Legend has it that the Caesar salad was invented by a clever chef who utilized the limited ingredients on hand to craft what would become a classic dish.
Manager Robin Ventura will take on the role of the clever chef for the Chicago White Sox, trying to craft the ingredients left to him by a resourceful Rick Hahn, the general manager who was able to corral multiple team needs with players at or near the top of the club’s wish list.
Adam LaRoche, Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Zach Duke and Dan Jennings all were added to the mix this winter. In addition, the new second baseman is likely to be rookie Micah Johnson and the backup catcher will be Geovany Soto.
It’s hard to question the influx of talent. Now comes the test to see how quickly players are willing to sacrifice for each other and how long that sacrifice lasts.
“On paper we have everything we need to win,” Samardzija said at the start of the spring. “It’s about us proving it every day, day in and day out.”
The White Sox believe in Samardzija so much, they are letting him start on Opening Day in place of recovering staff ace Chris Sale. After suffering a foot injury at the start of the spring, Sale is expected to miss just one start.
With his contract set to expire, the sense is that Samardzija could be on the cusp of a huge season. But his spring performances gave mixed signals. He gave up seven home runs in back-to-back starts at one point, but he also struck out nine Cubs batters in a game too.
Robertson has already given clues to his team-oriented approach. He doesn’t think of collecting saves as a personal accomplishment. He looks at finishing off victories as his sacrifice for others.
“It doesn’t matter what I do in the spring, or how hard I work in the weight room,” Robertson said. “None of that matters until you’re on the field, in the game and you trying to finish off a game that somebody has worked their butt off to get you there.”
Cabrera’s hitting approach is the clue to his sense of team. A classic No. 2 hitter who has no hesitation to give himself up for the benefit of the team, the veteran gives the No. 2 hitter that neither Gordon Beckham or Alexei Ramirez could be in recent seasons.
Cabrera and Jose Abreu already have become fast friends, with Abreu constantly laughing at one Cabrera prank or another. Cabrera prides himself on keeping things loose.
“Not just me but all the guys feel loose and relaxed because when the game starts we want to push the line toward work,” Cabrera said. “Yes, it’s very important for me to do that, and for the guys to be happy and loose before the game.”
Yes, the White Sox newcomers are saying all the right things. More will be learned, though, when they take the field together and have to back up their words.
The biggest compliment Ventura gets as a manager is that he lets players be themselves. This will be his biggest leap of faith, to get a new-look team to trust one another.
“We knew that (team building) was going to be an important priority for us, but at the same time we targeted certain types of players that we thought would help minimize that transition,” Hahn said in February, the day pitchers and catchers reported to camp. “Jeff Samardzija is going to fit into any clubhouse. Adam LaRoche is the same way, Robertson, Duke and Melky. These are quality individuals who help make a team better both on and off the field.”