spot, leading to Eaton in the leadoff spot, provides intrigue.
The team officially announced Cabrera's signing Tuesday.
Cabrera, who was believed to have significant interest from the Seattle Mariners, will take over in left field and continues an impressive string of offseason acquisitions from general manager Rick Hahn.
The 30-year old Cabrera batted .301 with 81 runs scored in 139 games for the Toronto Blue Jays this past season, hitting 16 home runs with 73 RBIs.
"Melky provides us with a professional hitter, who reaches base on a consistent basis," Hahn said in a statement. "We think he slides into (manager Robin Ventura's) batting order perfectly and adds depth to a very versatile lineup."
Hahn had indicated after the Robertson signing that money was now tight, but Cabrera's signing contradicts that stance. The White Sox came into the offseason with money to spend after big contracts like those for Jake Peavy
The White Sox addressed key needs in a trade for right-handed starter Jeff Samardzija and right-handed closer David Robertson, showing a bold and daring side in the process, especially with Robertson.
Coughing up $46 million for a reliever signaled that the White Sox are eager to push their roster rebuild forward at a much quicker pace, while telling the rest of the club, not to mention the fan base, that help has arrived.
The White Sox closed the meetings Thursday by adding another bullpen piece. While not as flashy as the Robertson signing, left-hander Dan Jennings was added in a trade from the Miami Marlins. Building a better relief corps has been the White Sox’s priority since the season ended.
“We’re pleased with this week; it was a good week,” general manager Rick Hahn said shortly before departing the meetings Thursday. “We picked up three of our targets, addressed three different needs. We’ll take that any old week. I don’t know if we’re necessarily going to be able to replicate it next week but we’re certainly going to try.”