After Dan Hayes beat the White Sox to the punch in announcing their signing of the 37-year-old Jimmy Rollins, the jokes -- or at least the references occupying the place in sentences where humor would normally go -- wrote themselves. It's a tale old as time, so much so that even writers who don't follow the White Sox all that closely can sense it:
I bet the White Sox are the all-time leaders in "acquiring elite players well after their prime just to see if there's anything left."— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) February 22, 2016
Sure enough, Twitter was awash with Roberto Alomars, Andruw Joneses, Manny Ramirezes, Kevin Youkili and Ken Griffeys Jr., first with surface-level digs, and then with deeper dives. It is indeed a White Sox move; the kind of signing that keeps "Kenny Williams always gets his man" alive, and one that may inadvertently end up irking Rick Hahn down the road in the form of questions about his boss' outsized shadow.
But it's a White Sox move that's far better than no move at all.
Tyler Saladino was one of two known pain points on the White Sox roster (the other is Avisail Garcia, maybe you've heard of him). One could construct a case in which Saladino is an acceptable de facto starter, but one wouldn't want to. It'd require:
- Saladino to be an exceptional defender, and we don't know that he is, and
- The other additions to hit well enough to cover for him, and there are no such guarantees on the South Side.
Rollins' presence doesn't knock Saladino out of the starting role, but it changes the complexion at Camelback Ranch. We'll be watching an honest-to-goodness position battle, and one Saladino could win by losing if it buys him more time with the learning curve.
At the same time, I don't like the idea that Rollins has a chance to be the everyday shortstop. He may still have a dead-cat bounce left in him -- he was good on both sides of the ball in 2014 before his abysmal 2015, and he's a disciplined enough player that he might be able to wring some offense out of a slower bat.
That last part is what separates him from Alexei Ramirez, because very little else does, and that's the issue:
Rollins has Ramirez's durability, but availability alone didn't benefit the Sox last year. Robin Ventura still played Ramirez every damn day despite the fact that his hitting actively harmed the Sox over the first three months (.235 OBP through June!). When the Sox declined Ramirez's option and didn't re-sign him at a lower price, I thought it was a missed opportunity, because I would've liked to see how Ramirez handled playing 110 games instead of being run into the ground with 158 by default.
Well, here's Rollins with the same opportunity. He's gunning for everyday work, as he chose a minor league contract with a shot at $2 million for the White Sox instead of a more lucrative MLB deal with another team. The Giants were one, and they have even-year BS on their side, which goes to show how much Rollins prioritizes playing.
While the minor-league nature of Rollins' contract seems similar to the one Geovany Soto signed last year -- the $2 million is probably a given, but it buys the Sox time to assess a full 40-man roster -- Hahn made the necessary precautions:
"The way we view it and the way we described it to Jimmy, no one is given jobs until they earn jobs," Hahn said. "There is certainly the opportunity that Jimmy could find himself playing fairly regularly at short. He will also come in and be prepared on a utility basis, playing multiple positions depending on how things play out."
I like "fairly regularly" better than everyday, because a Rollins revival should mesh pretty well with Saladino. Up until last season, he was a switch-hitter who hit righties better, while Saladino is a right-handed hitter who had a way better idea of the strike zone against lefties in his first MLB action. Right away, there's a platoon possibility that Ramirez couldn't have afforded. From there, Ventura can make adjustments based on the defensive gap between the two, health, and, of course, whether Rollins has any baseball left, and whether Saladino used up all of his in two weeks.
Both of those questions may not have satisfactory answers, but Hahn has hedged his bets accordingly. It's a lot harder to hit on two individual worst-case scenarios, even if the Sox are kinda great at that.
Back to Ramirez, the Rollins contract pinpoints just how much the Sox wanted to see something different at short. Rollins' contract is worth $2 million with no incentives, while Ramirez signed for $4 million with San Diego. Factor in the $1 million buyout, and that's a difference of $1 million, which usually isn't enough to change the calculus on a guy with whom the Sox are intimately acquainted.
Whatever the case, the Padres regard Ramirez as a sight for sore eyes given their shortstop problems. They're also not treating him as a finished product, as new manager Andy Green says he'll be taking a hands-on approach:
"What stood out to me more than anything is I asked him in the middle of it, 'Are you willing to be coached? If I have something for you, if I’ve seen something, you want to know what I know about you?'"
Ramirez, 34, replied in the affirmative. It might have been taken as the politically correct answer.
"But the first time I saw him after that, when we had signed him, he came up to me and said, 'What do you have for me?'" Green continued. "I said, 'I don’t have anything for you right now, but I guarantee you we will have stuff for you.' "We might have a way to get some extra baseball out of this guy."
Maybe the Padres see something the Sox didn't, but right now these are the same stories with their own dressing. Both teams courted disaster at shortstop without a stopgap. Both teams brought in veteran who suddenly ran aground. Both teams say they have plans for the price. The only difference is that the Sox had their choice of both, and they opted for a different kind of familiar.