GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jimmy Rollins could provide the answer to one of the White Sox biggest questions this season.
With unproven youngster Tyler Saladino penciled in as the starter, and top prospect Tim Anderson perhaps still a step or two away from the majors, the White Sox gave themselves a nice insurance policy when they signed Rollins to a minor-league deal on Monday. The veteran infielder and former National League Most Valuable Player would earn $2 million if he makes the major league roster. He’s expected to arrive at big league camp on Thursday and could win the starting job or become a utility man, general manager Rick Hahn said.
Last season, the only of a 16-year career not played with the Philadelphia Phillies, Rollins hit .224/.285/.358 with 13 home runs and 41 RBIs in 563 plate appearances for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“The move is appealing to us on a number of levels,” Hahn said. “First and foremost, it provides us with another quality option for our infield. It provides us with some veteran depth in that area where we previously did not have it. And again, it adds to what we feel is a quality mix in the clubhouse as far as a leader, he brings energy and a competitive edge each day.”
Heading into camp, Saladino, Carlos Sanchez and Anderson were expected to battle to take over as the team’s next starting shortstop after the departure of Alexei Ramirez. The team’s shortstop the previous eight seasons, Ramirez signed a one-year deal with the San Diego Padres in January.
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Both Hahn and manager Robin Ventura think Saladino’s glove at short is major league caliber, which has led to the view that he’s the leader in the clubhouse to start. Despite Monday’s signing, Saladino is still considered a strong candidate.
But were he to struggle in the field or at the plate, or Rollins produces as he has throughout his career (49.3 Wins Above Replacement), he could supplant everyone.
“We are going to come in here and see how this plays out,” Ventura said. “I’m not throwing around guarantees for anybody.
“We’ll see how he’s feeling when he goes out there. We are willing to give him that opportunity to find out.”
At the very least, the White Sox are excited to have their young shortstops work alongside Rollins, a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner. Rollins has 229 home runs and 465 stolen bases in a career that began in 2000.
“We want them to do a little research on what Jimmy Rollins has done in his career, because it’s impressive,” Ventura said. “He has always carried himself with class and played well as well. He has definitely been a guy that people look up to and he has been a leader, a hustler, anything you want to put on it that’s positive, he’s done.”
The move is the latest in yet another strong offseason for the White Sox that previously included trades for Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier. The White Sox also added to their starting rotation depth with a one-year deal for Mat Latos, maintained their bullpen strength by bringing back reliever Matt Albers and provided veteran depth at catcher with deals for Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila. Catcher Hector Sanchez also was signed on a minor-league deal earlier this offseason.
They could still be in line for more, too.
“We certainly haven't stopped looking and haven't stopped having conversations with other clubs and available players,” Hahn said. “We'll see how things play out.”
Hahn is pleased with how negotiations for Rollins went. The White Sox initially reached out to Rollins’ agent in December and again in January. Discussions began again several days ago, Hahn said.
Even though the White Sox believe in Saladino, given their inexperience at short, Hahn likes what possibilities the signing may bring.
“I know (Rollins) feels great, he had to play through some injuries last year, he has a long history of doing that and perhaps some of those weighed on him a little bit last season,” Hahn said. “2014 was a very quality year, consistent with what he did the bulk of his career. We’ll find out together exactly where he’s at.
“I think it takes pressure off (Saladino). It provides Robin with a chance to acclimate him into the full-time role and just having a guy who has been that guy before that both Saladino, Tim and our other young players can see how he goes about his business, keeps his body in shape for a full season, how he prepares for games will be beneficial.”