Adam LaRoche was only around for a few weeks of spring training action, but he covered the entire spectrum for a veteran.
Two games in, he looked like a comeback story in the making.
Tuesday, he announced his plans to retire.
It's still "plans" because he vowed his teammates "a day or two" to consider the topic, but it's hard to imagine LaRoche walking it back. Coworkers and bosses remarked on the conviction he showed during the discussion, and while he left it officially unresolved, he doesn't seem like the kind of person who would waffle about it in the open.
Thank u Lord for the game of baseball and for giving me way more than I ever deserved!#FamilyFirst— Adam LaRoche (@e3laroche) March 15, 2016
As a result, he made everybody's heads spin with a few currently unanswerable questions.
Why did he do it? From circumstantial evidence, we can guess that LaRoche's back locking up made him wonder how much he wanted to go through a grind of a regular season, especially after one that was so miserable last year. "Personal reasons" is a bit more vague, so hopefully(?) it's only a personal realization and not a family thing.
Why couldn't he have done it earlier? Crippling back pain seems to be the game-changer here, but it would've been nice if the Sox could've used the $13 million over the offseason (or spent it as if LaRoche wasn't making it, which should've been the plan if the LaRoche signing was as low-risk as it seemed a winter ago).
Who can the Sox still get? For his part, Rick Hahn said the Sox might have to save the budget room for later in the season if nothing attractive materializes right away. Assuming the Sox can't swing a late trade for Josh Reddick -- the A's have plans for this season, even if extension talks have been quiet -- the ready names are on the slim side, and mostly familiar. But there is one new kid on the block, even if he's also been around it a few times himself.
The usual suspects
- Carlos Gonzalez
- Jay Bruce
- Andre Ethier
We may as well call this the Bruce Levine Trio, because each one of these left-handed outfielders have been primarily linked to the Sox from his reports. The latter two have been repudiated by other sources, and Gonzalez's name hasn't had much heat from anybody, as the Rockies reportedly are asking for both top prospects and no salary help (he's making $37 million over the next two years).
While the White Sox don't have a dire need for an outfielder after the Austin Jackson signing, they could use a left-handed bat, and having the ability to play an outfield position wouldn't suck, either. Each player could more or less slide into LaRoche's payroll spot -- Bruce is making $12.5 million for 2016, and while Gonzalez and Ethier would need some cash coming back with them, it wouldn't be unreasonable to ask to help.
I'd be amused if it were Bruce, as he fits the same characteristics of the last two guys White Sox fans despised seeing at DH -- he's a National League lefty who hits into shifts and is battling a couple other undermining factors as well. Unless there's something in the league bylaws that says the White Sox need to spend $12 million on such a player, the Sox would be well-served to try someone from a different mold, which Gonzalez and Ethier are.
It would leave the White Sox short a true backup first baseman, but Todd Frazier, Tyler Saladino and Alex Avila have varying levels of experience there. Travis Ishikawa is the truest first baseman in the minors right now, and that's less than desirable.
The new guy
- Justin Morneau
If you want a backup first basemen, there's still one hanging out on the free agent market, and this almost makes too much sense. Morneau isn't exciting -- he turns 35 in May, injuries (mostly concussions) have limited his availability since his days as a Minnesota mainstay, and he and the White Sox had a mutual loathing during their battles last decade.
That said, he's a left-handed hitter who hit .316/.363/.487 over the last two seasons with Colorado, and without the usual gigantic home-road splits most Rockies have (not that that really matters, anyway). He made $6.75 million in 2015, and since he's still on the market beyond the Ides of March, it seems like the Sox can go lower. If all it takes is a Jimmy Rollins-esque minor league deal, it's difficult to argue against it.
- Jerry Sands
- Matt Davidson
Sands looked like the best bet of the dark horses entering spring training, but the Jackson signing cut off his avenue to the 25-man roster as a right-handed hitter with some outfield skills (J.B. Shuck seems like he's heading north even if he's a fifth outfielder). Now it's back open for him temporarily, especially since he's been used at first base a little. However, if the idea is to make an Avisail Garcia emergence a luxury rather than a necessity, Sands' right-handedness and iffy defense doesn't do anything to limit Garcia's exposure.
While CrossFit failed to save the career of LaRoche, Davidson provides another spring resurrection story, and with the numbers to show for it. After two late-inning homers on Tuesday, Davidson is hitting .455/.478/1.045 with twice as many homers (four) as strikeouts (two) over 23 plate appearances. We talked about Davidson a couple days ago, and how he looked especially buried at third base/DH behind Todd Frazier, Tyler Saladino, Brett Lawrie, Adam LaRoche, and Mike Olt. Now LaRoche has retired, and a couple hours before that news broke, the club released Olt. Suddenly, the path for a power bat of any kind is a little clearer now.