GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As Ron Burgundy would say, well, that escalated quickly.There are more conventional ways to prepare for a 162-game season than having a public standoff between your ace and one of your top baseball men, let alone the sudden retirement of your designated hitter. The White Sox have
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As Ron Burgundy would say, well, that escalated quickly.
There are more conventional ways to prepare for a 162-game season than having a public standoff between your ace and one of your top baseball men, let alone the sudden retirement of your designated hitter. The White Sox have had better weeks than this one.
But don't write them off because of the clash between Adam LaRoche and Ken Williams. Family feuds seldom play a major role in the standings, and in this case the Sox have the perfect guy to help the wounds heal and make sure any strains in the workplace don't carry over to the performance on the field.
• LaRoche balked at reducing son's presence
Robin Ventura is made for a time like this.
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He was hired as manager because of his people skills and the respect he commands. He's smart, he's experienced (both as a player and as a manager), and he's known for his ability to bring people together. All kinds of people, in all kinds of situations.
That includes the latest unrest in the clubhouse, which seemingly came to a head Friday when Chris Sale vented about the recent conflict between LaRoche and Williams, the club's executive vice president. Williams told LaRoche he had to "dial back" the amount of time LaRoche's 14-year-old son, Drake, was spending in the clubhouse.
• Players, execs address LaRoche situation
But Sale also made it clear he remains fully behind Ventura and general manager Rick Hahn, and vowed his feelings wouldn't impact his performance.
In a classic Ventura response, the manager told reporters, "He's still my Opening Day starter."
Ventura didn't get caught up in the drama of the moment, correctly pointing out that Sale is "emotional'' by nature, and that he's been on the other side of Sale's short-lived anger in the past.
Ventura played 16 seasons in the Major Leagues, playing for the White Sox, Mets, Yankees and Dodgers. He's seen clubhouse clashes before and studied the different ways -- good and bad -- that Jeff Torborg, Gene Lamont, Terry Bevington, Jerry Manuel, Bobby Valentine, Joe Torre and Jim Tracy handled them.
"I've been part of a couple of sit-ins,'' Ventura said. "It's not like I haven't seen it before. That's part of baseball. People get passionate.''
This is Ventura's fifth season as the White Sox manager, and with losing records the past three years, it is probably a must-win season for him in terms of his job security. This was true with LaRoche in uniform, and remains the case without him.
The White Sox haven't developed an All-Star caliber position player since Joe Crede, who was drafted in 1996. Even though the front office has been aggressive in acquiring veterans, Ventura has only managed rosters that have tested his resourcefulness.
Look no further than the White Sox 45-42 record in Sale's starts the last three seasons for proof of what a challenge it has been. But things could be very different this season.
Competing against the Royals, Indians, Tigers and Twins is a tall order, but the Sox have given themselves a puncher's chance by adding a cornerstone player in third baseman Todd Frazier and lineup pieces in Brett Lawrie, Jimmy Rollins, Austin Jackson, Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro. The top of the rotation is strong with Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon and it might not be too long until 2015 first-rounder and the club's No. 1 prospectCarson Fulmer joins that mix. (In fact, some think he's further along this spring than Rodon was at the same point last year.)
For the White Sox to compete, they've got to get the lineup going behind Jose Abreu. They were last in the American League in runs and home runs last year. It's not lost on Sale and his fellow pitchers that they're hitting home runs this spring (26 in the first 15 games).
"There was no problem in here,'' Sale said. "We were rolling. We had a team coming together with new guys getting acquainted and playing well, no hiccups, nothing. We're a steam engine going full steam ahead and [the LaRoche situation] kind of derailed it."
• Sox teammates 'banded together' for LaRoche
Sale said he believed any rules about players' kids in the clubhouse should have come from Ventura.
"When it comes to what goes on in the clubhouse, the right person has to handle that, and that's Robin," Sale said. "He's the top, he's the leader of this clubhouse, ultimately, and if there's something that needs to be said in here, he can say it and it's taken with respect, because he's fighting with us. And quite honestly, he has taken heat for us before that he doesn't deserve. So we have faith in him and we trust him.''
There's a segment of White Sox fans who would like Ventura to be more animated. He's always deflected that criticism by saying he addresses issues out of sight, not for effect, in full view of the paying customers.
It's time to get a return on the respect he's earned with Sale and other players. That's what is going to happen here.
LaRoche will be missed for a while, maybe even mourned in the White Sox clubhouse. But after posting a .634 OPS in 2015, the 36-year-old's absence likely won't hurt the lineup. He had been bothered by back problems in camp and joked in a statement on Friday that while Drake caused no problems in 2015, "my bat and our record are another story!"
• LaRoche explains decision in statement
Even more, the Sox are likely to save $13 million, which could allow them to acquire multiple players at midseason.
Williams and Hahn made it clear at the start of Spring Training that winning is the only thing that matters this season, and if anything, this incident emphasizes that point. Ventura is the right manager to take it from here.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.