The White Sox entered the 2016 season with plans of contending. The White Sox entered the 2016 season with Jimmy Rollins as their starting shortstop. To most people, those two sentences would run at least somewhat contradictory to each other. Rick Hahn is not most people.
The team entered last offseason faced with the difficult decision of what to do with Alexei Ramirez. Ramirez had been the Sox’s starting shortstop since 2009 and had done a damn fine job over that stretch (20.1 bWAR from 2009-2014). But no one can escape from time forever, even someone as adept at sliding to avoid a tag as Alexei. 2015 hit him like a Mack truck speeding downhill. An OPS of .642. bWAR of 1.0. All that from someone about to enter his age 34 season. The White Sox declined his option and had to look for a new shortstop for the first time since Orlando Cabrera.
This was the right move. Alexei wound up signing a $3MM deal with the San Diego Padres (with a $1MM option buyout). He was worth -2.4 bWAR over 128 games before the Padres cut bait and he finished the year with Tampa Bay. His OPS hit a career low .610 and, sadly, there’s a good chance we’ve seen the last of him in the majors.
The Sox decided to follow that right move with essentially no move. Alexei Ramirez was let go on November 4th, 2015. Jimmy Rollins was signed to a minor league contract on February 22nd, 2016. That’s one hell of a gap, even more so when you realize that the best option they could come up with to replace their aging shortstop was an even older one.
Rollins was an amazing player. He’s a Hall of Very Good member and should have his number retired by the Phillies at some point in the near future. And while he put up a very respectable season in 2014 (4.0 bWAR, 100 OPS+), he hadn’t been close to All-Star worthy since the White Sox last made the playoffs. A more cynical fan than I (and I’m not sure those actually exist) wouldn’t be out of line to think that this was another example of “Kenny Williams Always Gets His Man”. But that’s attaching too much importance to what he was brought to the team to do.
Jimmy Rollins was a shortstopgap. Tim Anderson was the first legitimate position player prospect the White Sox have had since Gordon Beckham* and the brass figured he would be ready at some point in 2016, so why get a bonafide starting shortstop when all you need is a warm body playing caretaker until the Super Two deadline passed? And once again, they happened to be right. Anderson came up in June and managed to finish 6th on the team in bWAR despite playing in only 99 games. His future looks bright and he’s a hoot to watch.
*Trayce Thompson did not possess the pedigree of either Anderson or Gordon, and his 2015 September looks more like a post-prospect light bulb moment should he ever recover from his back injuries.
But as the first sentence of this rambling diatribe said: the White Sox entered the 2016 season with plans of contending. And that’s not easy to do when you’re trotting out the withered husk of the 2007 NL MVP every day. Rollins just barely managed to outhit the man he replaced (.624 OPS) and almost played acceptable enough defense to give the White Sox what they had set out to find: a warm enough body to incubate Tim Anderson under. 59 games and three months later, he was cut and finished the season in the broadcast booth. Jimmy Rollins officially entered that same weird White Sox pantheon as Andruw Jones, Manny Ramirez, and Ken Griffey Jr.: amazing players you loved that simply had nothing left by the time they limped to the south side.
Lead Photo Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports