GLENDALE, Ariz. — The hard-line message Rick Hahn began to deliver last summer has been received in the White Sox clubhouse.
As pitchers and catchers reported on Saturday to kick off the 2014 season, it’s evident the front office isn’t about to tolerate another season like 2013. In order to avert a repeat of last season’s 99-loss disaster, Hahn and Co. won’t hesitate to make roster-shaking moves. And while veteran players with big contracts will have somewhat of an edge over their younger counterparts when it comes to roster decisions, Hahn has made sure those elders don’t feel nearly as secure.
Through a series of trades and signings over the last seven months, Hahn has given manager Robin Ventura more versatility to work with on the 40-man roster. The two will undoubtedly have tough roster decisions to make as the regular season nears, but Hahn doesn’t foresee any problems with such a dilemma.
“Everyone will be better served from that,” Hahn said from the team’s Camelback Ranch training facility. “We like competition. It brings out the best in people. You have competition and it means you have options.”
Though they could always use more choices, the White Sox appear to have plenty of competition ahead. Once Conor Gillaspie was added last February, it was perceived the White Sox had little competition left for roster spots. Catcher Tyler Flowers was anointed A.J. Pierzynski’s replacement over the winter and Hector Gimenez was to be his backup. Few minor-leaguers were considered ready to push veterans for their roster spots.
This spring the White Sox have much more talent capable of making the major league roster. Matt Davidson could best Gillaspie and Jeff Keppinger for the third base job. Marcus Semien showed last September he’s not far off from winning a starting job. Rookie Daniel Webb has been mentioned among the candidates to close and Rule-5 pick Adrian Nieto is in the mix to be one of the team’s two catchers.
Flowers, who said he’s healthy after shoulder surgery last September, welcomes the competition.
“Even though I was basically handed the job in spring training, competition took me out of the starting job and put someone else in halfway through,” Flowers said. “There are always guys who want your job, who want to be in this clubhouse for a spring training or a day or a full season. I can’t worry about anybody else. I’m confident. I know what I’m capable of, I feel good. I’m excited to continue to grow and get better.”
Josh Phegley feels just as good about his chances and made it clear he wants the starting catching job.
Over in the bullpen, Matt Lindstrom echoed those sentiments in regard to the ninth inning. With Addison Reed traded, Lindstrom, Webb and Nate Jones have been singled out as the top candidates to compete for his old job. Lindstrom, who has 45 career saves but hasn’t handled the role full-time since 2010, thinks he has learned a few new tricks and deserves a chance.
“I’ve improved on some things in the last three years, coming in with guys on base all the time,” Lindstrom said. “Facing the middle of the order, I think I have learned a lot. I have a little experience closing and hopefully I can get a little more under my belt this year.”
Ventura knows he’ll have more tough conversations with disappointed players headed to the minors this spring than in years past. He has a crowded roster with Jose Abreu, Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo that could limit several prospects from an Opening Day roster spot. But he also has a healthy competition ahead that will help to sort things out.
“There are parts that are going to be tricky,” Ventura said. “Going through spring, it solves itself. Hopefully a lot of guys play well and there are a lot of tough decisions. That’s part of going through this many games that you can figure this stuff out.”
Hahn hopes he can force the same issues upon Ventura on a yearly basis. With money now being poured into the amateur draft and international markets and the third overall pick in the 2014 amateur draft, the likelihood of Hahn’s vision being realized has increased.
And from his perspective that’s a good thing.
“Our intent is to have multiple quality options going forward,” Hahn said. “I hope this is the first of a lot of conversations we have over the years about having viable options in multiple spots.”