Rick Hahn has a lot of work to do to fix the White Sox this offseason. He probably doesn’t need me butting in, offering my own two cents. But if he wants a friendly suggestion to help rebuild the clubhouse, one of his first calls should be to a former White Sox player and World Series hero who is precisely (but certainly not completely) what the White Sox need to get headed in the other direction.
It’s not A.J. Pierzynski. Not Mark Buehrle. Not Carl Everett…wherever he is.
This is a plea for the White Sox to sign soon-to-be free agent Juan Uribe.
Yes, it’s time for the electric, offbeat infielder to come back home.
To some of you, this might sound like a crazy idea, especially to those who are still feeling the wind burn from one of Uribe’s wild misses at the plate from 2004-2008. Uribe was a free swinger who would go into month-long slumps, lunge at pitches two feet above his head and cause everyone to groan in unison when he struck out with men in scoring position in the ninth inning of a one-run game.
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And what about bigger name free agents like Brian McCann, Shin-Soo Choo and Hunter Pence? The White Sox should go after them, too.
But Uribe might turn out to be just as valuable on and off the field for the White Sox. Here’s why:
If you haven’t noticed, he’s batting .276 this season for the Los Angeles Dodgers with a career-high .330 OBP. Yes, THAT Juan Uribe.
He’s cut down his swing, he’s hitting the ball up the middle and he still has that light-tower power which we saw last Monday when he hit three home runs against Arizona in front of over 52,000 fans at Dodger Stadium.
But this is not the only reason why you bring back Juan Uribe. Actually. there are several.
The White Sox need defense. Oh, do they need defense. Their 112 errors are the most in the major leagues, and are 42 more than their total from last season when they had the least. Uribe is one of the best defensive infielders in the game. His .981 fielding percentage is the second-best in the majors this season among third baseman. Uribe can also play second base and shortstop.
“The one thing about Juan,” said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly last week, “He always, always, always, always in the three years he’s been here, has been a good defender.”
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The White Sox need energy and personality. Uribe is loaded with both. Why is this so important to a baseball team? Let me explain.
When I’ve asked White Sox players who they miss from last year’s team, which was in first place for most of the season, I’ve heard three names come up that might surprise you:
Hudson didn’t do much on the field. He batted only .197. But he made a big impact off the field as a chatterbox in the dugout, firing up his teammates, pushing their buttons, getting them charged up for the game. There’s huge value in this. Keep reading.
Escobar was a rarely-used rookie infielder who had only 87 at-bats before the White Sox traded him to the Twins for Francisco Liriano on July 28, 2012. And yet, read the following reactions the day he was dealt:
Robin Ventura: “Escobar’s a big part of what we’ve been doing. It’s more than just numbers and how you play, it’s the attitude he brings. [Losing him] is a tough one team-wise.”
Adam Dunn: “He’s such a good part of this team. He keeps everybody loose and we really enjoyed having him. He’s a lot of fun. They’re going to really enjoy him over there.”
Jordan Danks: “He’ll be sorely missed.”
Hickey was the White Sox pregame instructor from 2004-2012, but don’t let the title fool you. He was so much more than that. Hickey, who tragically passed away in the team hotel before the start of last season, was like a coach, teammate and fan all wrapped into one. He taught John Danks how to throw a cutter. Whenever Paul Konerko would come to the plate Hickey would call out to the player they called “King” and yell, “Crown ‘em!”
No one was a bigger fan of Hickey than A.J. Pierzynski, who choked back tears while giving his eulogy at Hickey’s funeral.
“He would do anything for you,” Pierzynski said in the eulogy. “He was there every day no matter what with me. If we had a lefty [pitcher] he’d be there waiting for me by my locker and say, ‘Do you need me to throw to you?’ He’d throw literally until his arm fell off.”
And yes, the White Sox miss Pierzynski, too.
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But what does all of this have to do with Juan Uribe?
In a long, unrelenting 162-game season, you need Orlando Hudsons, Eduardo Escobars and Kevin Hickeys just as much as you need Miguel Cabreras, Mike Trouts and Dustin Pedroias. This isn’t football where you have a week in between games and you only have to turn it on 16 times during the regular season. In baseball, that switch has to go on six or seven times a week for six straight months.
Teams need players (and even batting practice coaches) who can also serve as glorified mascots, who know the pulse of the clubhouse and act accordingly.
They charge up the dugout the morning after a 12-inning marathon the night before.
They get in players faces when they aren’t carrying their share of the load.
And they act like buffoons in the clubhouse to lighten the mood before a big game. Uribe is best at this, even if he’s not doing it intentionally.
These kind of players help end losing streaks and create long winning streaks.
The 2013 White Sox don’t have any of these guys.
Jake Peavy was the closest, but he was traded in July. And you especially need them as position players, because they bring energy to the field every day.
The 2005 World Series team was loaded with this kind of fire and personality: Uribe, Pierzynski, Everett, Aaron Rowand, Willie Harris, Orlando Hernandez, Cliff Politte, etc.
After a losing season in 2007, Kenny Williams brought in Orlando Cabrera and Nick Swisher to provide a spark in the clubhouse. Their contributions to that team have always been overlooked. Granted, both players weren’t the most popular and they didn’t have career seasons, but they brought an attitude to the field.
And you can’t argue with the end results: the White Sox made the playoffs that season in 2008. Cabrera and Swisher were both gone in 2009. So were the White Sox from the postseason.
This year’s White Sox team has a bunch of great guys who all get along, but that doesn’t equate to victories. It’s basically the same team from last year, but instead of almost winning the division, they’re on pace to lose close to 100 games.
How can this happen?
It’s not one thing. It’s three. They’re not hitting, they’re not playing defense, and they’re not playing with an edge.
What’s missing is attitude, flavor, moxie.
He’d also be a help to the young Latin players like Avisail Garcia, Jose Quintana, Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo, who will be feeling more pressure to succeed next season. Uribe keeps things loose. Look what’s happening in Los Angeles? Whenever you see Yasiel Puig, you see Uribe close by.
Uribe wins. He’s been a big part of two World Series Championship teams (the White Sox and Giants) and could win a third this year with the Dodgers. A team doesn’t hold a victory parade because of Juan Uribe, but they don’t hold that parade without guys like Juan Uribe.
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He’s available. After signing a three-year, $21 million contract with the Dodgers in 2009, Uribe will be a free agent this winter. His first two seasons in Los Angeles weren’t good ones. Actually, they were dreadful. He combined to hit .199/.262/.289 with six home runs in 2011-2012. He even started this year backing up Luis Cruz at third base. It turns out he was trying to play through a sports hernia, which he eventually fixed with surgery last September. Now he’s one of the key players in the Dodgers lineup.
He’s not young. He’s 34 years old. This is good. He won’t command the $8 million salary he’s making this season. The White Sox can get him for a much lesser rate and I’m guessing they can outbid the free-spending Dodgers who have bigger fish to fry -- like signing Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw before he becomes a free agent in 2015. It could cost them $200 million. Maybe more.
With only $48 million committed to next year’s payroll, the White Sox have money to spend. They have pieces to build a winning team around, but they have to be the right ones.
Swing for the fences. Go after McCann, Choo and Pence. Those would be home runs.
But don’t forget the mid-range guys who can provide just as much value to the clubhouse, which needs some life and excitement.
Bring him back. Never thought I’d say it. Wasn’t sure I’d ever believe it. I do now.