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Beckham's back after Hahn reconsidered

3/17/2015

If Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn stayed with his first instinct, Gordon Beckham's return to the team that drafted him and stuck with him for six seasons never would have happened.

Beckham is now in line to become a Chicago White Sox utility infielder this season at the discounted price of $2 million, after he made $4.175 million last season.

He was exactly what the White Sox were looking for as a plus defender, who could play some third base, shortstop and have the ability to take over at second if necessary.

But he also had the history of unfulfilled expectations from those six previous seasons, never able to build on his impressive debut in 2009, and he's often reminded about it. He was traded to the Los Angeles Angels last August for a player to be named later, and then non-tendered by the Angels in December, making him a free agent.

“As any of our free agents will tell you, we were quick in reaching out to them as soon as we were able to, once the World Series ended,” Hahn said earlier this spring at a gathering of Cactus League managers and GMs. “With Gordon, I told his agent, and I told him, that if his name had been Joe Smith, or I had been in Atlanta and had the exact same roster, we probably would have called him the minute he was non-tendered because his skill set was a fit. But I didn’t place that call because I didn’t think this was necessarily right fit for Gordon Beckham, individually.”

Indeed Hahn took into account the added mental strains that would come with returning to a former team, when getting a fresh start elsewhere seemed to be the better idea.

But other factors seemed to be in play as well, presumably the fact that Beckham’s six weeks with the Angels might have been the break he needed, and that being free from the responsibility of playing everyday would help him to maintain his swing.

“As I explained to Gordon, and I explained to the agent after a few days, that I realized that’s not my job,” Hahn said about trying to decide a player’s comfort level. “My job is to put the White Sox in the best position to contend and if there is a player out there whose skill set makes us better, I have to let him say no if it doesn’t fit.”

Hahn even took his pitch -- and his concerns -- directly to Beckham.

“I explained to Gordon, I said, ‘I get it, if this doesn’t fit for you because of the history, then no hard feelings. A player with your ability makes us better, but if for you, Gordon Beckham, if this isn’t the best thing for you, I get it. Maybe sometime in a few years after you’ve been away longer, if it’s still a fit, we’ll revisit it,’” Hahn said. “Both his agent and Gordon said, ‘No, this is where want to be, and we’re comfortable.’ There isn’t that baggage, and if there is, he’s apt to deal with it.”

The reunion has been a work in progress. Beckham had just one hit in 21 at-bats heading into Cactus League play Tuesday, leaving him with a .048 batting average so far.

For now, the White Sox are satisfied if he is dialed in on defense. He still has time to reacquaint himself with hitting adjustments he made with the Angels last season.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia saw Beckham work on those adjustments and said that while the club declined to bring back Beckham at his arbitration rate (a raise on that $4.175 million he made last year), they were competitive with the $2 million deal he signed with the White Sox.

“Gordon is one of the guys we’re all disappointed we didn’t get back; we all wanted him back,” Scioscia said. “I think from what he was saying, he was going to get more playing time, or the possibility of more playing time, than he would have had with us.”

Hahn said that while no promises of playing time were given to Beckham, the familiarity between the player and the team probably put them on the same page much easier.

Assuming Micah Johnson wins the White Sox’s second base job, they will want Beckham to pick up a decent amount of games at second base to keep Johnson fresh. And since third baseman Conor Gillaspie has much lower production rates against left-handed pitching, Beckham has a chance to play there too.

Scioscia ended up using Beckham more at third base and shortstop than he did at second base.

“Gordon is a student of the game,” Scioscia said. “His talent is real, and he made some adjustments that made him more productive for us in the second half. I think he has a lot of baseball left and a lot of upside left in him, even though he’s been around for a while. He works hard at it. He’s a little hard on himself because he expects a lot, but mentally he’s ready to play, and he understands that he’s a very, very good player.”