GLENDALE, Ariz. — Pitchers and catchers report to White Sox spring training Wednesday, and a collective chip on their shoulders should be plain to see.
It’s a sensible mindset for a team that let itself and a disillusioned fan base down with an underachieving 81-81 season.
And it’s a theme that undoubtedly will be heard when position players arrive before or on their official reporting date Monday. It beats arriving with a sense of entitlement, as the Sox did a year ago assuming the American League Central was theirs to lose.
And then they lost it. Decisively.
Whether they have the talent, fundamentally sound habits and depth to win a winnable division is for new manager Pedro Grifol to find out, and with help from a newer coaching staff, to figure out.
Grifol’s guiding hand after a failed two-year helming from manager Tony La Russa will be one of the main storylines in February and March. Early on, the first days of the Grifol era might be muddied by the presence of Mike Clevinger, the free agent pitcher signed to a one-year, $12 million deal to fill out a quality rotation of Dylan Cease, Lance Lynn, Michael Kopech and Lucas Giolito before it became known Jan. 24 that Major League Baseball is investigating Clevinger for alleged domestic violence and child abuse. That investigation is ongoing, and in the meantime the Sox must wait for MLB to complete it. The Sox didn’t know Clevinger was under investigation already last summer when he was pitching for the Padres and likely won’t comment.
By the time the Astros and their new first baseman, Jose Abreu, are raising a World Series banner when the Sox visit Houston on Opening Day March 30, the Sox should have answered the spring training questions of who the right fielder, second baseman and closer will be.
Oscar Colas, the No. 85-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline but with only seven games played at Triple-A, is the favorite to land the job in right. Romy Gonzalez, a minus-0.4 wins above replacement level player who appeared in 32 games last season, looks like the latest choice to keep the Sox’ endlessly spinning door at second base, like right field another position that hasn’t been solved since Tadahito Iguchi. Prospect Lenyn Sosa will get a chance to compete in camp.
While other teams spent big in the offseason, the Sox reached their limit with Clevinger and left fielder Andrew Benintendi, who signed a club record $75 million, five-year deal.
They spent $54 million on a four-year deal for closer Liam Hendriks in January 2021, but Hendriks is fighting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and the time of his return is unknown.
That will leave ninth-inning duty to a closer to be named, or a mix-and-match collection of Kendall Graveman, Aaron Bummer, Joe Kelly and Reynaldo Lopez.
Leadership is another void, although a less tangible one, with Abreu walking toward legitimate World Series hopes in free agency as Andrew Vaughn becomes a full time first baseman. Lynn is the clubhouse alpha dog but not an everyday player and Hendriks was in the same mold. Among position player leader types, shortstop Tim Anderson is an energizer who leads with performance, but played a career low (for a full season) 79 games due to injuries.
Anderson, Lynn, Graveman, Luis Robert, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez and Jose Ruiz will miss varying amounts of time while playing in the World Baseball Classic. The hope is the experience playing intense, pressure games outweighs risk of injuries, which clobbered the Sox last season.
Lynn injured his knee during a Cactus League start and didn’t pitch till June 8, Moncada strained an oblique on the last day of camp and got off to a slow start of a disappointing offensive season and Jimenez tore a pectoral muscle in spring training 2021. With the Sox, fingers are always crossed.
Perhaps newly hired Senior Director of Sports Performance Geoff Head find a way to make things better.
It all starts Wednesday, 43 days before Opening Day March 30.