GLENDALE, Ariz. — The busy offseason is over for the Chicago White Sox. The work to reach the postseason is just beginning.
After making big news with a trade for Jeff Samardzija and the free-agent signings of David Robertson, Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera, the South Siders raised their profile and have high hopes of competing for an AL Central title and beyond.
”I expect us to make the playoffs,” manager Robin Ventura said Friday as pitchers and catchers formally reported to camp at Camelback Ranch. ”I expect us to make a good run at it. You look at the guys they brought in here and the depth that we have.”
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For the first time in 16 years, the White Sox begin a season without Paul Konerko. The captain retired after last season, capping a career in which he hit 439 home runs — all but seven in a White Sox uniform.
The rite of renewal in the spring has meaning for all teams, but for Chicago, the major moves signify a serious push to return to the postseason for the first time since 2008. It comes 10 years after the 2005 team won the World Series. Konerko, the last player link to that group, is gone.
”It’s an outstanding day, all around baseball. We happen to have very high hopes. At the same time, we’re able to see some guys who are a part of our future,” general manager Rick Hahn said. ”There’s a different feel around here. There’s a level of confidence and expectation and even some swagger in terms of how guys are going about their business.”
Hahn went to work shortly after last season’s 73-89 finish. Samardzija was acquired from Oakland to help Chris Sale at the top of the rotation; Robertson signed on to help the bullpen, which struggled last year; LaRoche came aboard to replace Konerko and Adam Dunn as the first base/DH partner for AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu; and Cabrera was brought in to give the Sox another top-of-the-order option and an everyday left fielder.
”We’re glad to get it started,” Ventura said. ”Everybody’s always excited the first day, but especially with the commitment level that the front office has given us.”
Samardzija returns to Chicago after a half-season in Oakland. He previously pitched for the Cubs, but the northwest Indiana native grew up rooting for the White Sox.
”We all have the same thing in common — we love to play the game,” Samardzija said. ”Me and (catcher Tyler Flowers) have been throwing together for about two weeks now. We have gotten to know each other a little bit. You need those guys to help you out if you’re a little out of whack, so the more reps you can get in, the better.”
While Hahn and the White Sox seemed to fill all the items they shopped for, Samardzija said the rest is now up to the players.
”Nobody played any games in the offseason,” the right-hander said. ”We put together a heck of a squad that needs to come together as a team, start fast and really set the tone.”
While Sale, Samardzija and Jose Quintana head the rotation, Robertson will take on the role of finisher.
”I’m hoping to step in and be that guy that they need,” said Robertson, who left the New York Yankees to sign a $46 million, four-year deal with Chicago. ”We do have high expectations and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we had a chance to win.”
The offseason moves weren’t lost on the returnees.
”You never really know what to expect,” Sale said. ”Definitely some good energy this offseason. It was fun to watch. You’re working out and when you see that your team is making a push for it, you start pushing yourself harder.”
Center fielder Adam Eaton, one of several early arrivals, said there’s plenty of enthusiasm in the clubhouse.
”I think you can tell. We’re very excited — a lot of new faces,” he said. ”It gives you excitement. Guys were calling each other in the offseason. There’s definitely a buzz.”