CHICAGO — Chicago White Sox general manager Chris Getz probably deserves a little credit for fulfilling Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s dream of fielding a lineup of David Eckstein clones.
If you forgot about Eckstein, or never heard of him, he was a diminutive but grinding shortstop who stood 5-foot-6, weighed 170 pounds and lasted 10 years in the majors, finishing with a .280 career average and .701 OPS. His biggest contract was a three-year, $10.55 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals from 2005-07.
“David Eckstein couldn’t run, couldn’t hit, he couldn’t throw, he couldn’t field,” Reinsdorf told reporters on Aug. 31. “There was only one thing he ever did, and that was beat you. And that’s what we’re trying to develop in the minor leagues.”
Tony La Russa loved Eckstein when he ran the Cardinals, calling him the toughest player he ever managed. Eckstein was named Most Valuable Player of the 2006 World Series after going 8 for 22 in the Cardinals’ five-game win over the Detroit Tigers.
It’s not difficult to imagine why Reinsdorf felt the same way as his “BFF” La Russa about someone who played on teams Reinsdorf didn’t regularly watch, and he name-dropped Eckstein when announcing Getz’s promotion to GM. Now we’re seeing the results of that name-drop playing out in real time.
Zach DeLoach and Dominic Fletcher, the two outfielders Getz acquired over the weekend in deals with the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks, respectively, are bigger than Eckstein, as is Nicky Lopez, a middle infielder acquired from the Atlanta Braves in the Aaron Bummer deal.
But they’re all reputed grinders who are 6 feet or under with good defensive skills and some speed. With the Sox moving on after years of starting corner outfielders who were basically designated hitters or first basemen, Fletcher and DeLoach are living proof that Getz is trying to go in a different direction.
From pitchers sleeping in the bullpen to grinders hustling on the field.
If things go well this spring, both Fletcher and DeLoach could make the opening day roster. And with Andrew Benintendi and Luis Robert Jr. back, the Sox could have an above-average defensive outfield. That’s newsworthy, though not exactly what fans were craving when the offseason began.
“One of the things I learned last year is that we played a game that doesn’t win in the big leagues,” manager Pedro Grifol said at the winter meetings. “We need to play faster. We need to be more athletic. We’ve got to catch a baseball. We have to do things a little better fundamentally. When we talk about getting more rounded, that’s what it’s about.”
The Sox dealt a potential closer in Gregory Santos to the Mariners for DeLoach, reliever Prelander Berroa and the No. 69 pick in this year’s draft. They probably won’t need a closer, and Berroa eventually could win the job if their top reliever, Garrett Crochet, moves into the rotation.
Getz won’t get much applause for his offseason moves. Bringing in low-paid no-names while clearing out veterans won’t sell tickets. But he’s making the kind of moves he has to make, given the restraints of a Reinsdorf-owned team.
“Quite honestly, (dealing Santos) came down to multiplying and being able to get multiple players for one,’’ Getz said.
That doesn’t mean they’re the right moves to win now, but they’re ones that fit into Reinsdorf’s budget for 2024 and the near future. The last time the Sox built a new ballpark, the rebuild was in place by the time they moved into new Comiskey Park in 1991. Maybe he’s hoping history repeats itself.
Getz has acquired or signed Fletcher, DeLoach, Berroa, Lopez, Tim Hill, John Brebbia, Mike Soroka and Erick Fedde while waving bye to Tim Anderson, Romy Gonzalez, Mike Clevinger, Elvis Andrus, Yasmani Grandal, Liam Hendriks, Trayce Thompson and others. All of those ex-Sox free agents are still on the market waiting to be signed.
The Sox won’t call this a rebuild — surprise, surprise! — but there’s really no other way of looking at it. They have almost no chance of making the postseason, even in a mediocre division like the American League Central. On paper it’s a team that should lose 100 games again, and that’s before the inevitable Dylan Cease trade before or during the season.
Meanwhile, the Sox’s role models, the Kansas City Royals, embarrassed them on Monday by giving prized young shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. an 11-year, $288.8 million extension, which is $213 million more than Benintendi’s five-year, $75 million deal, the biggest free-agent signing in Sox history.
The Sox and Oakland Athletics are the only franchises yet to dole out a $100 million contract. And with Reinsdorf turning 88 in three weeks, shelling out a nine-figure deal doesn’t seem to be on his bucket list.
The good news for fans is the 2024 Sox should be more interesting to watch, if only to see whether Getz’s game plan has a chance of succeeding. Most Sox fans embraced Rick Hahn’s rebuild back in 2017, only to get antsy by 2019 and watch it go up in flames in 2022 and ‘23, leading to his firing last summer.
Now it’s up to Getz to finish the teardown and bring in the kind of players he and Reinsdorf believe can win on the South Side.
“Players who don’t beat themselves, who get the most out of their ability and let the other team beat themselves,” Reinsdorf said in August.
And affordable, he might have added.
The best thing about opening a new season is imagining all the possibilities that can happen with a fresh start. It’s the only time of year when optimism reigns without any evidence that things will be different.
Spring training begins in Glendale, Ariz., in eight days.