The White Sox finally announced their signing of Adam LaRoche on Tuesday afternoon, with the new DH/first baseman flanked by Rick Hahn and Robin Ventura on a conference call.
- LaRoche will make $12 million in 2015 and $13 million in 2016.
- Scott Carroll was DFA'd to open the spot on the 40-man roster.
It's LaRoche's biggest contract by $1 million, and he said, "I'd be lying if I said the money had nothing to do with it." Besides the interest the Sox showed in him, he also listed other items that swayed him into picking Chicago for the location of his 15th home in 15 years -- the city, an opportunity to push an improving team, and most uniquely, his history with the Sox.
His father, Dave, was the White Sox bullpen coach under Jeff Torborg from 1989 to 1991.
"I remember running around Old Comiskey when my dad was coaching there, and I've honestly always been a White Sox fan, and I don't just say that," LaRoche said.
"I was starting to understand the game and figure it out, and I happened to be in a White Sox uniform quite a bit around that old stadium, and I always really enjoyed being there and being around those guys. When I talked to Robin and Bobby Thigpen down in the bullpen, and some of those guys I was around as a kid, that played into it."
So that's how LaRoche got here. But what about the people that were already around?
He felt the repercussions of the LaRoche signing immediately, as the White Sox designated him for assignment to make room for LaRoche on the 40-man roster. That struck me as surprising at first, considering Carroll threw a whopping 129⅓ innings for the White Sox last year, mostly because the Sox didn't have anybody better.
That said, the Sox got rid of most of the pitchers who ran out of chances. Of the arms on the 40-man, the only outlier is Raul Fernandez, a 24-year-old claimed from Colorado by the Sox in July, because he's never pitched above A-ball.
After that, Andre Rienzo is probably the next-most vulnerable, as all the other iffy pitchers joined the 40-man more recently, and Carroll actually pitched for the Sox in September. However, if you think Rienzo has a brighter future in the bullpen, then it makes sense to give him one season to devote himself to the role. Carroll's best MLB role is a swingman, but a lot of guys fit that bill.
Carroll isn't out of the picture entirely, but if he ends up on another team, his story was fun enough in a down year. He'll always have his debut. And Doodle Hats. Fastball!
My biggest immediate question about the LaRoche signing: How much first base would he play? By metrics and reputation, he's a better first baseman than Abreu, but Abreu is signed for three years past LaRoche's deal, so it may not be worth stunting his defensive development for an immediate gain that might not be all that noticeable.
Ventura said his idea is to play LaRoche there twice a week, assuming normal health and productivity. That must be good enough for LaRoche, because he was rather candid about his desire to wear a mitt:
Honestly, it never crossed my mind that I would sign as a DH somewhere, even a part-time DH. [...] I love playing first, plain and simple, and I told Robin I would hate to come in to a position somewhere where I totally give up first base, because I feel like I can still be very productive on the defensive side. Physically, I still feel great. I'm not in a position yet, thankfully, where I need to be off my feet a bunch and where defensive will affect me physically.
I feel good, and talking to him, there is that spot. They've got a kid that's obviously going to be around and be really good for a long time, so it's not fair to make him a full-time DH this early in his career, especially when he can handle first base and handle the glove over there. I'm good however it plays out, and that's exactly what I told [Ventura]. I said if you need me to play first more than we're talking about, great, I'll be there. If I end up DHing more, that's fine. I'm looking forward to hopefully being in the middle of that lineup and having the chance to drive some runs in.
Ventura seems to believe in Abreu, vouching for his improvement, especially with his movement around the base, over the course of the season.
"Later in the year, we were able to move him further off of first base, with the way we were setting up," Ventura said. "I think he started to enjoy that part of it ... even staying a little bit off on a pickoff, to be able to move around and jockey with the runners."
Rick Hahn and Robin Ventura
Hahn listed the on-field benefits of the acquisition -- left-handed, first base depth, etc. -- but he piled praise upon LaRoche for his leadership abilities:
"Part of the appeal is his presence in the clubhouse," Hahn said. "I cannot tell you how many different club officials, scouts and even players I've heard from since this leaked out the other day, as well as doing our due diligence on Adam, just raved about what he brings to the clubhouse."
"Given that we have a young club and an evolving club, we felt it was important, first and foremost, to add what he brings on the field, but also it was very appealing, what he could bring in the clubhouse and the leadership he could provide to this young club."
At the general managers meetings two weeks ago, Hahn said the Sox could use such a player to bridge the gap to a new hierarchy after Paul Konerko retired. At least it seems to be a player Ventura can use, too.
It sounds like there's no "hopefully" about it. Assuming the on-hand talent holds, Ventura said he plans to bat LaRoche fourth, after Abreu and before Avisail Garcia.
The sixth hitter? Gillaspie. He's not really the subject of trade rumors, but more of a persistent thought that the Sox can do better at third base. Until anything materializes, though, he's still the incumbent, and Ventura sees a fit for him in the lineup.
"It really balances out our lineup, to be able to have Conor probably in a more comfortable spot of just being a line-drive hitter batting in the six hole," Ventura said.
By process of elimination, that would seem to put Alexei Ramirez in the No. 2 spot, with some combination of Dayan Viciedo, Tyler Flowers and the winner of the second base job in the bottom third of the order.
Maybe Marcus Semien would change the equation if he won the second-base job, because Ventura gave him that assignment when during Gordon Beckham's absence over the first month or two, and that could be a future for him, especially against lefties. But all this speculation could be pointless if the Sox end up acquiring an OBP-oriented player at third or left field.