Any questions or doubts one might have about the White Sox and their plans to compete this season should be long gone now.
The first-place White Sox made their intentions for 2016 crystal clear Tuesday as they announced plans to cut ties later this week with starting pitcher John Danks. The longest-tenured player in the organization, Danks, 31, will officially be designated for assignment on Thursday.
In the interim, right-hander Erik Johnson will start Thursday in place of Danks, who was 0-4 with a 7.25 ERA in four starts, general manager Rick Hahn said. But nothing is set in stone beyond that as to how the White Sox will handle the fifth spot in the rotation.
“(Danks) was an important part of some very good White Sox teams,” Hahn said. “This is about putting us in the best position to win ballgames going forward. We feel we have a pretty special thing going on in this clubhouse right now. We have the opportunity to build off some of the momentum we already have created for ourselves, and we wanted to put ourselves in the best position to win games going forward.”
The White Sox -- who will eat roughly $11.75 million of the veteran’s $14.25 million salary with the move -- have been in a dicey spot with Danks. With an American League-best 18 wins, the club is playing its best baseball in four seasons despite the ongoing struggles of Danks, a very popular figure in a clubhouse only seven weeks removed from the Adam LaRoche ordeal.
Hahn said the front office heavily considered how the transaction would play in the clubhouse if they decided to move on from Danks, who was acquired in a December 2006 trade that sent Brandon McCarthy to the Texas Rangers.
While players are sad to see their friend go, several talked about not being surprised.
“It doesn’t matter if he has six days, six years or 10 years,” starting pitcher Chris Sale said. “You never want to see it happen, especially a guy like him. He was a big part of the chemistry we had going on in here. He was a personality. He was a character.
“But we need to keep moving. This game stops for nobody. It’s the greatest job in the world. I’ll be the first to tell you. But it can be cutthroat at well.”
Sale has been in constant contact with Danks, who learned of the team’s plans several days ago. The four-time All-Star said he convinced Danks to stop by the White Sox clubhouse early Tuesday to see his teammates one last time.
“Saying goodbye to him was tough for all of us, but like I said it's part of the game,” outfielder Adam Eaton said. “It's sad to see him go.”
Danks was an integral piece on the 2008 AL Central champions, pitching the White Sox into the postseason with eight scoreless innings in the Sept. 30 “Blackout Game” in which they topped the Minnesota Twins, 1-0.
From 2008-10, Danks went 40-31 with a 3.61 ERA in 97 starts and looked as if he’d develop into a front-of-the rotation starter. Danks’ performance led to him receiving a five-year, $65-million extension from the club in December 2011.
But his shoulder started to bother him in 2012 and by August Danks required shoulder surgery, from which his performance never fully recovered. He went 22-44 with a 4.84 ERA in 88 starts since he returned in 2013.
Danks’ struggles weren’t for a lack of effort, however. He and the White Sox worked tirelessly to reinvent the pitcher and this spring they were cautiously optimistic his fastball command and consistency had improved.
“As far as work ethic and just guts, he had all of that,” manager Robin Ventura said. “That was never a question. He’s always been able to do that and there’s a lot of respect for him in the clubhouse for all the things that he did and one of them’s coming back from an injury and trying to gut through it.”
But the results didn’t match the effort.
Because he gave them so many innings -- he averaged 185 2/3 frames the past two seasons -- the White Sox were open to running Danks out to pitch as long as he stayed competitive. But the team went 32-56 in Danks’ starts since 2013, losing all four of this season. Whereas they went 13-17 in Danks’ starts last season, they were only competitive in his April 21 start this season, a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.
Those poor results led to Tuesday’s decision, one that demonstrates the White Sox willingness to improve even at a great cost. Hahn said the White Sox never really considered a long man role in the bullpen and Danks didn’t want to go to the minor leagues, which left the club in a difficult position.
Ultimately, Hahn acted in a way he feels best suits the club’s current needs.
“We weren’t getting the production we needed out of that spot,” Hahn said. “Given the fact that we feel like this could well be a very special summer around here, there certainly was heightened scrutiny to all the areas where we weren’t performing. But that fifth spot was one where we felt it was imperative we made a move.”