Robert Jr. focused on baseball, not trade rumors

June 11th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Scott Merkin’s White Sox Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO -- didn’t even need to read the reports when rumors of the White Sox potentially trading him started churning last week.

“Everybody has been texting me, asking me about that, all those rumors,” said Robert Jr. through interpreter Billy Russo, during an interview with this past Saturday. “This is nothing I can control.

“I would like to stay here, but if the team decided otherwise, I have to keep playing baseball. If it’s here or not, I have to do what I have to do.”

Hearing the All-Star center fielder's name as a potential trade candidate should not come as a surprise with the White Sox sitting at 17-50 on June 11. It should be less of surprise from simply paying attention to Chris Getz, who has been stating that nobody on this roster is untouchable basically since being named general manager last August.

Certain players will be tougher for other teams to obtain, and Robert Jr. falls into the toughest of categories. He has one year remaining at $15 million after this season on a six-year, $50 million deal, with $20 million club options and $2 million buyouts for each of ’26 and ’27.

Continued good health ranks as the major concern surrounding the 26-year-old, whose ’23 campaign was one of the most complete individual performances in White Sox history. Robert produced a .264/.315/.542 slash line with 36 doubles, 38 home runs, 80 RBIs, 90 runs scored and 20 stolen bases. He’s the sort of five-tool player who could net a massive trade return.

Robert Jr. also is the sort of player you build around. Staying with the White Sox and being that centerpiece suits him the best as of now.

“Of course, I would like that,” Robert Jr. said. “This is the only team I’ve been on, and this is what I know. I like the fans. I like the city. Moving to another team would be like starting from scratch.

“I’m not prepared for that. I wouldn’t like that to happen. But like I said, if the team decides it’s the best for the team, I will have to adjust. Especially not during the season. I’m very comfortable here right now.”

Robert Jr. suffered a right hip flexor strain on April 5 while rounding first base in the ninth inning of a game against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. He landed on the injured list and returned on June 4, when he hit a booming 448-foot solo homer against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Robert Jr. launched another homer 403 feet Monday night during an excruciating 8-4 loss to Seattle.

Those long blasts still bring a smile to Robert Jr.'s face, but he knows there’s room for improvement, as he has gone 4-for-24 in six games since coming off the IL. Robert Jr. also must get accustomed to planned off-days, as he had this past Saturday, to balance his early workload following a two-month absence.

“Learning to follow the instructions and the plans that the coaches and medical staff have for me, that’s something I have to accept, even though I want to play every day,” Robert Jr. said. “I want to be on the field. I’m learning how to follow those instructions and how to be at peace with those.

“My body feels pretty good. At home plate, I’m trying to still get into the rhythm, into the groove for the at-bats. Of course, the pitchers here are sharper. I think that’s something I’m going to have to get better with [by] playing.”

Television cameras caught a fired-up-looking Robert Jr. in the dugout Thursday following a 14-2 loss to the Red Sox, which extended the team’s single-season franchise losing streak to 14. Losing certainly is never fun, but Robert Jr. was also frustrated after going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts as the designated hitter that game.

“Every time you don’t have a good game, every time I’m not able to make contact, every time I’m not able to help the team -- especially on a day like that when I was DH-ing and couldn’t help the team on the field, and I wasn’t making contact with the ball -- of course I feel frustrated,” Robert Jr. said. “I’m here to help the team and here to play.”