GLENDALE, Ariz. — While pitchers and catchers shake away the winter rust, there’s always ample time for talk on the back fields during the first day of spring training.
Tuesday was no different in the Chicago White Sox’s camp at Camelback Ranch.
But as new manager Rick Renteria bounced around and seemingly chatted up and hugged every Sox player and coach who crossed his path, as players old and new got caught up on all of the off-season happenings, a more newsworthy line of talk caught my ear.
According to one member affiliated with the White Sox, it was chairman Jerry Reinsdorf who finally gave the green light for a rebuilding project after decades of squelching any conversation that endorsed assembling a young roster and letting it grow.
“We pounded the desk for years to do this,” the Sox employee said. “It’s something that needed to be done in the past, but the timing never seemed to be right. It is now, and there’s a lot of excitement about it.”
It’s hard to blame Reinsdorf for conducting himself like a major-market owner, for wanting to put a competitive team on the field every year.
But after four straight losing seasons with veteran teams that were patched together, Reinsdorf relented. He finally understood you can build formidable teams from the ground up without losing face — or your fan base.
In December, Chris Sale and Adam Eaton were traded for seven promising prospects.
Even more trades are coming, with starting pitcher Jose Quintana and closer David Robertson on deck and in the hole, or vice versa.
“I didn’t know which direction the organization was going to take, but, obviously, they kind of set the table by making those trades,” said Robertson, who looks like a good fit for the Washington Nationals. “They’re looking to rebuild, so either I’m going to be a part of it or I’m going to be a piece that gets moved.
“I’m here to play baseball. I’m going to continue to work on getting better and let the cards fall where they’re going to be.
“I can’t do anything about it. I’m just going to try my best to stay here. If I stay here, great. If I get moved, it’s their decision.”
Robertson is going to get moved, but only if the return price is right. While he has nowhere near the trade value of Sale, Eaton or Quintana, Robertson did tie for fourth in the American League with 37 saves last season.
“We expect them to continue,” general manager Rick Hahn said of trades. “We are going to continue to keep an open mind, and where there’s conversations to be had, we will pursue them. At this point, we have had extensive conversations on various fronts, and as we sit here today there’s nothing that’s gnawing at us or appealing enough to make us move.
“We are certainly going to keep an open mind, but now the focus tends to shift a little bit to getting ready for the season as opposed to any potential trades.”
Hahn traded Sale and Eaton on consecutive days in early December and almost had another big deal to discuss on Christmas Eve.
But there’s nothing wrong with holding on to Quintana, Robertson, Todd Frazier, even Jose Abreu, and waiting for desperate teams to increase their offers.
On Tuesday, prized St. Louis Cardinals rookie starter Alex Reyes went down with elbow soreness that could result in season-ending surgery.
That could potentially add another Quintana suitor and bring the White Sox even more in return.
“The reasons we pull the trigger is because we feel it’s going to put us in the best position for the long term,” Hahn said. “On any given player, their length of control and how you project their performance going forward will factor into whether the return serves us better for the long term or it’s better to sit and let this player continue to develop or be part of the plans for the long term.
“We don’t view it as everyone in that locker room needs to be moved to serve the next championship White Sox club. A lot of those players are hopefully going to play key roles on that next club. If we get to the point where we feel like it’s in the long-term benefit of the club to perhaps take a little something away from today to serve the longer greater good, then that’s when you wind up making a deal.”