White Sox embracing their new reality
The big offseason addition on the South Side didn't come with a lofty price tag
CHICAGO -- When the Prince Fielder-to-the-Tigers bombshell news filtered to Robin Ventura -- however the laconic manager of the White Sox absorbs his news -- it didn't cause so much as a ripple in his coffee.
"I didn't have too much of a reaction," Ventura said at SoxFest on Friday afternoon. "I didn't have a big 'Oh, my gosh, what have I gotten into?' He signed there, great. We're worrying about what we do."
That's a snapshot of how Ventura will answer questions in his new role as face of the White Sox.
"It's awesome," White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham said. "He doesn't care."
"Honey Badger" Ventura? Perhaps.
Across the room during the media's 45 minutes with the team before SoxFest officially kicked off, Ventura's new boss, Kenny Williams, had a more Kenny-like reaction when asked the same question about Fielder.
"I was part of the collective groan," Williams said, encircled by his friends, the cameras. "What do you want me to say? I'm happy? I'm happy Prince ended up [in Detroit]? That's the last place I thought he'd end up. I still don't know how it happened.
"But here's the deal. They didn't add to a team that already had [Victor] Martinez on it, too; they replaced Martinez with Fielder. Who knows how that will turn out, because it's replacing one great player for another, and they're different."
Yeah, Fielder hit 38 home runs last year and Martinez hit 12. They both hit for average and drove in their share of runs, but let's not pretend it was an even swap. Fielder changes the complexion of the AL Central and makes the rebuilding White Sox even more of an underdog.
I guess that's good, considering how well the White Sox handle high expectations.
So this is the White Sox's new reality. Low expectations for all, with focus on bargaining. But at least they're doing it with a smile.
When your rival adds a premier power hitter and you dump salaries for prospects and your biggest addition is a first-time manager, well, it's tough to puff out your chest.
Sometimes it's best just to smile at your circumstances and hope for the best.
"We got Robin, that's right," Beckham said. "They got Prince and we got Robin. There you go."
Last year, the White Sox were "All In" with the addition of Adam Dunn and the new, expensive contracts of Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski. While we can all rip last season's results and the internal schisms that shook apart the organization, you have to give credit to Williams for giving it one last chance. It just didn't work. Williams wasn't the one flailing. His playing career mercifully ended 20 years ago.
As for the notion that Fielder could be the Tigers' Dunn?
"It's a good sign for them, he's a great player," said Beckham, who knows a little something about heightened expectations. "Obviously it's more of a hurdle when they get a guy like that. But you gotta go out there and play the games. We thought we were going to win last year. We had that kind of thought and it just didn't work out. It doesn't mean because they signed him it's going to work out."
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Anything's possible, but I find that notion, which was coded in several players' answers, absurd. Let's just say their reputations as hard workers aren't similar. Fielder gets a lot of jokes for being zaftig, but he's universally lauded for being a gamer.
But that doesn't mean Detroit will win the division. Not that it's looking good for the Sox. Ozzie Guillen is gone to Florida, along with franchise lodestone Mark Buehrle, and mercurial slugger Carlos Quentin is now in San Diego. With an inexperienced staff, aside from pitching coach for life Don Cooper, the White Sox are solidly under the radar, low to the ground indeed.
Right where they want to be?
"Do I like being under the radar?" Williams said. "I would rather be the one everyone is gunning for because that means you've put together a helluva team and everyone thinks you've got a great team on the field and you're going to do some special things.
"But at the end of the day, none of it matters. It doesn't matter whether you're picked first or picked last, it matters what happens on the field."
Of course, the White Sox are optimistic. They have a lot of pitching coming back, and Dunn and Alex Rios would have to really try to be worse than last year. But like Williams said, none of it matters yet.
All we know is the Tigers got Fielder and the White Sox got Ventura.
"I venture to guess Robin is not going to be as productive as Prince this year on the field," Williams said, chuckling.
No one knows what kind of manager Ventura is going to be, least of all him. But it's probably a good thing that the manager isn't the biggest star on the South Side. As much I liked Guillen, the team simply stopped responding to him. And there's the key. It's on the players.
"At the end of the day, the players still have to do it," Konerko said. "Robin will be the first one to tell you, there's no magic potion. The players have to do it between the lines. Think about how many great players and nice guys became managers and they didn't get their guys going. Lots of them. There's no guarantees."
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.