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Jimmy Rollins revisits spring drama after White Sox turn page

If the days of veteran leadership transplants are over, it’s for good reason

Chicago White Sox v Texas Rangers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen the problem with attempting to import leadership through veterans. Namely, it only exacerbates the confusion when they fail to strike a balance.

In 2015, the White Sox added Jeff Samardzija as a Captain of Attitude, with Adam LaRoche standing in as a well-regarded veteran on the position-player side. When that didn’t work, in came Todd Frazier, Alex Avila, Dioner Navarro and Jimmy Rollins to try to further correct the course, which now looks like sending in the Chinese needle snakes to correct for the Bolivian tree lizards.

Interviewed in San Francisco’s spring training on Wednesday, Rollins sounds like he still isn’t sure what happened, what could’ve been done, or what the White Sox are doing.

This is a fun 57 seconds of an active baseball player dabbling in White Sox rebuilding trutherism, then attempting to maintain some semblance of decorum while airing it out. I can’t validate or verify his detachment from the initial explosion, but that doesn’t stop this from being a terrific soliloquy. I probably could have mentally assigned Rollins’ exact smile to the pregnant pause even if I’d only read the quote.

“The funny part was, when Adam came in, I had just went to the bathroom, so I didn’t hear anything. And I came out, and they’re like, ‘He’s retiring.’ And I’m like, ‘Why’s everybody so sad?’ You celebrate a guy retiring. He had a great career, he’s made his decision. Then I found out why ... and then ... chaos. Yeah. But ... I don’t have to worry about that here.”

If Rollins indeed had nothing to do with curbing Drake LaRoche’s baseball camp, then you can take the quote at face value and understand his confusion. If you still think he was among the veterans who voiced displeasure about a 14-year-old participating in their drills and is being more than a little disingenuous, then this is work of a charismatic heel. There’s no point in relitigating L’affaire LaRoche at this point either way, but the Sox shouldn’t be spared from occasional reminders, because it wasn’t an unfortunate random event. Rather, it was the most cataclysmic result from that long chain of poor choices, leaving the White Sox with only one way out.

According to this Baseball America article by Kyle Glaser, the decision to rebuild started in late June or early July.

What the White Sox pro scouting director [Dan Fabian] does remember is the message. With the White Sox already eight or nine games out of first place and on their way to a fourth straight losing season, Fabian texted his pro scouts across the country and told them to drop their major league coverage and forget equal coverage of the 29 other organizations.

They probably should’ve done that before the James Shields trade, but that’s the easy jab. More meaningfully, the decision to abort the season midsummer allowed the Sox to spend the rest of the season watching minor-league games while hunting for potential secondary and tertiary players.

“Washington is (scout) John Tumminia’s organization, for example, but I also had Keith Staab, among other guys, go up and see their Triple-A club, and he ran into Giolito in between one of his up down periods,” Fabian said. “We got three different looks at (Diaz) during the season. Joe Butler, who has Boston, saw him early. Chris Lein saw him in June or July, and even John Tumminia saw him in instructional league, and each report was better, so it sort of built the case for, in my mind, when we get to that fourth player in the deal, this is the kind of guy who might fit. You want to get the looks at the big ones, but you also need to look at the depth pieces because if you’re doing large trades, those third and fourth players are really important too.”

While it’s frustrating to see the White Sox stop after Sale and Eaton — even if the rest of the league is more to blame — most outside evaluators still seem optimistic about the return for both players. In fact, the trades bookended Dave Cameron’s list of the top 10 transactions of the 2016-17 offseason.