Calm and sense at camp
Hahn says Ventura’ s disposition precludes lame-duck issues
GLENDALE, Ariz. — General manager Rick Hahn already said last year that the expectations and scrutiny surrounding Robin Ventura would be turned up a notch. After all, Hahn bolstered the White Sox’ roster, raising the stakes for his team, himself and his manager.
Ventura survived despite a 76-86 finish, and he enters the last year of his contract as a lame duck after Hahn made even more upgrades.
But as Sox camp hops and skips into its second week with an upbeat tempo, Hahn insists Ventura’s status is not an elephant in the room.
“I don’t sense it at all,’’ Hahn said Friday. “Part of that is Robin’s makeup. Robin’s not doing this for economic reasons. He’s doing it because he believes in it, he wants to win for the organization and he enjoys it. While the contract status may be an external focus, internally, it’s about trying to do what we can to win now.’’
Ventura also has played on oneyear deals, and given his cool and relaxed disposition, “I don’t sense it hanging over any conversations or the way he or the staff is approaching the season,’’ Hahn said.
Hahn is frustrated by three losing seasons in a row, although “we try to take a longer-term view of this thing. We look at where we were at the end of the 2013 season, losing 99 games with an older roster locked in financially and a farm system that wasn’t highly regarded, [compared to] now, 2½ years later when we feel we’re in position to contend. The expectations have pivoted.’’
So much emphasis has been put on getting off to a good start. It not only sets the right tone and avoids playing catch-up baseball, it would keep Ventura’s status from becoming an unwanted distraction. The Sox did hire a new bench coach, Rick Renteria, with recent managerial experience with the Cubs.
“But if we get off to a good start, there will be a lot of optimism and people fired up to see where this team goes,’’ Hahn said. “Our focus is to get off to a good start. If we fall short of that, then we have to assess how to get us back on track as quickly as possibly.’’
Ventura was more popular as a player than he is as a manager, which generally comes with the gig. Asked if Ventura is better today than he was his first season, when the Sox led the American League Central for much of the 2012 season only to fade, Hahn said, “a lot comes down to personnel.’’
“Managers are as good as the personnel they are given,’’ Hahn said. ‘‘It’s not fair to compare how he manages in 2016 to 2014, when we were a team in transition. He has improved as a manager. We knew from Day 1 it would be a bit of a growing experience given his background [no experience]. He has advanced and his coaching staff has, too.’’
Hahn likes what he has seen at Camp Ventura. Not only has the trainer’s room been quiet, Hahn senses a nice energy in the clubhouse and coaches room. “Positivity and focus,’’ he said. So in addition to getting a boost of offense from Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie, Ventura received some intangibles that should make his job easier.
“First and foremost, we needed to score more runs,’’ Hahn said. “Todd Frazier was at the top of our target list because of his makeup, what he brings on and off the field. Both [catchers] Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro are pros who approach the game the right way, [veteran shortstop] Jimmy Rollins has a long track record of being that type of guy, and Brett Lawrie, everybody sees his energy from 10,000 feet away. That was a positive shot in the arm for the clubhouse, as well.’’
One more shot, like maybe a lefthanded bat for the outfield, would do wonders for Ventura’s roster. The payroll, a shade above $120 million, might have some wiggle room. But not much.
“That can change with tradedeadline acquisitions or during spring training,’’ Hahn said.
Ventura, to be sure, will accept any help he can get.
General manager Rick Hahn wants the White Sox to get off to a good start to prevent manager Robin Ventura’s status from becoming an unwanted distraction.